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Moving On: The players and others who passed away in 2021

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

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Hank Aaron with Record-Breaking Home-Run Ball

Today we continue our annual tradition of taking a moment before turning the calendar to a new year to remember figures from the Brewers’ and Wisconsin’s baseball history that we’ve lost over the last twelve months.

It’s been another difficult year for those with an appreciation of Wisconsin’s baseball history: While the 13 former Brewers, Milwaukee Braves and others with Wisconsin ties that passed are fewer than the 17 we saw last year, this year’s list includes a Hall of Famer, a player featured on the Milwaukee Braves’ Wall of Honor and a recipient of the Hall of Fame’s Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, among others.

Thanks as always to Stathead and David Schultz for their help compiling this list. While the list is comprehensive to the best of our knowledge, please let us know in the comments if we missed anyone.

Henry Aaron, age 86, passed away on January 22

Long before he became one of the greatest hitters in MLB history, Henry Aaron came to Milwaukee as a spring training underdog story. Aaron had logged 137 games, posted a .988 OPS and hit 22 home runs for A-level Jacksonville in 1953 but was promised to AAA Toledo for the 1954 season when one moment in spring training changed the course of history: Braves outfielder Bobby Thomson broke his ankle, and Aaron claimed the vacated spot in Milwaukee’s outfield.

Across the decades that followed and despite countless battles with racism, both in Milwaukee and beyond, Aaron compiled a list of career accomplishments nearly impossible to catalog in any brief format. During his eleven seasons in Milwaukee with the Braves Aaron was an MVP, a World Series champion, a two-time batting champion, a two-time home run champion and made the first 15 of his 25 All Star appearances (there were two All Star games from 1959-62). Despite not making his debut until 1954 Aaron played in 88% of the Braves’ games during their 13-year run in Milwaukee.

Aaron followed the Braves to Atlanta following the 1965 season and by the time he returned to Milwaukee in 1975 he was MLB’s all-time leader in home runs, RBI and total bases. He still holds the latter two records. He played his final two seasons with the Brewers, where he hit his 755th home run, logged his 25th and final All Star appearance and recorded his 3771st and final hit, which still stands as the third-highest total in MLB history. Aaron was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1982, and his 97.83% of the vote was at the time the highest total for a first-ballot selection since the Hall’s first election in 1936.

Of course, Aaron’s impact on the game and the world as a whole extend far beyond his performances on the baseball field or his playing career. Aaron has a SABR Bio written by Bill Johnson, a New York Times obituary written by Richard Goldstein and is the subject of countless books, including his autobiography I Had A Hammer.

Billy Conigliaro, who 73, passed away on February 10

The younger brother of former Red Sox All Star Tony Conigliaro, Billy was a Massachusetts native and entered professional baseball as a top prospect, having been selected by the Red Sox with the #5 overall pick in the 1965 MLB draft. He was the first draft selection in that organization’s history.

The younger Conigliaro had spent several years in the minors and a few years in the majors with the Red Sox but was still only 24 years old when he was included in the famous ten-player trade in October of 1971 that brought him to Milwaukee alongside (among several others) first baseman George Scott (more on this deal later). Conigliaro was a career .269/.329/.461 hitter with the Red Sox but that success did not follow him to Milwaukee, where he appeared in just 52 games and posted a .261 on-base percentage. The Brewers suspended him without pay for leaving the team without permission that June, and later traded him to Oakland where he played his final MLB season. He was done playing major league baseball just after his 26th birthday.

While the younger Conigliaro had a notable MLB career in his own right and won a World Series with the 1973 A’s, his relationship with his older brother became the prime storyline of his life. His frustration with Tony’s treatment and eventual departure from the Red Sox led to a public outburst that set the table for his departure and likely abbreviated his career, and Billy went on to play a key role in Tony’s business ventures, end of life care and the preservation of his legacy. Billy’s Associated Press obituary identified him as “Keeper of His Brother’s Baseball Flame.” Conigliaro’s turbulent baseball life is chronicled in a SABR Bio written by Bill Nowlin

Lew Krausse, age 77, passed away on February 16

The younger Lew Krausse was the son of a 1930’s MLB pitcher by the same name, but by the time he was 19 years old he had already surpassed his father’s accomplishments. Krausse came of age at a great time for a top baseball prospect: In one of the final years before the implementation of the MLB draft, Krausse and several of the game’s top prospects were free to negotiate their own contracts with any team. Having thrown 18 amateur no-hitters, Krausse was one of the biggest prizes on the market and signed with the A’s for $125,000 under the condition that he would be allowed to pitch in the majors immediately. On June 16, 1961 he pitched a complete game shutout in his MLB debut, becoming the youngest (known) pitcher in MLB history to work a nine inning shutout.

Krausse had pitched 187 games for the A’s (at the time the 22nd most in franchise history) across portions of seven seasons when the then-Seattle Pilots acquired him in a six-player deal in January of 1970 that brought him, reliever Ken Sanders and two others into the organization in exchange for infielder Ron Clark and first baseman Don Mincher, the Pilots’ lone All Star from their debut season. Krausse was the Brewers’ Opening Day starter for their first opener at County Stadium, and logged 396 1/3 innings across 80 appearances (57 starts) during two seasons in Milwaukee.

Krausse’s tenure in Milwaukee ended with another notable trade: He was part of the ten-player deal in October of 1971 that also sent Tommy Harper and Marty Pattin to the Red Sox in exchange for a six-player package including George Scott. All told, Krausse logged nearly 1300 innings across 12 MLB seasons as a member of five franchises. David E. Skelton wrote his SABR Bio, and JR Radcliffe of the Journal Sentinel wrote his obituary.

Juan Pizarro, age 84, passed away on February 18

A native of Puerto Rico, Pizarro pitched the first four of his 18 MLB seasons as a Milwaukee Brave, debuting as a 20-year-old in 1957 and going on to pitch in the World Series later that same season. In a time before high strikeout rates (the NL average in 1957 was 4.9 per nine innings), Pizarro stood out from the norm as a pitcher who walked almost five batters per nine innings during his time in Milwaukee but also struck out 7.4.

The Braves traded Pizarro to the Reds following the 1960 season, who traded him to the White Sox later the same day. He had his best seasons with the White Sox, leading the American League in strikeout rate in both 1961 and 1962 and making the only two All Star appearances of his career in 1963 and 1964. His 8.7 strikeouts per nine in 1961 set a White Sox franchise record that stood for 46 years.

All told, across 18 seasons and eight MLB franchises Pizarro pitched over 2000 innings with a 3.43 ERA, logged 1522 strikeouts (which at the time of his retirement was 72nd in MLB history) and won 131 games. Pizarro has a SABR bio written by Rory Costello and an obituary at RIP Baseball.

Charlie Gorin, age 93, passed away on February 21

A member of back-to-back NCAA National Championship teams at the University of Texas, Gorin spent the entirety of his eleven-year professional career in the Braves organization, both before and after two years in the Navy during the Korean War. Gorin pitched for the AAA Milwaukee Brewers in 1950 and 1951 before leaving for military service, and made his MLB debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954.

While he pitched extensively in the high minors, Gorin’s MLB service time was brief: He logged five games with the Braves in 1954 and never returned after a disastrous outing in April of 1955, where he faced four batters and allowed three consecutive walks and a hit. Following his baseball career Gorin had a long second career in coaching and education.

Shawn Clynch of KVUE has an interview with Gorin about his baseball memories from 2019, and Gorin has an extensive obituary at dignitymemorial.com.

Frankie De La Cruz, age 37, passed away on March 14

Born Eulogio De La Cruz but nicknamed Frankie, De La Cruz stretched the definition of what it meant to be a journeyman pitcher. He signed with the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 2001 and made his MLB debut there in 2007, but pitched in just six games before being traded to the Marlins in the eight-player deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit.

From there, FDLC never had much time to unpack. He split 2008 between the majors and minors in the Marlins organization, did the same in 2009 with the Padres, then pitched in Japan in 2010 before returning to the US in the Brewers organization in 2011. He pitched in eleven MLB games for the Crew that season and posted a 2.77 ERA, but that was his final MLB campaign.

De La Cruz’s career, however, was far from over. After his final game with the Brewers he pitched in AAA, AA, Taiwan, Mexico and Italy, and pitched in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Mexico, making his final winter ball appearance just months before his passing. All told, across eleven minor and major league seasons and 13 years pitching internationally he logged more than 600 professional games and over 1800 innings. De La Cruz’s obituaries included Evan Woodbery of MLive.com and RIP Baseball.

Jack Smith, age 85, passed away on April 7

Jack Hatfield Smith, a native of Pikeville, Kentucky, signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent out of high school but toiled for several years in the minors before getting his first opportunities in the big leagues, a combined 12 appearances with the now-Los Angeles Dodgers in 1962 and 1963 as a 26 and 27-year-old, respectively.

The Dodgers left Smith unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft following the 1963 season and the Milwaukee Braves took a chance on him. He had his best MLB season with the Braves in 1964, posting a 3.77 ERA across 22 relief appearances. 1964 was also Smith’s last MLB season: He played for the Braves’ AAA affiliate in Atlanta in 1965, then retired and opened a barber shop in the city.

Smith is likely better known for that barber shop, named “Smitty’s Bullpen,” which he operated for 50 years before retiring in 2016. Smith has obituaries at Legacy.com and RIP Baseball.

Del Crandall, age 91, passed away on May 5

On April 13, 1953 Del Crandall played his first MLB game in two and a half years, and it just happened to be the very first game in Milwaukee Braves history. In the decades ahead he would factor into a hundreds more games in the city.

Crandall, who previously had a cup of coffee with the 1948 AAA Milwaukee Brewers, had played in the majors with the 1949 and 1950 Boston Braves before missing two years to serve in the military. When he returned to baseball in 1953 the Braves put him right into the MLB starting lineup, and he was there nearly every day for more than a decade. Crandall was an eleven-time All Star across eleven years as a Milwaukee Brave (including both games in 1959, 1960 and 1962), a four-time Gold Glove Award winner at catcher and to date the only batter ever to hit a home run in Game 7 of two consecutive World Series, doing it in the final game in both 1957 and 1958.

The Braves traded Crandall to the Giants following the 1963 season, but his time in Milwaukee wasn’t over just yet: He managed the new Milwaukee Brewers’ AAA affiliate in Evansville in 1971, then moved up the ladder to take over the big league club during the 1972 season. He managed parts of four seasons in Milwaukee and was still the winningest manager in franchise history more than a decade after his departure, holding the record until George Bamberger passed it during his final stint with the club in 1985.

Crandall’s passing leaves just two surviving members of the 1953 Milwaukee Braves: Pitcher Joey Jay and infielder Mel Roach, who were both in their first MLB seasons and combined to appear in just eight games. Crandall has a SABR bio written by Gregory H. Wolf and a New York Times obituary written by Richard Goldstein.

Mike Marshall, age 78, passed away on May 31

Before he was the owner of one of the most unusual stat lines in MLB history, Mike Marshall was a pitcher who was just trying to catch on somewhere. He signed as an amateur free agent in 1960 but bounced around the minors for most of the next nine years, logging one partial season with the Tigers. He was still available when the Seattle Pilots were making the 53rd pick in the 1968 expansion draft, and made 20 appearances (including 14 starts) in their expansion season. Even the lowly Pilots didn’t have room for him, however, demoting him to the minors after a disastrous start in July and selling him to the Astros after the season.

By 1971, however, Marshall had a new and unprecedented role: Super reliever. With the Expos that season he logged 111 1/3 innings without making a single start. By 1973 it was 179 innings with a 2.66 ERA, and in 1974 he was the National League Cy Young Award winner with the Dodgers, pitching in relief in 106 games and working 208 1/3 innings with a 2.42 ERA before going on to make seven more appearances in the postseason. He finished third in the voting for NL MVP.

All told, Marshall logged 1386 2/3 innings across 724 MLB appearances as a member of nine franchises. He was a two-time All Star, a five-time recipient of Cy Young Award votes and is the only pitcher in MLB history to work in more than 95 games in a season. Marshall has an Associated Press obituary and a SABR Bio by Warren Corbett.

Chuck Hartenstein, age 79, passed away on October 2

A native of Texas and a Longhorns alum, Hartenstein had a six-year MLN career pitching for the Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, Red Sox and, after a six-year MLB hiatus, the 1977 Blue Jays. After that final campaign he transitioned nearly immediately to coaching, and eventually served as the Brewers’ pitching coach from 1987-89. After three years in that role he transitioned to scouting in 1990, then retired in 1995.

Hartenstein has an extensive SABR bio written by Bill Nowlin and obituaries at The Seguin Gazette (h/t @jeffash26) and RIP Baseball. Former Brewers pitcher Don August also tweeted a nice tribute to him.

Ray Fosse, age 74, passed away on October 13

Cleveland’s first-ever selection in the MLB Draft, Fosse is perhaps best remembered for one unfortunate moment that seemed to permanently alter the trajectory of his career. Fosse was playing his first full season in the majors in 1970 and was catching for the American League in the 12th inning of All Star Game when Cubs outfielder Jim Hickman singled to right and Pete Rose came around to score, leveling Fosse in the process.

It will forever remain unclear if the collision with Rose was a factor in his early decline, but Fosse’s offensive numbers dropped off from that point forward: After posting an .893 OPS before the All Star break in 1970, Fosse had a .713 mark in the second half and .656 in the eight seasons that followed. His final 19 MLB games came with the 1979 Brewers, who gave him an opportunity after he sat out all of 1978. He retired when the Brewers released him during spring training in 1980.

Following his playing career Fosse spent more than 35 years working on radio and television broadcasts for the A’s. Fosse has a SABR Bio written by Joseph Wancho and a San Jose Mercury News obituary by Shayna Rubin.

Doug Jones, age 64, passed away on November 22

Doug Jones was the #59 overall pick in the 1978 draft, and for the first decade it didn’t look like the Brewers would get much from their investment. The second and third chapters of his career, however, made Jones a memorable baseball story.

Jones pitched parts of four seasons in the minors and was almost 25 years old before he got his first shot at the majors. Even that stint was brief: He made the Opening Day roster for the 1982 Brewers and pitched in the season’s first game, but was returned to the minors after just four outings and didn’t resurface in the big leagues for Milwaukee again. By his 30th birthday Jones had pitched in parts of ten minor league seasons but logged just 22 games at the MLB level. After more than a decade as a minor league journeyman, however, in 1988 Jones transformed into one of the game’s elite relievers.

As a 31-year-old in 1988 Jones was a full-time major leaguer for the first time, became Cleveland’s closer and made his first of five All Star appearances, posting a 2.27 ERA and saving 37 games. Despite having been in the minors the previous season, Jones appeared on multiple American League MVP ballots. Over a seven-year stretch from 1988-94 Jones had a 2.94 ERA out of the bullpen and logged 208 saves.

The third chapter of Jones’ career, however, was even more unlikely. Jones seemed likely to be done with baseball when the Cubs released him as a 39-year-old in 1996, but the Brewers signed him and gave him one last shot. About a month after signing he was back in the majors and in 1997 Jones led all of baseball with 73 games finished and set a franchise record with 36 saves. Armed with an extremely slow fastball that earned him the nickname “Mild Thing,” Jones pitched in the majors through his age 43 season with the Brewers, Cleveland and Oakland. After logging just 22 MLB appearances before his 30th birthday, Jones retired with over 846 games pitched and 303 saves, which at the time was the 12th most in MLB history.

Jones passed away from complications due to COVID-19. He has a SABR Bio written by Richard Riis and an extensive obituary at RIP Baseball.

Roland Hemond, age 92, passed away on December 12

One of the most storied and decorated executives in MLB history, some of Hemond’s first steps in professional baseball came in Milwaukee. Hemond was a young assistant in the Boston Braves’ front office when the team moved suddenly before the 1953 season, and he was sent to Milwaukee to help with ticket sales. He ended up spending eight years in Milwaukee, eventually climbing the ladder to assistant farm director.

After helping assemble the Braves’ 1957 and 1958 World Series teams and marrying general manager John Quinn’s daughter, Hemond left for Los Angeles in 1961 to become the first farm and scouting director for the expansion Angels. Hemond eventually became general manager of the White Sox, serving in that role from 1970-85 and in the same role with the Orioles from 1988-95. He won the Sporting News’ MLB Executive of the Year Award three times. One of his assistants during that time was future Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who recently shared his memories of Hemond with Adam McCalvy.

Hemond was the namesake and first recipient of the Society for American Baseball Research’s annual Roland Hemond Award, presented to an executive who “has demonstrated a lifetime commitment to professional baseball scouts and scouting, and player development history. In 2001 Minor League Baseball crowned him “King of Baseball,” and in 2011 the Baseball Hall of Fame made him the second-ever recipient of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, second only to O’Neil himself.

Hemond has an extensive SABR Bio written by Bill Nowlin and an Associated Press obituary.

In addition to the aforementioned players, coaches and executives, today we also pause to remember two people who impacted the game away from the field:

Bud Lea, age 92, passed away on January 20

After starting his career as a rookie reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel covering the Green Bay Packers in 1954, Bud Lea became a Wisconsin sports institution for decades to come. After extensively covering the Lombardi-era Packers, Lea went on to become the Sentinel’s sports editor in 1972.

While his career is best remembered for his coverage of football, Lea was also passionate about baseball. He co-founded the Milwaukee Braves Historical Association and his Journal Sentinel obituary includes a quote from Bud Selig about their interactions at Brewers games. @Tweetsfrom1982 documented some of his opinions from that legendary season.

Tom Haudricourt wrote Lea’s aforementioned obituary.

Tom Skibosh, age 73, passed away on December 25

A Brookfield native and UW-Milwaukee alum, Skibosh spent his entire professional life in sports in the Milwaukee area, first as sports editor at the West Allis Star and later as sports information director back at his alma mater. In 1976 he joined the Brewers as Public Relations Director, and remained a fixture in the organization’s press box through 1994. The “What’s Brewing?” monthly magazine was his creation and, as noted in his Journal Sentinel obituary, several people who got their start working under Skibosh have gone on to long and successful careers in the area.

Skibosh remained active on Twitter nearly up to the day of his passing, and was a passionate fantasy football player. In addition to the obituary linked above, his passing drew tributes from Jim Paschke and Kent Sommerfeld, among others.