The New York Yankees have been blessed with many great players over the past 100 plus years. Some were among the best players to play the game we all love. With a past as glorious as the Yankees’, we as fans deal with the reality that, as in life, none of these players escape the end of their time on this earth. Each year players die, and all we have are the memories they created for us. Unfortunately, this past year was no different. Today we remember those Yankees that passed away and other notables.
Dr. Bobby Brown 1924 – 2021:
Brown the Yankees’ “Golden Boy” passed away at the age of 96. Up until the coronavirus, Bobby Brown was a fixture at every Old Timer’s Day celebration. He won four championships with a batting average of .439 across 17 World Series games in his time with the Yankees. Yankee owner and general partner Hal Steinbrenner had this to say upon learning of his passing:
Few people who have worn the pinstripes have lived such an accomplished, fulfilled, and wide-ranging life as Dr. Bobby Brown, who was beloved by our organization for his warmth, kindness, and character; he represented the pinstripes with elegance throughout his playing career and in subsequent decades as a frequent, welcome guest at Old Timers Day. We also hold the utmost respect for the myriad of other accomplishments in his life, from service to our country, his stewardship of the American League, and his longtime career as a cardiologist. The Yankees extend their deepest condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones as we reflect on his incredible life.
The “Golden boy” of the Yankees was an excellent defender at third base. Many that recall his play say he was as good as Graig Nettles. He wasn’t a home run hitter, but he was a lifetime .279 hitter with 22 home runs in his career. He would have had better stats, but he only played in half of the games, as he shared the third base with Billy Johnson. It was common during the period for managers to platoon players. He played with the likes of Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Joe DiMaggio. Bobby and DiMaggio went to the same high school together.
After Bobby Brown left baseball, he opened his Cardiology practice in Forth Worth, Texas. He took a leave from heart surgery in 1974 to become President of the Texas Rangers for a year before returning to his practice. At the age of 60, he retired from medicine and became President of the American League, which he held until he was 70. Since then, he has been a regular at Yankee Old Timer’s Day celebrations. Unfortunately, this amazing Yankee passed away at 96. He was the last New York Yankee survivor of the 1947 and 1949 World Champion Series.
Bill Virdon 1932 – 2021
Virdon attended an open tryout held by the New York Yankees in Branson, Missouri. A Yankee scout was impressed with Virdon, and the Yankees signed him. Virdon made his professional debut in 1950 with the Independence Yankees. Virdon played for the Norfolk Tars of the Class B Piedmont League in 1951 and the Binghamton Triplets of the Class A Eastern League in 1952. The Yankees assigned him to Kansas City in 1953, but he struggled, batting .233. Finally, the Yankees demoted Virdon to the Birmingham Barrons. In 42 games for Birmingham, Virdon had a .317 batting average.
Virdon remained stuck behind Mickey Mantle on the Yankees’ depth chart for center field, while Bauer and Woodling played the corner positions. The Yankees traded Virdon to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1954 season. But that would not be the last time he would work for the Yankees.
After he retired from baseball, mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he went on to be a manager for 11 more seasons. Two of those positions were with the Yankees. He managed the Yankees from 1974 to 1975. He won 142 games for the Yankees for a .532 winning record. On August 2, 1975, Virdon would be fired by the Yankees when they hired Billy Martin to guide the team.
Virdon passed away at the age of 90.
Other MLB notables:
A few of the other greats lost across MLB are Hank Aaron, possibly one of the best players to ever play the game. Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was one of the greatest and most important players in baseball. Aaron signed by the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League at the age of 18; he would end up integrating the Sally League — at much personal turmoil — before debuting with the Milwaukee Braves just a couple of months past his 20th birthday. He then was one of the best five players in baseball for the next, 22 years. He was the all-time leader in home runs for several decades, of course, but he was far from just a slugger: He had a .305 career average and remained the all-time leader in RBIs and total bases. His book “I Had a Hammer” is a must-read. There has never been another Hank Aaron. There has never been anyone particularly close.
One of the best managers in baseball, Tommy Lasorda, passed away this year. There is no question that he was one of the most colorful characters in baseball up to his death. He was with the Los Angeles Dodgers for an unprecedented 40 years. He went from throwing three wild pitches in his only ever start with the Brooklyn Dodgers team to managing the team for 21 years, winning two World Series in the process. His final game as manager was interrupted because he had a heart attack; he drove himself to the hospital. (The Dodgers won.) He returned to win a gold medal with Team USA in 2000.
The pitching great Don Sutton was a rookie member of a rotation that included Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. For over a decade, Sutton was a star pitcher for the Dodgers. He was a four-time All-Star and was the 1977 MVP of the All-Star game. His career lasted over 20 years; he pitched in the ’74, ’77, ’78, and ’82 World Series, though his team didn’t win any of them. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, the only player selected that year. After retiring from baseball, he had a long career as a broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.