Per Baseball Almanac, during this past calendar year of 2021 we lost 100 men with playing experience in Major League Baseball.
The list of players who died this year includes a trio of unforgettable Baseball Hall of Famers in Hank Aaron, Don Sutton, and Tommy Lasorda. At 23 years each, Aaron and Sutton enjoyed the longest big-league playing careers.
While La Sorda appeared in just three big-league seasons as a player, he enjoyed 76 years in the game, from his signing in 1945 with the Philadelphia Phillies as an undrafted free agent out of high school until his death. In between, La Sorda served for 61 years in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization as a scout, minor league manager, big-league coach, two-time World Series-winning manager, and front office advisor.
Nine others with 14 or more years of MLB playing experience passed away: Grant Jackson, Juan Pizarro, Doug Jones, Rheal Cormier, Del Crandall, Bill Freehan, Johnny Groth, Mudcat Grant, Mike Marshall, and Stan Williams.
The oldest former player lost to us was 90-year-old Eddie Robinson who debuted with Cleveland in 1942, became a 4x American League All-Star, and was the starting first baseman with the 1948 World Series champion Indians club.
Youngest to pass away this year was 27-year-old Frankie De La Cruz, who debuted with Detroit in 2007 and pitched in 26 games with four different teams over four seasons. He last tossed 13 innings over 11 games with NL Central Division champions Milwaukee in 2011.
While most who passed away this year enjoyed multiple seasons, 18 of those former players only got to experience big-league life for one season or less: &amp;nbsp;Al Naples (1949), Duke Simpson (1953), Nino Escalera (1954), Memo Luna (1954), Hy Cohen (1955), Don Leppert (1955), Charlie Lindstrom (1958), Duane Wilson (1958), Jerry Davie (1959), Jacke Davis (1962), Cecil Perkins (1967), Gerry Schoen (1968), Rich Barry (1969), Dick Colpaert (1970), Randy Tate (1975), Mike Overy (1976), John LaRose (1978), and Mike Bell (2000).
We all know about the careers of Aaron, Sutton, and La Sorda. Many of us know something about guys like Joe Altobelli, manager of the 1983 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles, Bill Virdon, who skippered three division championship teams with Pittsburgh and Houston, and pitcher J.R. Richard, whose dominant career was cut short in its prime by a 1980 stroke, and a number of others who we lost this year. Even Roland Hemond, a Baseball Hall of Fame executive who was scouting director with the Angels and later GM of the Chicago White Sox 1970-85 and Baltimore Orioles 1988-95.
But I would venture that almost none of you, certainly very few, know about the career of one Memo Luna. That career was the shortest of anyone lost to us in 2021, less than one inning of one contest in 1954.
Luna was born in Mexico City, Mexico on June 25, 1930. He would make his pro debut at just age 19 with the Juarez of the Arizona-Texas League and won 26 games over two seasons with the Indios.
The smallish southpaw then dominated the Southwest International League in 1951, winning 26 games and leading the league in ERA and strikeouts while pitching with Tijuana.
In 1953 with the San Diego Padres, then of the Pacific Coast League, Luna won 14 games and led the circuit in ERA. He would win 32 games over two seasons with the Friars, leading to his first, and what would turn out to be his only, shot at the big-leagues.
The 1954 seasons saw the Saint Louis Cardinals amid a rare downturn in fortunes for the frequently contending ball club. It had been 18 years since the Cards had last won a World Series and they were still a decade away from winning another.
Manager Eddie Stanky, whose rotation included aging former Yankees All-Star righty Vic Raschi and 28-year-old lefty Harvey Haddix and little else beyond talented rookie Brooks Lawrence, would run through thirteen different starting pitchers that year.
So it was that a 24-year-old Luna received his shot at that rotation during the sixth game of the season. On Tuesday night, April 20, 1954, at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis wearing the crisp, classic white and red Cardinals colors, Luna stepped out onto a big-league mound in an official Major League Baseball game for the first time in his life. To say things did not go well would be an understatement.
Facing the rival Cincinnati Reds, Luna began his career by walking the first batter he faced, Cincy third baseman Bobby Adams. Shortstop Roy McMillan then doubled over the head of Saint Louis center fielder Wally Moon. Adams scored all the way from first and McMillan moved to third on a throwing error by Cards’ left fielder Rip Repulski.
Luna then dug in and retired the next two batters, each on fly balls to Hall of Fame right fielder Stan Musial. The second would be deep enough to score McMillan as a sacrifice fly. But Luna now had two outs and a path to getting out of the inning. He would not make it.
Ted Kluszewski blasted a double and a rattled Luna followed that up by walking his second batter of the frame, Johnny Temple. Stanky had seen enough. The skipper walked to the mound and called in another rookie, righty Mel Wright.
Though he retired Wally Post to end that top of the first inning, Wright would not have much luck himself, allowing three more runs on three hits and a walk in the second frame. The Redlegs would go on to an easy 13-6 victory, with Luna suffering the loss.
After the game, the Cardinals sent Luna down to Triple-A Rochester. He would never return to the big-leagues again. Luna would spend 1955 with Double-A Omaha in the Cardinals system and part of 1957 with San Antonio in the Baltimore Orioles system before finishing out his career back down in his native Mexico.
It was there in Mexico that Luna would be remembered best by fans south of the border. In 1987, Guillermo ‘Memo’ Luna was selected for enshrinement to the Mexican Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. May he and all those lost to us in the year of 2021 rest in peace.
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