Deaths Of Our Sports Icons, 2019, by Rich Paschall

For many of us, we grow up idolizing our sports heroes. It is an important part of our youth. These people are more significant to us than the movie or television heroes because they are real icons. They are athletes we can watch on television, or, if we are lucky, go to see in person. They mean a lot to us in our youth and when they pass away, it is a reminder of the passage of time. We mourn for them and for ourselves, because we have lost a part of our youth. They have passed into our aging  memories.

For this “In Memoriam” I will mention ten that hold substantial memories to me for the sports I watched and listened to when I was young. They passed away in 2019. This is not a ranking and the order is totally random. There is no way I could place a number on the life of these accomplished figures.

First, there are a few that deserve to be mentioned for their notable lives. You may not know the name Pete Frates, 34. The Boston College baseball star never made it to “the bigs.” He was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehring’s’s Disease) in 2012. Frates along with his friend Pat Quinn are credited with creating the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised apprpoximately 200 million dollars for ALS research. In 2015 the Boston Red Sox gave Frates a lifetime contract.

Jack Whitaker, 95, was a longtime sports broadcaster. The Emmy award winner called the first Super Bowl in 1966. He was at countless sporting events for many decades for CBS, then ABC.

You may never have heard of Julia Ruth Stevens, 102. I had not heard of her either until now. She was the last living daughter of baseball great, Babe Ruth. Later in life, she was a Boston Red Sox fan.

Cliff Branch, 71. The wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders (1972-1986) won three Super Bowls.

Jim Bouton, 80. The longtime major league baseball pitcher spent the first seven years in the “Bigs” with the New York Yankees. He became well know after baseball as a broadcaster, and for writing the babseball book, ‘Ball Four.”

Bill Buckner, 69. One of the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball history became best known for just one error with the Bost Red Sox. He played 22 years in “the show,” including 8 with our Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field

Center Field scoreboard from Sheffield Avenue

Bart Starr, 85. Even though he played for the rival Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears fans could still appreciate the accomplishments of this HOF quarterback. He won the first two Super Bowls.

John “Hondo” Havlicek, 79. The basketball Hall of Famer played 16 seasons for the Boston Celtics. For some reason we hated to see the ball in his hands. He was an outstanding ball handler.

Forrest Gregg, 85. The NFL Hall of Fame lineman played with Bart Starr on the Green Bay packers. Like Starr, he later went on to coach the Packers.

Scott Sanderson, 62. The long time MLB pitcher played on both the Chicago Cubs (1984-89) and Chicago White Sox (1994). His career spanned 18 seasons.

Frank Robinson, 83.  The longtime baseball player, then manager is in the MLB Hall of Fame.

Mel Stottlemyre, 77. He pitched 11 seasons for the NY Yankees, winning 5 World Series. He later went into coaching including 10 more years with the Yankees.

Zeke Bratkowski, 88. He played for the Chicago Bears and LA rams before becoming the “Super-sub” and backup to HOF QB Bart Starr. Legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi picked up Bratkowski off waivers at the beginning of the Green Bay dynasty.

These athletes may not be known by some, and may be forgotten by others, but they remain there through the foggy mist of my memories. They cling to those precious spots of youth from which we are reluctant to let go. “Requiescat in pace.”

Sources include: “Pete Frates,” Alchetron.com
Too much loss: A look back at the notable sports deaths in 2019,”  The Detroit News, detroitnews.com  December 31, 2019.
Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth’s Daughter, Dies at 102,” The New York Times, nytimes.com March 9, ,2019.

18 thoughts on “OUR PASSING HEROES – Rich Paschall

      • Thanks for the memories — is applicable here, Rich.
        Frates, Stevens, Buckner and Hondo all have local resonance.

        Hondo, I got to know as an acquaintance during and after his illustrious playing career. He was earnest about his work ethic despite the adoration of Celtics’ Nation. He once confided (over a drink, obviously) “Please, Lord, let me finish this drink without someone coming over and growling, ‘Havlicek STOLE the ball’. Hondo obviously was referring to Celtics’ legendary announcer Johnny Most and his call on a memorably clutch play by Havlicek. Hondo had finished his drink and was about to order another round when we heard, ‘Havlicek STOLE the ball!” behind us. We wheeled around and it was a laughing Tommy Heinsohn who was part of Boston’s old gang who could be found in the local pubs.

        I remember seeing Frank Robinson in his rookie year (’56?) with the Cincy Reds. He hit second, behind Johnny Temple and in front of “Big Klu”. The Reds batting order Robinson, Klu, Gus Bell, Wally Post, Jimmy Greengrass, Ed Bailey, Smokey Burgess was a ‘big red machine’ before they had the more famous ‘big red machine’. I recall Vin Scully describing the impressive offensive array made even more imposing by the rooke Frank Robinson who suffered no fools or pitches left in the strike zone.

        Billy Buck – a genuinely nice fella victimized by that one play. He played through much agony during ’86 — the bad knees plus assorted other injuries. He was always the classic left handed hitter who used the whole park with power. Ironically, he was a gifted defensive player until the injuries began to hamper him. He never complained. Never asked for a day off during a period when Boston believed in their position players going out there for 160-162 games without any thought to wear on their bodies. They always faded in the last days of autumn and the Sox suits always looked perplexed. Bottom line: Buck should’ve been replaced defensively by that time in the game with the Sox holding onto the lead. Too bad. Buck deserved better. So did we.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Buckner had a long stay with our Cubs and was a fan favorite here as well. He should have been remembered as one of the greatest hitters ever to play the game.
          I think Havlicek stole the ball off a lot of opposition players in his career.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Rich, yes and yes on your comments. I LOVED Buckner’s hitting approach. Wish we had more of it today. For a period in the 80’s, the top of the Bosox batting order:
            Boggs, Barrett, Buckner –“The Three B’s” — great table setters for Rice and company.

            Liked by 1 person

      • We hoped, but he hasn’t been playing well. That loss to the really bad Dolphins? That was a flag for us. We kind of knew it was over. I do hope he doesn’t try to come back again. He’s got a great face. Make a TV deal and lord it over all the other former players!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mike DITKA? Good golly, Rich, we are ancient! But then I remember when “Giff” was a nifty back and receiver for the NY Giants in the Pre AFL days. No, I never saw Slingin’ Sammy Baugh.

          Liked by 1 person

              • When I was a kid at the Boys Club, maybe 14, a group of us got to go to an awards dinner when someone donated a table to the club. Gayle Sayers was being honored. I got his autograph and Papa Bear George Halas and I still have it. Luckman spoke. He was in good shape and Halas had glowing words for him as well as Sayers, if I recall correctly. Luckman is still the best quarterback the Bears ever had. Yes, Cutler threw for more yards.


  1. Interesting article, Rich. Although I don’t follow sports, some of the names do sound familiar. I’ve certainly heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge and even seen videos of a few:) Amazing how much money has been raised for research!

    Liked by 2 people

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