As we begin a new year in sports and in our own lives, we can easily reminisce about the great things we saw on the field in 2011. We saw the best postseason in a long time culminating in the St. Louis Cardinals winning a thrilling World Series over the Texas Rangers. While we like to remember those who kept us entertained this past year, let us also honor those who left us in 2011. In order of age, here are some of the MLB heroes and other figures to whom we say goodbye.
Hideki Irabu came from Japan in 1997 and helped the New York Yankees win two World Series titles (1998-1999). He was among the first foreign-born players in recent years to begin the bidding wars that we now see. Irabu went 29-20 in three years with the Yankees and 34-35 overall when adding in two years with the Montreal Expos and one with the Rangers. After a few years of troubled times, Irabu was found as an apparent suicide victim at age 42 in his home at the end of July.
Paul Splittorff pitched his entire 15-year career for the Kansas City Royals (1970-1984). He went 166-143 with a 3.81 ERA and helped the Royals reach the World Series in 1980. He was a very solid lefty who won 10 or more games 10 times including a 20-win season in 1973. He became an announcer for the Royals until speech problems hindered his announcing career. Splittorff lost a battle to melanoma and oral cancer on May 26.
On June 8, we said goodbye to Detroit Tigers outfielder Jim Northrup. In his 11 seasons as a Tiger (1964-1974), Northrup hit a respectable .267 with 153 home runs. He helped the Tigers to a 1968 World Series title over the Cardinals with two Series home runs and eight RBI, including a Game 7 two-run triple to beat the great Bob Gibson. He finished his career with the Expos (1974) and Baltimore Orioles (1974-1975) before becoming an announcer. A seizure took Northrup from us.
On May 17, Minnesota Twins superstar Harmon Kilebrew fell to cancer of the esophagus at age 74. The Hall-of Famer played 22 seasons and starred with the Twins (1961-1974). He began his career with the Washington Senators (1954-1960) and ended with the Royals (1975). He blasted 573 home runs, currently 11th all time. Kilebrew won six home run and three RBI titles. After time announcing and running businessness, Kilebrew and his wife started the Harmon Kilebrew Foundation to raise funds for many charities.
Ryne Duren pitched in two World Series with the Yankees (1958, 1960) as part of his 10-year career, during which he pitched for seven teams. He had a career record of 27-44, 3.83, as mostly a reliever, but he also saved 20 games for the '58 Yankees. He made three All-Star teams thanks in part to his 100 mph fastball. Duren passed on January 6 at age 81.
Chuck Tanner played eight seasons with four different teams, but he is remembered more as one of the best managers in Pittsburgh Pirates history. Tanner led the 1979 "We Are Family" Pirates to the World Series title. He won 711 of his 1352 wins as the Pirates' skipper. He also managed the Chicago White Sox (401 wins), Oakland Athletics (87), and Atlanta Braves (153). Tanner left us on February 11.
The Duke passed on February 24. A Hall of Fame legend of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for 16 of 18 seasons, Snyder hit .295 with 407 home runs, 40 or more in five consecutive seasons (1953-57). He was one of the Boys of Summer that beat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series, Brooklyn's only championship. His L.A. Dodgers then won the 1959 World Series over the White Sox. He made seven straight N.L. All-Star teams in the '50s and one more in 1963 as a member of the New York Mets. He finished his career with the San Francisco Giants in 1964.
Other sports stars
I am certain that I left out many other very notable and deserving names from MLB alone, and I apologize for that. Other sports stars also passed on in 2011, including Al Davis, Bubba Smith, Joe Frazier, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Armon Gilliam, and Ron Springs among many others. These people were not only players and sports leaders; they were someone's husband, father, family, and friends. Regardless of what they did on the field, their friends and family will remember them just as we will our remember our own.
Baseball Almanac, Home Runs All Time Leaders, baseball-almanac.com.
Baseball Reference, Player Pages (Linked Above), baseball-reference.com.
ESPN.com, Harmon Kilebrew Biography, espn.go.com.
Chicago Tribune Sports Photo Gallery, 2011 Notable Sports Deaths, chicagotribune.com.
Raymond became a baseball fan at a very young age. He played baseball through high school and soon after became a varsity coach. He currently coaches Little League in Florida. Raymond previously produced radio sports talk shows and hosted a weekly baseball radio call-in show.
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