Too many losses for sports fans in 2020 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Too many losses for sports fans in 2020

Al Kaline
Photo credit: Ken Levine - Icon Sportswire

In this awful year, baseball and sports as a whole, suffered losses of some of its most unforgettable performers. Many of them had a connection to Baltimore.

Seven Baseball Hall of Famers died in a six-month period, five of them in just over a month in September and October.

Lou Brock and Bob Gibson never played in Baltimore, but their great play in three World Series in the 1960s will never be forgotten.

Joe Morgan played in the 1983 World Series, the last one the Orioles won, for the Philadelphia Phillies. Had he joined The Big Red Machine two seasons earlier, perhaps the 1970 Series with the Orioles would have been more competitive.

Whitey Ford pitched often at Memorial Stadium, and many older Oriole fans remember how frustrating he was to face.

In 1969, the Orioles won the first game of the World Series against the New York Mets, then lost four straight. They beat Tom Seaver in Game 1. Seaver pitched five times at Memorial Stadium, including one of his final games in 1986, and that World Series game was the only one he lost.

In April, the great Al Kaline left us. Kaline, a graduate of Baltimore’s Southern High School, signed directly out of high school with the Detroit Tigers and never played in the minors.

Kaline never played for the Orioles. He debuted with the Tigers in 1953, the year before the St. Louis Browns came to Baltimore, and retired before free agency.

His 3,000th hit came at Memorial Stadium in September 1974, and his last game was a few weeks later in Detroit, against the Orioles.

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On Sunday, Phil Niekro, the great knuckleballer, died at 81. For a short time, Niekro coached an aspiring Orioles knuckleball pitcher Eddie Gamboa during spring training.

John Miller, who grew up in Baltimore and pitched five seasons for the Orioles, died this year. He became a Baltimore County firefighter when he retired, and spent nearly three decades helping others.

Don Larsen, who threw the only perfect game in World Series history, was an original Oriole. In his only season in Baltimore, he was 3-21 and was part of a history-making 17 player trade with the Yankees. He died on New Year’s Day.

Jim Frey, who was a coach on the great Oriole teams in the 70s, and later managed the Kansas City Royals and Chicago Cubs, also passed away this year.

The winningest coach in NFL history got his start in Baltimore. Don Shula, who played four seasons as a defensive back for the Colts, returned to the team in 1963 as a 33-year-old head coach.

He had a fabulous winning percentage, .755 in seven years with the Colts, but is best remembered here for a game his team lost, Super Bowl III, to the New York Jets.

Mike Curtis played in that game, and was a key player two years later when the Colts finally won the Super Bowl. The linebacker was known as “the Mad Dog” for his ferocious play.

In 1971, he tackled a fan who ran onto the field during a game. “The way I see it, he was invading my place of business.”

Ray Perkins also played on the Colts’ Super Bowl-winning team as a wide receiver, and later coached the New York Giants before succeeding Bear Bryant at Alabama.

One of the NBA’s all-time greats came to Baltimore in 1968, and never left. Wes Unseld was an undersized center, who was the heart of wonderful Bullets teams.

Unseld played five seasons in Baltimore and, along with two other greats, Gus Johnson and Earl Monroe, entertained small crowds at the Civic Center.

The Bullets reached the NBA Finals in 1971, losing in four straight to the Milwaukee Bucks, and in 1973, they headed to Landover.

Unseld continued to live in the area, even when he was coach and later general manager of the Bullets and Wizards. His widow, Connie, and daughter continue to operate the school they founded in West Baltimore.

K.C. Jones, who coached the Bullets just after they left Baltimore and led them to the NBA Finals in 1975, died on Christmas Day at 88.

Jerry Sloan, one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time, began his playing career with the Bullets in 1965, and died in May at 78.

Some of the youngest deaths hurt the most. David Forney, a four-year offensive lineman for the Naval Academy, died of sudden cardiac arrest in February just before he was set to graduate and serve his country.

The brave Mo Gaba, who charmed sports fans with his knowledgeable calls to 105.7 The Fan, died of cancer at 14, just hours before he was elected to the Orioles’ Hall of Fame. The blind youngster was adored by Trey Mancini, and announced a Ravens draft pick in Braille.

John Thompson was a proud Washingtonian, but the longtime Georgetown coach was a frequent visitor to Baltimore, where he successfully recruited players from Dunbar High to play for the Hoyas.

Some of the most well-known Baltimore media figures also left us in 2020. Vince Bagli, the hometown guy who charmed WBAL-TV viewers for decades, passed away in October.

For years, Bagli overshadowed other sportscasters in town, including Jack Dawson, who competed with “The Dean” for decades at WMAR-TV. Dawson, who was 91, died of coronavirus complications last month.

Bill Gildea wrote the best book on Baltimore pro football, “When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore.” Gildea began his career at The Sun, and then moved to Washington. He never forgot his Baltimore roots, and his elegant prose won’t be forgotten.

Too many good and notable people gone in 2020. Let’s remember them for what they shared with us.

NOTE: The Orioles have hired Tony Mansolino as their third base coach, according to an industry source. Mansolino spent 11 seasons with the Cleveland Indians as a minor league manager, coach and instructor. Most recently, he’d been the team’s infield coordinator and filled in as third base coach in 2020. News of the hiring was first reported by various Cleveland media outlets.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Orial

    December 28, 2020 at 8:27 am

    Very rough year in many ways Rich. The sports world took a hard hit. Did not know Wes Unseld passed away. The 60’s in Baltimore were the Bullets and Clippers and I remember seeing Wes and Eddie Manning at a Clippers game. Miss those days. Thanks for this writeup. Sad but needed.

  2. Boog Robinson Robinson

    December 28, 2020 at 9:46 am

    RIP all. What a terrible year it was in this regard.,

    • CalsPals

      December 28, 2020 at 11:59 am

      Agree, terrible year all the way around…go O’s…

  3. BirdsCaps

    December 29, 2020 at 1:04 am

    Wow, I met Mike Curtis once (parents took me to a lot of old colts autograph signings)and while I faintly remember hearing about him tackling a fan, I didn’t know that quote existed. That goes down with Dirty Harry’s “do you feel lucky today” quote as quotes of a bygone era that’s never to return again. Also, that’s a lot of superstar deaths in a yr. The Ford passing was emblematic of the yankee golden era (and arguably baseball’s)moving from living history to the history books. I almost don’t want to get the debate started again, but with the steroid taint of the 90s-2000s, the magic and nostalgia of baseball (see field of dreams and Ken Burns documentary)is being depleted with these older legends passing and no new faces and stories to fill in.

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