At year’s end, it’s a good time to reflect and remember those that we lost throughout the year.
In the baseball world in general: Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry and notables Maury Wills, Joel Horlen and Tom Browning, as well as the greatest baseball broadcaster ever, Vin Scully.
There were also 13 members of the Cubs family who passed away in 2021, so let’s remember them here.
I wrote articles about six of these men during the past year.
It was Sutter’s 1977 season that perhaps was the most indelible in our memory of him as a Cub:
... it was his splitter, a pitch new to the game, that hitters simply could not hit. During the Cubs’ great 40-15 May and June 1977 that put them in first place by as many as eight games, Sutter posted an 0.60 ERA and 0.763 WHIP, with 66 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 56⅓ innings, with 18 saves (and five blown saves, though the Cubs won two of those games anyway). It’s one of the greatest stretches by an individual player and Cubs team in franchise history.
He wasn’t quite as unhittable in 1979, but his numbers that year were good enough to win the NL Cy Young Award.
Sutter went on to win a World Series with the Cardinals and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.
Ellsworth had one great season for the Cubs:
In 1963, he made 37 starts, went 22-10 (back when individual pitcher wins really meant something), posted a 2.11 ERA and led the major leagues in ERA+ at 167. Yes, better than Sandy Koufax of the pennant-winning Dodgers. Koufax won the NL MVP and the (then single) Cy Young Award, but there were those who favorably compared Ellsworth to Koufax.
Ellsworth finished 19th in NL MVP voting that year, and his 10.2 bWAR season was a close second to Koufax’ 10.7. It remains to this day the second-best bWAR season by any Cubs pitcher (Pete Alexander, 11.9 in 1920 leads the list).
Traded away after 1966, Ellsworth finished his career with Boston, Cleveland and Milwaukee and then returned to his hometown of Fresno, California, where he did well in commercial real estate and became a part-owner of the minor league team there.
Smith burst on the scene with the Cubs in 1989, and he and his fellow rookie Jerome Walton were key parts of that year’s Cubs NL East champions.
The man could also sing:
This is one of my favorite Biittner memories:
In the first game of an unbearably hot doubleheader July 4, 1977, with the Cubs trailing 11-2 in the bottom of the eighth, manager Herman Franks sent Biittner in to pitch. Now, this sort of thing is commonplace now, but back then it was pretty rare. As you might expect, Biittner lobbed a bunch of pitches toward the plate. At one point he got warned by the plate umpire because one of the lobs came close to Del Unser’s head — not that the ball was going more than maybe 50 miles per hour.
Biittner allowed six runs, including three home runs, one by Larry Parrish, one by Ellis Valentine and one by future Cub Andre Dawson. At one point WGN-TV superimposed on the screen the legend “LARRY BIITTNER: PIITCHING,” which was pretty inspired. Sadly, no video survives. The Cubs eventually lost 19-3.
Here’s part of the linked article from last January, when Clines passed away at age 75:
The Cubs acquired Clines from the Rangers February 15, 1977 as the player to be named later in an earlier deal that had sent reliever Darold Knowles to Texas. He played all three outfield positions for the Cubs and in 1977 had a good year, batting .293/.358/.397 with 12 doubles in 101 games. Early in the 1979 season Clines retired as a player and became the Cubs’ first base coach. He remained on the Cubs coaching staff through 1981, then worked in various positions in the Astros, Brewers, Mariners and Giants organizations before returning to the Cubs as first-base coach in 2003. He remained on the Cubs coaching staff through 2006, serving as batting coach in 2005 and 2006.
Hillman pitched for the Cubs from 1955-59 and had a couple of decent seasons in ‘58 and ‘59 and then became a footnote to baseball history. In that era when the leagues were still somewhat separate, teams had needed waivers to make offseason trades between leagues. That rule was changed after 1959 and Hillman became part of the the first offseason interleague deal without waivers when he was sent, along with Jim Marshall, to the Red Sox for Dick Gernert November 21, 1959.
Other former Cubs who passed away in 2022:
- George Gerberman pitched in one game for the 1962 Cubs, allowing one run in 5⅓ innings September 23 in a 2-1 loss to the Mets. He was 79.
- Vic Roznovsky was a backup catcher for the Cubs in 1964 and 1965. He was 83.
- Lee Thomas was a backup outfielder for the Cubs in 1966 and 1967. He was 86.
- Curt Simmons was better known for his time with the Phillies and Cardinals, but he pitched in 36 games for the Cubs near the end of his career in 1966 and 1967. He was 93.
- Tommy Davis had his best years with the Dodgers in the 1960s, but played in 11 games for the Cubs in 1970 and returned for 15 more in 1972. He was 83.
- Bob Locker was acquired by the Cubs from the A’s before the 1973 season and had a pretty good year for the Cubs and then was traded back to Oakland. The Cubs reacquired him for Billy Williams before the 1975 season. He was 84.
- Ken Frailing was acquired by the Cubs from the White Sox as part of the Ron Santo deal after the 1973 season. He pitched in 102 games (19 starts) for the Cubs from 1974-76. According to this article he was chosen to be a batting practice pitcher for the NL All-Star team in Milwaukee in 1975. He was 74.
Let’s take a moment today to remember these men, all part of the fabric of Chicago Cubs history.