Over the last few years, I have taken on the somber but important responsibility of saying goodbye to those former players lost to Major League Baseball over the past calendar year. According to Baseball Almanac, the game has lost 90 former players during this calendar year as of Christmas Day 2022.

Hall of Fame starting pitcher Gaylord Perry (84), who won 314 games and tossed over 5,000 innings, was among those who passed away. Perry, a five-time All-Star, won the Cy Young Award in both leagues, with Cleveland in the American League in 1972 and San Diego in the National League in 1978.

We also lost Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter (69) this year. The six-time All-Star won the NL Cy Young Award in 1979 with the Chicago Cubs. He pitched in 661 games over a dozen seasons with three teams, registering 300 career Saves. During his nine prime years 1977-84, Sutter finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting five times.

Maury Wills (89) enjoyed a 14-year big-league career, most famously as the Los Angeles Dodgers starting shortstop during the 1960’s. One of the greatest base stealers of his generation, Wills swiped 104 bags on his way to winning the 1962 National League Most Valuable Player award. He also won the All-Star Game MVP that year and was a seven-time All-Star overall.

Tom Browning (62) won 20 games as a rookie with Cincinnati in 1985 and finished runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting. The southpaw was a 1991 NL All-Star and won 123 games over a 12-year career. But it was one game for which he will always be remembered. On September 18, 1988, at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati against the Dodgers, Browning tossed what at the time was just the 10th Perfect Game in MLB history.

A young star with the Dodgers early in his career, Tommy Davis (83) carved out an 18-year career that spanned 1959-76. He was an All-Star and finished among the top 10 in NL MVP voting with the Dodgers in 1962-63. Then in 1973-74, Davis resurrected his career with Baltimore, serving as one of the first successful full-time Designated Hitters.

He had just a .227 career batting average and slugged only .297, never hitting more than three home runs or driving in more than 36 runs in any individual season. But somehow, Dick Schofield (87) was able to enjoy a 19-year career spanning 1953-71. He received four at-bats and won the World Series as a backup infielder with the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. His son and namesake Dick Schofield played 14 seasons in MLB and his grandson Jayson Werth enjoyed a 15-year career.

During the four seasons 1960-63 over a 12-year career, Ralph Terry (86) was one of baseball’s top starting pitchers. That included a 1962 All-Star campaign during which the righty registered 23 victories. Terry tossed a complete game four-hit shutout for the New York Yankees on the road at Candlestick Park to beat the host San Francisco Giants 1-0 in Game 7 of that year’s World Series.

Southpaw pitcher Curt Simmons (93) enjoyed a 20-year career that spanned 1947-67. He was a key starting pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies and was the last surviving member of the ‘Whiz Kids’ team that won the National League pennant in 1950. I wrote on Simmons’ career earlier this month at my home website.

Simmons was just one of a number of players with connections to the Philadelphia Phillies who passed away this year. That number also included Lee Thomas, who played eight seasons in MLB with six different organizations. Thomas served as the Phillies general manager from June 1988 through the 1997 season and is credited as the man who built the 1993 National League pennant winning ‘Macho Row’ club.

John Stearns (71) was the second overall pick of the 1969 MLB Draft by the Phillies and debuted with them for one game in 1974. Dealt to the New York Mets as part of the trade that brought Tug McGraw to town, Stearns became a four-time NL All-Star catcher over a decade in the Big Apple 1975-84. After his playing career, Stearns was a longtime coach and minor league manager with several organizations.

Other former Phillies who passed away this year were my own first favorite player as a child, Denny Doyle (78), the club’s starting second baseman 1970-73. David West (57) was a key southpaw reliever with the 1993 NL champs and pitched with the club through 1996 as part of a 10-year big-league career. John Wockenfuss (73) was a catcher who played the final two 1984-85 seasons of his 12-year career here in Philly.

Bob Conley (88) pitched in his only two big-league games, throwing 8.1 innings for the 1958 Phillies. Dick Ellsworth (82) made 21 starts over 32 appearances with the 1967 Phillies, his lone year here in a 13-year career. Jeremy Giambi (47) played with the Phillies for 82 games in 2002 as part of a six-year MLB career. Al Neiger (83), a Wilmington, Delaware native, pitched in his only six big-league games for the 1960 Phillies.

For most of the 1970’s including with three consecutive NL East champs, Ray Rippelmeyer (89) served as the Phillies pitching coach. He had pitched in 18 games with the 1962 Washington Senators. Vic Roznovsky (83) finished up a five-year career by appearing in 13 games with the 1969 Phillies. Costen Shockley (80) debuted with the ill-fated 1964 club, playing in 11 games in one of only two big-league campaigns.

The youngest former big-leaguer to pass away in 2023 was Anthony Varvaro. A righty reliever who pitched in 166 games with three teams over 2010-15, Varvaro was a key member of the Atlanta bullpen in 2013-14. Over those two years he pitched in 123 games: 6-4, 1 Save, 2.74 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, 114 hits over 128 innings.

After the 2016 season, Varvaro, a Staten Island native who was a teenager when the Twin Towers fell, retired from baseball, joining the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department. He was assigned to the World Trade Center, and five years later became an instructor at their police academy.

On his way for duty at the World Trade Center for the 9/11 commemorative ceremonies on September 11 of this year, Varvaro was killed in a head-on collision near the Holland Tunnel by a wrong-way driver.

I always like to remember one player who had very little impact on the field in Major League Baseball, but still enjoyed their moment in the big-league sun. This year, that player is John Sanders, who passed away at age 76.

Sanders never had an at-bat or played the field in a big-league game. But on Tuesday, April 16, 1965, at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, Sanders had his moment.

John Sanders, Kansas City Athletics

Sanders had signed with the Athletics as an 18-year-old minor league free agent from Nebraska. The terms of MLB bonus arrangements at the time meant that he had to be carried on the big-league roster in 1965.

In the second game of the season the host A’s trailed the visiting Detroit Tigers by 8-3 in the bottom of the 7th inning. Kansas City skipper Mel McGaha sent up Wayne Causey to pinch-hit for pitcher Wes Stock. After Causey laced a one-out single off 21-year-old Tigers rookie pitcher Denny McLain, McGaha inserted Sanders to pinch-run for Causey.

The next two batters for Kansas City, Bert Campaneris and Mike Hershberger, were each retired by the future two-time AL Cy Young Award winner and AL MVP McLain. Sanders trotted back to the dugout from first base and would never again set foot on a big-league diamond during an official game.

Three weeks later, the A’s tried to sneak Sanders through waivers to send him to the minor leagues. Instead, he was claimed by Boston. He enjoyed a strong season for the Red Sox A-level affiliates at Wellsville, then spent three more seasons in the minor leagues with the Mets organization.

Though his playing career ended after the 1968 minor league season, Sanders’ career in baseball was far from over. He got into coaching during the 1970’s at the collegiate level, eventually becoming head coach at Nebraska where he would enjoy a two-decade long career that included three NCAA tournament appearances.

In 1999, Sanders landed the job as the Boston Red Sox rookie-level affiliate manager in the Gulf Coast League. He would remain in that job through 2002 and then served as a scout for the Bosox through 2007 and then with the Los Angeles Dodgers into the 2010’s. He was named to the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.

May all these former big-leaguers and the dozens of others lost to us this year rest in peace.



One thought on “John Sanders, Anthony Varvaro, and those baseball lost in 2022

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