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Pastime Passings–October, November, and December

Posted By Bruce Markusen On December 27, 2007 @ 3:08 pm In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

With this representing the final installment of Pastime Passings for 2007, it’s an appropriate time to pay homage to some of the baseball people we’ve lost over the final months of the year. Here are tributes to those who have passed away, both broadcasters and players, during the months of October, November, and December.

Stu Nahan (Died on December 26 in Studio City, CA; age 81; lymphoma): A well-known presence on the Los Angeles sports scene since the 1950s, Nahan most recently worked on Dodgers broadcasts as a pre- and post-game host for KFWB Radio. After retiring from a journeyman hockey career as a minor league goaltender, he became a go-fer for veteran broadcaster Bob Kelley on Pacific Coast League broadcasts for the Los Angeles Angels. He eventually became a play-by-play man for the minor league Modesto Reds before hosting nightly sports reports on KCRA TV in Sacramento. In 1968, he returned to Los Angeles to anchor sports reports, working at a variety of local stations before being dismissed in 1999. Nahan also gained national acclaim for playing commentators in feature films, including Brian’s Song, Private Benjamin, and all six incarnations of Rocky. In one of his most memorable appearances, Nahan played himself while interviewing the lead character of Jeff Spicoli (portrayed by Sean Penn) in the 1982 hit, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Tommy Byrne (Died on December 20 in Wake Forest, NC; age 87; congestive heart failure): A hard-throwing left-hander with a reputation for wildness, Byrne pitched for four American League teams from 1943 to 1957. He was best remembered for his tenure with the Yankees, his first and last major league team. Pitching in three different stints for the Yankees, Byrne earned selection to the All-Star Game in 1950 and appeared in four World Series. In 21 postseason innings, he struck out 11 batters while forging an impressive ERA of 2.53. Nicknamed "Wild Bill," Byrnes led the league in walks three times. An intimidating pitcher who liked to throw inside, he led the league in hit batsmen five times. Byrnes could hit almost as well as he could throw hard fastballs. He batted .238 during his career (143-for-601) with 14 home runs, including two grand slams. In addition to the Yankees, Byrnes pitched for the St. Louis Browns, Chicago White Sox, and Washington Senators during his 13-year career. After his playing days, he served as the mayor of his hometown in Wake Forest for 15 years.

Don Chevrier (Died on December 18 in Tampa, FL; age 69; blood thinning disorder): The first television play-by-play man in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays, Chevrier became known as the primary sports voice of CBC, the Canadian network. Described as the "voice of God" by former CBC executive Rick Brace, Chevrier featured a booming baritone that helped make him popular with Canadian viewers. As the first TV voice of the Jays, he partnered with former Yankees star Tony Kubek to form a memorable broadcasting tandem. Chevrier also became close friends with another Toronto broadcasting icon, the late Tom Cheek, who died in 2005. The versatile Chevrier did play-by-play on Canadian Football League Grey Cup telecasts while also becoming the CBC’s voice of curling. He also did work for ABC TV in the United States, including "Monday Night Baseball" and boxing broadcasts, where he frequently teamed with Howard Cosell.

Bob Marquis (Died on November 28 in Beaumont, TX; age 82): Marquis played one season for the Cincinnati Reds, appearing in 40 games in 1953. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .273 with two home runs in 44 at-bats. A U.S. Navy veteran, Marquis had previously served in the military during World War II.

Joe Kennedy (Died on November 23 in Tampa, FL; age 28; cause of death unknown pending an autopsy): The seven-year veteran left-hander, who had pitched for three major league teams in 2007, collapsed in the bedroom of his wife’s parents while preparing to serve as the best man at a Florida wedding. He was taken to nearby Brandon Hospital, but was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. The cause of his death remains undetermined, pending the results of an autopsy.

Drafted in the eighth round of the 1998 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Kennedy made his big league debut in 2001, marking the start of a three-year tenure in Tampa Bay. Establishing a reputation for his competitiveness on the mound, Kennedy gave the Rays hope of finding an ace for the top of their rotation. Making 72 starts for the D-Rays, Kennedy pitched well at times, but suffered from a lack of run support, accounting for a record of 18-31. After the 2003 season, the Devil Rays traded him to the Colorado Rockies, where he would enjoy his finest season. Despite pitching half of his games at Coors Field, Kennedy posted a 3.66 ERA while winning nine of 16 decisions. He never matched that level of triumph again, eventually bouncing to the Oakland A’s. After starting the 2007 season with Oakland, Kennedy was released, signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, released for a second time, and then signed by the Toronto Blue Jays. Kennedy became a free agent at season’s end; in spite of his recent struggles, he was expected to receive offers from the Blue Jays and potentially several other teams. Over his seven seasons, Kennedy posted a record of 43-61 with a 4.79 ERA in 908 innings.

Kennedy became the second active major leaguer to pass away in the last two years. In 2006, former Yankee right-hander Cory Lidle (a onetime teammate of Kennedy) died just days after New York was eliminated by Detroit in the American League Division Series. Kennedy is survived by his wife and one-year-old son.

Joe Nuxhall (Died on November 16 in Ohio; age 79; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma): Nuxhall was best known for being the youngest major leaguer of the 20th century, pitching in a 1944 game for the Cincinnati Reds at the age of 15 years, ten months, and 11 days. Nuxhall struggled badly in his wartime debut, giving up five runs on five walks and two hits in only two-thirds of an inning against the first-place St. Louis Cardinals. Undeterred, he spent the rest of the season in the minor leagues, returned to high school in the fall, and then continued a long baseball apprenticeship in the minor leagues before making it back to the Reds in 1951, seven years after his debut. Nuxhall would last 16 seasons in the majors, establishing himself as a solid left-handed pitcher in the mid-1950s. A two-time All-Star, Nuxhall led the National League in shutouts in 1955. Except for brief stints with the Kansas City A’s and LA Angels, Nuxhall remained with Cincinnati through the 1966 season, when he retired with 135 wins and over 1,300 strikeouts. The following spring, "The Ol’ Lefthander" returned to the Reds as a broadcaster, continuing what would become a 63-year association with the franchise.

Matthew Wasser (Died on October 24 in Waltham, Massachusetts; age 22): A member of the Yankees’ media relations department, Wasser was assisting the Boston Red Sox with statistical work during the American League Championship Series at the time of his death. Wasser was killed when his taxi was struck by a suspected drunken driver. The driver, Lawrence P. Laine, was arrested and charged with operating under the influence of alcohol.

Wasser had joined the Yankees only last spring, working with both local and national in media. He was scheduled to graduate from the College of New Jersey in December. As a tribute to Wasser, the Yankees sent his family a signed baseball to be placed in his casket.

Owen "Red" Friend (Died on October 14 in Wichita, Kansas; age 80): After signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1944, Friend made his major league debut five years later. A defensive-minded infielder with the ability to handle second, short, or third, Friend played two seasons with the Browns before missing two years while serving in the U.S. military during the Korean War. He returned to the big leagues in 1953, splitting the season between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. He later played for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs before his major league career ended in 1956. After his playing days, Friend became a minor league manager, scouted for the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, and served on Joe Gordon’s inaugural coaching staff with the expansion Kansas City Royals in 1969.

Don Nottebart (Died on October 4 in Cypress, TX; age 71; effects of a recent stroke): Nottebart was best known for throwing the first no-hitter in the history of the Houston Astros/Colt .45s franchise. Pitching for the Colt .45s on May 17, 1963, the right-hander set down the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1. Nottebart allowed a single run in the fifth inning through little fault of his own—a two-base error followed by a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. Using a devastating slider, Nottebart struck out eight Phillies and walked three in pitching the no-hitter at Colt Stadium. He would finish the 1963 season with a record of 11-8 and a 3.17 ERA. Over the course of a nine-year career, Nottebart won 66, lost 96, and posted an ERA of 3.65. A veteran of the Colts, Astros, Milwaukee Braves, and Cincinnati Reds, Nottebart saw his career come to an end in 1969, when he split the season between the Yankees and Chicago Cubs.

Bunky Stewart (Died on October 3 in Wilmington, NC; age 76): A veteran of five major league seasons, Stewart pitched for the Washington Senators from 1952 to 1956. The left-hander finished his career with a record of 5-11 and six saves. All five of his wins came in his final season, when he logged a career-high 105 innings.

 

Bruce Markusen is the author of "Cooperstown Confidential" at MLB.com. He can be reached via e-mail at bmark@telenet.net [1].

 


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