It’s been a tough year in a lot of ways, not the least of which is in the sheer number of baseball legends who have died in the last 12 months.
That list includes several Hall of Famers, as well as many notable players, coaches and executives associated with the Atlanta Braves. For this week’s look at Braves history, here are 10 notables we lost in 2020:
Bill Bartholomay, owner/chairman
Years with Braves: 1962-2003
A Chicago businessman, Bartholomay headed up the group that bought the Milwaukee Braves and moved them to Atlanta in 1966 to become the first MLB team in the deep South. He remained principal owner until selling the team to Ted Turner in 1976, but remained Braves chairman until retiring in 2003. Bartholomay was a constant presence around Braves games and functions until the very end of his life. He died March 26 at age 91.
Frank Bolling, 2B
Years with Braves: 1961-66
Bolling, a native of Hank Aaron’s hometown of Mobile, Ala., joined the Milwaukee Braves in a trade with the Detroit Tigers during the 1960-61 offseason. He was an All-Star the next two seasons, and was the Braves’ primary second baseman from 1961-65. His career highlight came that final season in Milwaukee, when he hit a grand slam off future Hall-of-Famer Sandy Koufax. Bolling came with the Braves to Atlanta in 1966, and was in the lineup batting eighth in the season-opener. Reduced to part-time duty by season’s end, he retired that October. Bolling, whose older brother Milt also played in the majors, died July 11 at age 88.
Biff Pocoroba, C
Years with Braves: 1975-84
Drafted in the 19th round by the Braves out of a California high school in 1971, Pocoroba — whose given name was Biff — played his entire 10-year major-league career in Atlanta. He posted a 115 OPS+ in 1977, and was an All-Star the following season. A shoulder injury reduced him to part-time duty much of his career, but he became a valuable pinch-hitter for contending Braves teams in the early 1980s. The most-memorable moment of his career came May 14, 1982, when he hit a walk-off solo homer to beat the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals 2-1. The Braves won the NL West that season by a single game. Later the owner of a specialty meat shop in Atlanta, Pocoroba died in May 24 at age 66.
Claudell Washington, OF
Years with Braves: 1981-86
Washington played 17 years in the major leagues, spending the prime of his career in Atlanta. He signed with the Braves as a free agent in November 1980, agreeing to a five-year, $3.5 million deal that sent shockwaves throughout the sport. Washington was a good, but not great player for much of his career, including during the Atlanta years. Nevertheless, he was a key cog on the 1982 NL West championship team and an All-Star in 1984, when he batted .286/.374/.468 with 17 homers. Washington signed a one-year extension with the Braves prior to the 1986 season, but was traded to the New York Yankees midway through the year. Washington died June 10 at age 65, following a long battle with cancer.
Bob Watson, 1B
Years with Braves: 1982-84
Yet another prominent member of the 1982-83 Braves who died this year, Watson’s tenure in Atlanta was short, but his impact on the game was enormous. Traded to Atlanta from the New York Yankees for a minor-league pitcher prior to the 1982 season, the former Houston Astros All-Star was a pinch-hitter and platoon first baseman alongside lefty-swinging Chris Chambliss for the next three seasons. Watson’s finest hour as a Brave came Aug. 13, 1983, when he hit a walk-off, pinch-hit homer to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and put Atlanta up 6-½ games in the NL West. The Braves could not hold onto the division lead that season, and Watson retired a year later to become a coach with the Oakland A’s. He became general manager of the Astros in 1993 and then the Yankees in 1996, becoming the first African-American GM to win a World Series. Watson died May 14 at age 74 after battling kidney disease for several years.
Adrian Devine, RP
Years with Braves: 1973-76, 1978-79
Devine was a mostly non-descript reliever in two separate tenures with the Braves, enjoying his best season in 1976 when he posted a 3.21 ERA and nine saves. He was involved in three major trades, the first as one of five players dealt to the Texas Rangers in December 1976 for former American League MVP Jeff Burroughs. A year later, Devine was traded back to Atlanta in a complex four-team trade that also netted the Braves Tommy Boggs and sent Willie Montanez to the New York Mets. Also involved in the deal (which included the Pittsburgh Pirates in addition to the Braves, Mets and Rangers) were future Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven, former Rookie of the Year John Matlack and All-Star Al Oliver. In 1979, the Braves traded Devine back to Texas in a deal that brought back Doyle Alexander. Devine died from cancer June 27 at age 68.
Bob Gibson, coach
Years with Braves: 1982-84
Gibson never threw a pitch for the Braves, instead serving as manager Joe Torre’s right-hand man and pitching coach for some contending Atlanta teams in the early 1980s. A newly-minted Hall-of-Famer by the time he joined the Braves, Gibson helped Torre guide Atlanta to the NL West title in 1982 and a second-place finish the following season. Fired alongside the rest of Torre’s staff after the 1984 season, Gibson returned only briefly to an on-field position, serving as Torre’s pitching coach in St. Louis in 1990. A nine-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young Award winner, the 1968 NL MVP and one of the great postseason pitchers of all-time, Gibson died Oct. 2 at age 84 after battling cancer.
Jimmy Wynn, OF
Years with Braves: 1976
One of the more underrated players in baseball during an All-Star tenure with the Houston Astros, Wynn played only one season in Atlanta. Traded to the Braves in November 1975 in a deal that also brought Jerry Royster and Tom Paciorek to Atlanta and sent Dusty Baker to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wynn led the National League in walks with 127 in 1976. Many of his other skills had faded by that time, however, as the “Toy Cannon” batted just .207 with 17 homers and managed only a .367 slugging percentage. Wynn’s contract was sold that offseason to the New York Yankees, and he retired a year later. Wynn died March 26 at age 78 of undisclosed causes.
Denis Menke, SS/3B
Years with Braves: 1962-67
Another original Atlanta Brave, Menke signed with Milwaukee in 1958 for the then-princely sum of $125,000 and joined the big-league club in 1962. A power-hitter who could play second base, third base and shortstop regularly and first base and the outfield corners on occasion, Menke bashed 20 homers for Milwaukee in 1964 and 15 for Atlanta in 1966 (he was Bolling’s double-play partner for much of that time). His production fell off in 1967, and he was traded that offseason to the Houston Astros, for whom he was a two-time All-Star before being traded again — this time to Cincinnati alongside future Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan. A long time major- and minor-league coach following his playing days, Menke died Dec. 1 at age 80.
Dick Allen, 1B
Years with Braves: 1974-75
One of the greatest power hitters of his era and perhaps the most misunderstood player in major-league history, Allen never actually suited up for the Braves, but was a member of the organization for some six months in 1974-75. Allen was the AL MVP for the Chicago White Sox in 1972, but was traded two years later to Atlanta for a player to be named later (catcher Jim Essian). Allen, who’d suffered racism while playing in the minor leagues in Arkansas in the early 1960s, had no desire to return to the South and refused to report to Atlanta. After Allen sat out all of spring training and threatened to retire, the Braves traded him to the Phillies (his original team) along with catcher Johnny Oates for Essian, outfielder Barry Bonnell and cash. Allen — who played two more years in Philadelphia and another in Oakland before retiring for good — died Dec. 7 at age 78.
Others: Johnny Antonelli (SP, 1948-50, 1953, 1961); Oscar Brown (OF, 1969-73); Paul Doyle (RP, 1969); Damaso Garcia (2B, 1987-88); Remy Hermoso (2B/SS, 1967); Lou Johnson (OF, 1962); Roger Moret (SP, 1976); Dave Pursley (trainer, 1961-2002); Bert Thiel (RP, 1952); Arnold Umbach (RP, 1964, 1966).
Darryl Palmer is a contributing writer for Talking Chop. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. No, that’s not his real name.
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com; Newspapers.com; MLB.com; SABR Bio Project; AJC.com; ESPN.com