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Moving On: The players and others who passed away in 2019

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Let’s pause to remember those with local connections who passed away this past year.

Jim Bouton & His Book Photo by Susuan Wood/Getty Images

Before turning the calendar to a new year, today we continue our annual tradition of taking a moment to look back and remember figures from the Brewers and Wisconsin’s baseball history that we’ve lost over the last 12 months. For the second consecutive year we have 12 people to remember: Four former Brewers, two Seattle Pilots, two Milwaukee Braves, three Wisconsin natives with MLB ties and a former Brewers manager have passed away since January 1st. I do my best to make this list as comprehensive as possible, but please add them in the comments if you know of anyone I may have missed.

Thanks to the B-Ref Play Index and David Schultz for their help compiling this list.

Tom Hausman, age 65, passed away on January 16

Born in South Dakota but later relocated to California, Hausman was eighteen years old and a recent graduate of LaVerne High School when the Brewers made him their tenth round pick (the 226th overall selection) in the 1971 June Draft. A right-handed pitcher, he was one of just two players the Brewers selected in that draft to play 100 games in the majors.

Hausman spent parts of two seasons in the majors with the Brewers in 1975 and 1976, starting nine games in his debut season as a 22-year-old. He returned to the minors in 1976 and eventually became a free agent, but went on to pitch five more MLB seasons as a member of two teams, most notably posting a 2.75 ERA in 78 2/3 innings for the 1979 Mets.

Hausman has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Rocky Krsnich, age 91, passed away on February 14

The first of six natives of West Allis to play in the majors, Krsnich had just turned 22 when he made his major league debut with the 1949 White Sox, playing 16 games at third base alongside Hall of Fame shortstop Luke Appling. He returned to the minors for two seasons before resurfacing with the White Sox in 1952 and 1953 and playing in 104 more games, all at third base. Following the 1953 season he was traded to the Reds, but never returned to the majors.

Krsnich was preceded in death by his younger brother Mike, who played in the majors with the 1960 and 1962 Milwaukee Braves and passed away in 2011. As of this writing there are now just 24 surviving players who appeared in the major leagues in the 1940’s.

Krsnich has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Alex Grammas, age 93, passed away on April 3

An Alabama native and Mississippi State alum, Grammas didn’t make his professional debut until his age 23 season and had just turned 28 in 1954 when he reached the majors for the first time, but nonetheless went on to play ten MLB seasons across three franchises, including appearing in 619 games over two stints with the Cardinals. Grammas’ first MLB season was his best one, as he batted .264/.335/.342 in 142 games for St. Louis. Baseball Reference estimates he added 7.8 wins of value during his career on defense, where he was primarily a shortstop.

Following his playing career Grammas moved on to coaching and spent six seasons as Sparky Anderson’s third base coach with the Cincinnati Reds before becoming the fourth non-interim manager in Brewers franchise history for the 1976 season. Grammas spent two seasons as the Brewers’ skipper and the team went 133-190 during that time. He returned to coaching and won a World Series as the third base coach for the 1984 Tigers before eventually retiring in 1991.

Grammas has a three-part oral history interview with the Baseball Hall of Fame from 1994 and a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Ray Peters, age 72, passed away on May 4

A right-handed pitcher out of Harvard, Peters waited as long as he could to start his professional baseball career: He was drafted in 1965, 1967 and 1968 (twice) before the Seattle Pilots eventually took him with the 22nd pick in the Secondary Phase of the 1969 January Draft and he accepted a contract. From there Peters’ career escalated quickly: He played in five minor league levels across his first two professional seasons and joined the Brewers in June of 1970.

Peters had a rough MLB debut, taking the loss in a start where he allowed four runs on six hits over two innings on June 4, 1970. Five days later he started again but was lifted after allowing the first three batters he faced to reach, and reliever Skip Lockwood later allowed a grand slam that drove all three of Peters’ baserunners home. Peters returned to the minors and pitched just one more professional season in 1971 before calling it a career. His 31.50 career ERA is the fifth highest in Brewers franchise history.

Peters has a full obituary at RIP Baseball and, as linked at that page, a website created by his sons to chronicle his baseball journey.

Freddie Velazquez, age 81, passed away on May 21

Velazquez was 30 years old and had already been a part of the Giants, Athletics and Padres organizations when the Seattle Pilots selected him in the 1968 Rule 5 Draft. A few months later he was on the Pilots’ MLB roster in April and making a little bit of history.

When Velazquez started the Pilots’ April 26, 1969 game behind the plate he was just the third Dominican-born player ever to start an MLB game at catcher, joining former Milwaukee Brave Rico Carty (who caught 17 times for Atlanta in 1966) and infielder/outfielder Ozzie Virgil (who caught 35 games across four seasons). As of the end of the 2019 season there have been 42 Dominican-born MLB catchers, including Brewers bullpen catcher Robinzon Diaz.

Velazquez’s stay with Seattle was brief: He was reacquired by the Athletics that May and didn’t return to the majors until 1973 with the Braves. All told he appeared in 21 MLB games and collected ten hits. He was also a member of four Dominican Winter League championship teams and had his number retired by Leones del Escogido.

Velazquez has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Gary Kolb, age 79, passed away on July 3

A 23-year-old outfielder, Gary Kolb had played 90 games in the majors across parts of three seasons and was coming off a season where he batted .271/.403/.479 in 119 plate appearances when St. Louis traded him to the Milwaukee Braves in a three-player transaction that might be his biggest claim to fame: One of the other players in the deal was Bob Uecker, who went from the Braves to the Cardinals.

During his time with St. Louis Kolb also had a tie to a different kind of baseball legend: He pinch ran for Stan Musial on September 29, 1963 following the Hall of Famer’s 3630th and final MLB hit.

Kolb only played in 60 games for the Braves but played six positions in that brief time, logging playing time at all three outfield spots, second and third base and catcher. The Braves traded Kolb to the Mets and he went on to play parts of three more MLB seasons, finishing his career with a .209/.281/.296 batting line across 293 games. Kolb’s cousin Danny Kolb pitched in the majors for nine seasons, including three in Milwaukee, and was an All Star as a Brewer in 2004.

Kolb has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Paul Schramka, age 91, passed away on July 8

A Milwaukee native and University of San Francisco alum, Schramka made the Opening Day roster for the 1953 Chicago Cubs and played in the first two games of their season, entering their April 14 contest as a pinch runner and the April 16th game as a defensive replacement. He was later returned to the minors and eventually retired as one of just a few non-pitchers to appear in multiple MLB games without making a plate appearance.

Schramka was fond of telling the story that he was the last Cub to wear #14 before Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who debuted later in the 1953 season and went on to wear it for 19 years. Following his baseball career Schramka was a longtime funeral director in Milwaukee, continuing a family business that has been in operation for over 125 years.

Schramka has an extensive SABR bio and a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Jim Bouton, age 80, passed away on July 10

A right-handed pitcher, Bouton was a seven-year member of the New York Yankees who made the 1963 All Star team, logged over 1000 innings in pinstripes and appeared in two World Series, but to many baseball fans he is more frequently remembered for his 57 appearances for the 1969 Seattle Pilots and the book he published shortly thereafter, Ball Four.

Bouton’s famous memoir threw back the curtain on the previously unseen world of baseball clubhouses, as he told dozens of humorous but often unflattering personal stories about former teammates, coaches and others. The secrets he told strained his relationships with many around the game, including former teammate and Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle.

Bouton was leading the Seattle Pilots in pitching appearances when he was traded to the Astros in August of 1969. He was out of the majors for seven seasons from 1970-77 before returning to make five starts for the Braves as a 39-year-old in 1978.

Bouton’s passing, along with Freddie Velazquez as mentioned above, leaves just 33 surviving members of the 1969 Seattle Pilots. Bouton was the fifth to pass away since 2017.

Both Bouton and Ball Four have extended entries in the SABR Bio Project and he has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Bobby Mitchell, age 75, passed away on September 29

A right-handed hitting outfielder, Mitchell had been a part of four organizations over five professional seasons when he made his MLB debut with the 1970 Yankees, appearing in ten games across two stints with the team in July and September. Early in the 1971 season the Brewers traded struggling outfielder Danny Walton to the Yankees to acquire Mitchell, who went on to play 263 games across portions of four seasons in Milwaukee.

Mitchell struggled to reach base during his time with the Brewers, posting a .298 on-base percentage across 650 plate appearances. Despite that fact, however, only Hank Aaron (127 games) received more playing time than Mitchell (84 games) as a designated hitter during the Brewers’ first three seasons under the new American League rule.

After the end of the 1975 season Mitchell continued his professional baseball career in Japan, where he played four seasons for the Japanese Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters. He led the Pacific League in home runs with 36 in 1978.

Mitchell has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Cecil Butler, age 81, passed away on October 2

A five-year minor leaguer, Butler was still only 24 years old when he made the Milwaukee Braves’ roster for the first time in 1962 and pitched two scoreless innings in his MLB debut that April. His season and career were cut short due to a shoulder injury (per Wikipedia), however: After May 19 of his debut season he made just four more MLB appearances, all in relief, before retiring in 1965.

Butler and Kolb’s passings leave just 55 surviving former Milwaukee Braves as of this writing. Six more passed away in 2018, including Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst.

Andy Etchebarren, age 76, passed away on October 5

A longtime MLB catcher, Etchebarren had already appeared in 944 major league games, caught two All Star Games and earned two World Series rings in four Fall Classic appearances when he joined the Brewers for the 1978 season.

Unfortunately, Etchebarren’s final MLB run in Milwaukee was not a memorable one. He appeared in just four games before going down with an elbow injury and retired after suffering nerve damage in a surgery to remove bone chips from said elbow. He’s sixth on the Orioles all-time list with 713 games played behind the plate and went on to spend 16 years as a minor league manager, starting with a season at the helm of the Brewers-affiliated Stockton Ports in 1984.

Etchebarren has an entry in the SABR Bio Project and a full obituary at RIP Baseball.

Val Heim, age 99, passed away on November 21

Heim, a native of Plymouth, Wisconsin, signed with the White Sox as a 19-year-old amateur free agent in 1940 and didn’t take long to reach the big leagues: He debuted at the MLB level in August of 1942 and played in 13 games for the White Sox down the stretch, batting .200/.294/.267 across 51 plate appearances.

Heim left the game to join the Navy during World War II and missed the 1943-45 seasons. When he returned in 1946 he went back to the minors and following the 1948 season he retired to start a new career in construction.

Heim, who turned 99 a few weeks before his passing, was the oldest living former MLB player and one of three surviving players who played Major League Baseball in 1942.

Heim has a full obituary at RIP Baseball.