The title of the oldest living former St. Louis Cardinals player continues to be held by Bill Endicott, age 96. The outfielder, then 27 years of age, appeared in just 20 games for the 1946 Cardinals after returning from service during World War II.
Those who held the honor most recently prior to Endicott are as follows. In 2012, former pitcher Freddy Schmidt passed away at the age of 95. Two years earlier, Don Lang, the 95-year-old former third baseman from the 1948 club, left us. Herman Franks, then 95, passed away in 2009, preceded by 96-year-old Don Gutteridge in 2008 and Ernie Koy, aged 97 upon his death in 2007. 100-year-old Lee Cunningham passed in 2005.
91-year-old Red Schoendienst, who debuted in April 1945, is the living Cardinal who played for St. Louis the longest ago.
The oldest Cardinal who died during the course of 2014 was 92-year-old Alvin Dark. He was joined in passing by at least eight other former Cardinals, including 22-year-old Oscar Taveras, causing this year’s recap to hit even closer to home than usual.
2014 Cardinals deaths
|Benson was a player and coach|
January 20: Vern Benson, age 89
My clearest memories of Benson were of the former third baseman, working in the third base coaching box, waving home Cardinals base runners. Earlier, as a player, the North Carolina native was dealt to St. Louis as a minor leaguer in 1946. He manned the hot corner for the Cardinals part-time from 1951-53 until a broken leg led to his MLB career ending at the young age of 28.
Benson became a player-coach in the minors and was promoted to St. Louis’ third base coach when Johnny Keane became manager in 1961. He followed Keane to the Yankees in 1965, then moved to the Reds and back to the Cardinals from 1970-75, before joining Dave Bristol’s staffs in Atlanta and San Francisco. After his uniformed days were over, Benson scouted for the Cardinals.
April 12: Hal Smith, age 82
Smith, an Arkansas native, signed with the Cardinals in 1949. The catcher played for St. Louis from 1956-61 and was named to two National League All-Star teams. His career ended at the age of 30 when he was diagnosed with a heart condition. Smith coached for the Cardinals in 1962 before becoming a coach with the Pirates, Reds and Brewers and also scouted. His nephew is former Padres infielder Tim Flannery.
June 8: Billy McCool, age 69
The former Reds closer and NL all-star joined St. Louis in an April 1970 trade with San Diego. The left-hander pitched in 18 games as a Cardinal, logging a 0-3 record with one save and a 6.23 ERA. Though St. Louis would be his final MLB stop, the Cardinals dealt him to Boston that October. After retirement, McCool lived in Ohio and Florida.
|Brosnan: A very successful author|
June 28: Jim Brosnan, age 84
Though the Cincinnati native is best known for writing the first player inside portrayal of the game in his 1960 book, The Long Season, Brosnan earlier spent parts of two seasons with the Cardinals. The Cubs opening day starter in 1958 was dealt to St. Louis that May for Al Dark and was traded to Cincinnati for Hal Jeffcoat just over 12 months later. The right-hander started 13 of his 53 appearances as a Cardinal, logging a 9-7 record with nine saves and a 3.77 ERA.
July 30: Dave Bakenhaster, age 69
The Ohio prep star who had thrown nine no-hitters received an estimated $40,000 signing bonus from the Cardinals in 1963. Under the rules at the time, “bonus babies” had to remain on the Major League roster, so Bakenhaster debuted at age 19 with the 1964 Cards. He appeared in just three games, pitching two innings. The right-hander allowed six runs, two earned, on nine hits. Bakenhaster was sent to Class A that July and persevered in the minors until 1970, but never returned to the bigs.
September 10, Grant Dunlap, age 90
The first baseman and World War II veteran was 29 years old when he reached St. Louis for just 16 games in 1953. In 1955, he returned to his alma mater, Occidental College in California, to coach. There, he led the baseball team to nine conference championships and the basketball team to five and was named to the school’s Hall of Fame before retiring in 1984.
October 26: Oscar Taveras, age 22
Fans are all too familiar with the passing of the top prospect outfielder who made his long-awaited debut with the 2014 Cardinals. Having returned home to the Dominican Republic after the playoffs, Taveras and his girlfriend died in a one-car accident in which alcohol was a factor. His friend and Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez will wear Taveras’ number 18 in 2015 in tribute. (Related article: The Cardinal Nation Blog 2014 Top Story #2: Oscar Taveras’ Death Not About Baseball.)
November 13: Alvin Dark, age 92
Late in his 14-year MLB career, the shortstop and third baseman joined the Cards during the 1956 season in the nine-player trade that sent Red Schoendienst to the Giants. Dark departed the Cards two years later (see Jim Brosnan above). He later managed in the bigs for 13 years, winning the 1974 World Series with the Oakland A's.
|Bonus baby Sadecki|
November 17: Ray Sadecki, age 73
At just 17 years old in 1958, the left-hander from Kansas City, Kan. signed with the Cardinals for a $50,000 bonus plus another $18,000 over the first three years. He reached St. Louis in May 1960 and led the team in innings pitched the next season. After winning 20 games for the 1964 club, he started and won Game 1 of the World Series. He also took the ball for Game 4, but was knocked out early.
Sadecki struggled in 1965 and the next May was dealt to the Giants for power-hitting first baseman Orlando Cepeda. He pitched another 11 years in the Majors, even briefly returning to the Cardinals after the 1974 season as part of the take from the Mets for Joe Torre. By the next May, he was gone again, dealt to Atlanta.
After his playing days ended, Sadecki worked for several years as a minor league coach and roving instructor with the Cubs and Giants before retiring to Arizona.
Remembering the Browns
I am aware of only one former St. Louis Browns player who passed away in 2014. Don Lenhardt (age 91) died on June 9. According to the Browns fan club, only 22 of the team’s former players are still alive.
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