As we turn the page to another year, let’s take a moment to reflect on those we lost this year. In the baseball world we lost notable players like Bruce Sutter, Maury Wills, Curt Simmons, Dick Ellsworth, Julio Cruz, Dick Schofield Sr., John Stearns, Denny Doyle, Gerald Williams, David Green, Dwight Smith, Pete Ward, and Chuck Carr.
We also lost a few former Kansas City ballplayers. Take a moment to reflect on their careers and celebrate them.
Tom Browning was a soft-tossing lefty who spent most of his career with the Reds. He was known as one of the most dependable pitchers in baseball, making 30 or more starts in seven consecutive seasons, and leading the league in games started four times.
Thomas Leo Browning grew up in upstate New York and eventually ended up at Tennessee Wesleyan before the Cincinnati Reds drafted him. He was in the big leagues by 1984 and in 1985 he won 20 games in his first full season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting and even earning Cy Young Award votes. He put together one of his finest seasons in 1988, flirting with a no-hitter in June (giving up just a single to future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn). On September 16 of that year, he finished the deed, not only pitching a no-hitter, but a perfect game against the Dodgers, just the tenth perfecto in modern baseball history. He would win 18 games that year, fifth-most in the league.
Browning took another perfect game into the ninth inning against the Phillies on July 4 of 1989, but gave up a double to Dickie Thon. He would finish that season on a tear, winning National League Pitcher of the Month for August, and finishing with a career-low ERA of 3.39.
The Reds had a surprise run in 1990, capturing the division. They defeated the Pirates in six games in the NLCS with Browning winning Game 2. They were big underdogs against the behemoth Oakland Athletics in the World Series, but took the first game at home in a 7-0 rout.
Browning’s wife went into labor during Game 2, and with Tom scheduled to start Game 3, he figured he wouldn’t be called on that evening. He left the ballpark to be with her, but the game went into extra innings. Manager Lou Piniella had no idea Browning had left and began a search for his pitcher, even employing the public address announcer to call for Browning to return. Browning showed up to the hospital in full uniform, and didn’t realize what was going on until he saw a television broadcast of the game.
“We had to have a C-section, so she had to have an epidural, so the doctor said, ‘hey while we’re preparing for the epidural, why don’t you go to the doctor’s lounge and watch the game.’ I get in, I sit down, and the first person I see is Tim McCarver, he’s looking right at me, ‘Tom, if you’re watching, they need you to come out here,’” Browning said. “I said, ‘What?’”
The Reds would win it in ten innings, and Browning returned to win Game 3, as Cincinnati would go on to sweep Oakland for the championship.
Browning would earn his only All-Star appearance in 1991 with 10 wins at the break, but he would slump badly in the second half. He began to suffer injuries the next few seasons - a knee injury in 1992, a finger injury in 1993, and in 1994 he suffered a horrific injury when he broke his arm while delivering a pitch. The Royals signed him in 1995 and he made just two starts in May with them, giving up 9 runs in 10 innings.
He retired the next spring with 123 career wins and 19.5 WAR. Browning was one to enjoy his time as a ballplayer, such as the time he hung out with Cubs fans on the rooftops across from Wrigley Field during a game.
After his career, Browning wrote a book, managed an independent league team, coached in the minors, and even served as a minor league broadcaster. He died on December 19 at the age of 62.
Tommy Davis was a three-time All-Star outfielder and two-time batting champ who spent 18 years in the big leagues, including the last eight games of his career with the Royals.
Herman Thomas Davis grew up in Brooklyn, just as his hometown Dodgers were integrating with the debut of Jackie Robinson, giving hope to the young African-American boy that he could one day play in the big leagues as well. He would sign with the Dodgers after a personal plea from Robinson and a $4,000 bonus.
Davis came up for good in 1960 with the team now in Los Angeles and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. By 1962 he was an All-Star, leading the league in hits with 230, in RBI with 153, and winning his first batting title by hitting .346. He hit a career-high 27 home runs and finished third in MVP voting. He would win another batting title the next year, hitting .326 with a team-high 88 RBI as the Dodgers won the pennant and swept the Yankees in the World Series with Davis hitting .400 against the Bronx Bombers.
Davis missed most of the 1965 season with an ankle injury and when he returned, his power was gone, leaving him to be a part-time player. The Dodgers traded him to the Mets for the 1967 season where he was the best offensive player for a team that would lose 101 games. After just one year, the Mets shipped him to the White Sox for outfielder Tommy Agee, and after one year on the South Side, he was selected in the expansion draft by the new Seattle Pilots.
Davis became a vagabond at that point, going from the Pilots to the Astros to the Athletics to the Cubs back to the Athletics back to the Cubs. He was seen as a “professional hitter” who could come off the bench, but with limited defensive utility. He did enjoy a few years as a regular in Baltimore, earning MVP votes in 1973 and 1974 in his mid-30s. After the Orioles released him, the Angels picked him up for the summer of 1976, but let him go mid-season. The Royals, looking to win their first-ever division title, signed him for their push in September that year. He hit 5-for-19 in eight games, giving him 2,121 career hits. The Royals released him that off-season, and Davis retired.
Davis spent a year as a hitting coach with the Dodgers, and served in their community relations department. He died on April 3 at the age of 83.
The younger brother of All-Star Jason Giambi, Jeremy was a promising young hitting prospect with a patient eye who never seemed able to reach his potential as a player. He admitted to steroid use and battled drugs through much of his life, and an unfortunate accident may have caused depression that ultimately led to his death.
Jeremy Dean Giambi grew up in southern California and played baseball at Cal-State Fullerton before the Royals selected him in the sixth round of the 1996 draft. He quickly became a hitting machine, with a batting line of .326/.431/.529 and 16 home runs in his first full pro season in the minors. He hit .372 with 20 home runs for Omaha in 1998, earning him a cup of coffee with the Royals, and a spot on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list at #64.
Giambi was a left fielder, but his defense was pretty subpar, and the Royals had Johnny Damon in left, so the expectation was he would have to move to first base. Only he was blocked at first base by veteran Jeff King. So Giambi went back to Omaha in 1999 and destroyed Pacific Coast League pitching, hitting .347/.472/.685 with 12 home runs in 35 games. King unexpectedly retired in May, and the Royals wanted to bring Giambi up. But he had injured himself in an ATV accident, so the Royals had to turn to Larry Sutton and Mike Sweeney to fill the role.
Giambi would finally get his chance in June, and he held his own with a line of .285/.373/.368 in 90 games. But his power hadn’t developed - he hit just three home runs - and the emergence of Sweeney as a star made Giambi expendable. The Royals shipped him to Oakland for pitcher Brett Laxton.
In Oakland, Jeremy got to play with his brother Jason and enjoyed some good moments, such as .318 average combined in two playoff series against the Yankees in 2000 and 2001 - he was the runner tagged out on the famous “Derek Jeter flip play.”
Giambi had a few decent seasons with Oakland as a semi-regular, showing the plate discipline that the “Moneyball” A’s coveted. But he was sent to Philadelphia in 2002 in a surprise trade for veteran John Mabry that is depicted in the movie Moneyball as a reaction to General Manager Billy Beane’s anger at Giambi partying after a loss.
After half a season with the Phillies, Giambi spent one season with the Red Sox and a few seasons in the minors before retiring. In 2005, a report revealed that Giambi had admitted to using steroids, and his name later came up in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball.
In 2021, Giambi was serving as a coach when he was struck in the face by a baseball. Friends said his mood and behavior changed after that. On February 9, 2022, Giambi was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He was only 47.
Mark Littell was a Missouri kid who got to pitch for both Show-Me State teams, including the Royals in the mid-70s as they ascended to a contender. He brought a fun attitude to games as a solid reliever, but is best known in Royals history for giving up the walk-off home run to Chris Chambliss to end the 1976 ALCS against the Yankees.
Mark Alan Littell was born in Cape Girardeau and went to high school in Gideon, in the Missouri bootheel. He was a 12th-round pick by the Royals in 1971 and made his big league debut for them in 1973. In 1976 he was up for good, and he enjoyed the best year of his career as the go-to guy in the Royals bullpen. Coming out to John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Littell used a blazing fastball to post a 2.08 ERA with 16 saves in 104 innings, earning some MVP votes.
Littell had tossed a pair of scoreless outings in the 1976 ALCS against the hated Yankees when he was called upon in a 6-6 tie in the deciding Game 5. The Royals had just tied things up on a monster three-run home run by George Brett and were close to winning their first-ever pennant. Littell once told our Bradford Lee, “I felt good coming out of the pen, but the fans started throwing crap on the field and by the time they got it all cleared off, I’d gotten a little chilly. I threw him (Chambliss) a high fastball and he went up and got it!” Chambliss jumped on the pitch for a walk-off home run to end the series.
Littell was still a solid reliever in 1977, but after the season the Royals shipped him to St. Louis in a deal for proven closer Al Hrabosky. He spent five seasons with the Cardinals, giving up a hit to Pete Rose in 1981 that set the National League career hits record. His last season was in 1982, when he won a championship with St. Louis.
After his career, Littell invented the Nutty Buddy, a protective cup for athletes that he promoted with this hilarious video. Mark Littell died on September 5 at the age of 69.
Tommy Matchick was a utility infielder who won a title with the 1968 Detroit Tigers. He spent a half season with the Royals in his six-year MLB career.
John Thomas Matchick was born and raised in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, the son of a steelworker. He was signed as a kid by the Cardinals, but MLB allowed teams to purchase certain minor leaguers of other teams for a price, and the Tigers swiped him in a shrewd move. He made his debut with the Tigers in 1967 and was a reserve player for them the next two years.
In 1968, the Tigers put it all together and Matchick would have his moment in the sun. The Tigers were in first place, but their biggest challengers, the Baltimore Orioles, came in town for a July series. With 53,000 fans on hand, the Orioles had a 4-3 lead in the ninth when Matchick drilled a walk-off three-run home run to give the Tigers the win. They would go on to win the World Series, with Matchick appearing in three games as a pinch-hitter.
The Tigers would trade Matchick to Boston, and after one year there the Red Sox shipped him to the Royals in May of 1970 for first baseman Mike Fiore. Matchick had a left-handed bat and some positional versatility, but he couldn’t hit much for the Royals, with an average of .196 in 55 games. They sent him to the Brewers after the season, and Matchick finished his career with the Orioles in 1972.
After his career, Matchick went into the sporting goods business and later, photography. On January 4, he died at the age of 78.
Odalis Pérez was a stocky lefty who was an All-Star with the Dodgers and won 73 games in a ten-year career. He was a starter for the Royals in 2006 and 2007, and was one of the first players Dayton Moore acquired once he took over as general manager of the club.
Odalis Amadol Pérez was born in the Dominican Republic and was signed by the Braves as a teenager in 1994. He made his MLB debut with Atlanta in 1998 at the age of 21, and pitched for them in the post-season that year. He was in the famed Braves starting rotation the next year, but missed the entire 2000 season due following Tommy John surgery.
Pérez returned for one more year with the Braves before they shipped him to the Dodgers as part of a big trade to land slugger Gary Sheffield. He won 15 games and was named an All-Star in his first year in Los Angeles. He pitched four full seasons with the Dodgers, but suffered injuries in 2005 and had an increasingly testy relationship with the clubhouse and management. In July of 2006, with another year and a half left on his three-year, $24 million deal, the Dodgers traded him to the Royals with two pitching prospects (Blake Johnson and Julio Pimentel) for pitcher Elmer Dessens.
Dayton Moore acquired the 28-year-old lefty to provide some stability in their rotation after inheriting an absolute mess of a pitching staff. Pérez gave the Royals some innings, and was the #2 starter to begin the 2007 season. But he struggled to strike hitters out and posted a 5.57 ERA in 26 starts with the Royals.
Pérez rebounded in 2008 with the Nationals with a respectable 4.34 ERA. But they only offered him a minor league contract the next year and he failed to show up to spring training. When he received no other offers, he retired.
On March 10, Pérez fell from a ladder at his home in the Dominican Republic, and died. He was just 43 years old.
Gaylord Perry was a Hall of Fame pitcher who won 314 games in 22 seasons with eight teams, including the last 14 games of his career with the Royals. He was a notorious spitballer and the first player to win the Cy Young Award in each league.
Gaylord Jackson Perry grew up in North Carolina and signed with the Giants out of Campbell University. He made his debut in 1962 and began as a swingman, but by 1966 he was an All-Star, winning 21 games with a 2.99 ERA. He was a workhorse, leading the league in innings pitched in back-to-back years in 1969 and 1970, with over 325 innings in each season. He led the league with 23 wins in the latter year, and finished second in Cy Young voting.
Gaylord was traded to Cleveland in 1972 at the age of 33 to join his brother Jim in the rotation, and he won his first Cy Young award with a league-leading 24 wins that year. He led the league with 29 complete games in both 1972 and 1973 and was an All-Star in two of his three seasons in Cleveland. They shipped him to Texas where he continued to pitch well but with fewer wins.
It was an open secret that Perry applied foreign substances to the baseball to get more break on it, and he made an autobiographical confession of the practice in the middle of his career, saying he tried “everything on the old apple except salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping.” But many felt his boasts of spitball usage was inflated as a way to psyche out opponents.
The San Diego Padres acquired Perry in 1978 at the age of 39 and he won his second Cy Young Award with a league-leading 21 wins. Perry would bounce around the league at the end of his career, looking for someone he could pitch with to reach 300 wins, which he did with the Seattle Mariners in 1982.
They released him the next season, and the Royals picked him up to join an already veteran rotation. He is best known in Kansas City for his role in “The Pine Tar Game” when he attempted to hide George Brett’s allegedly illegal bat after Yankees manager Billy Martin protested its usage. Perry went 4-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 14 starts with the Royals, passing Walter Johnson on the all-time strikeout list in his time with Kansas City.
Perry retired after that season and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. He ran a farm for a bit in North Carolina and died on September 15 at the age of 84.
Wickersham was one of four players (Aurelio Monteagudo, Moe Drabowsky, and Ken Sanders being the others) to play for both the Kansas City Athletics (where he began his career) and the Kansas City Royals (where he ended his career). He had a ten-year career as a starting pitcher, winning 68 games in his career.
David Clifford Wickersham grew up near Erie, Pennsylvania and played ball at Ohio University before signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1959, the Kansas City Athletics selected him in the Rule 5 draft, and he was in the big leagues the very next year. He missed two months of the 1962 season with cracked ribs, but still finished second on the pitching staff with 11 wins as a swingman.
The right-hander got a shot at starting full time in 1963 and responded by tying for the team lead with 12 wins and a 4.09 ERA in 237 2⁄3 innings. After the season, the A’s were looking for a box office draw and used Wickersham to acquire aging slugger Rocky Colavito from the Detroit Tigers.
Wickersham had his best season in 1964 with the Tigers, winning 19 games and earning MVP votes. He had a chance to win his 20th game in his final start, but was ejected by umpire Bill Valentine in the seventh inning of a 1-1 tie for trying to call time out in a game the Tigers went on to win. Valentine deeply regretted depriving Wickersham of his shot at winning 20 for many years. In 2004, Wickersham, a born-again Christian, wrote Valentine a letter excusing the ejection.
“You had called the play correctly as I saw it...I hope you’ve had a good life and are in good healthy. You were certainly a good umpire.”
Wickersham had a few more seasons in the Tigers rotation before they sent him to Pittsburgh. In 1969, the expansion Royals needed some veteran arms and brought Wickersham back to Kansas City. He pitched in 34 games of relief with a 3.96 ERA, then retired after the season.
Wickersham continued to live in the Kansas City area after his playing days, and his daughter Carey has been a long-time reporter at Fox 4. He continued to follow the team, particularly through their pennant runs, and even in his afterlife, he wanted to show his support for the team.
His gravestone, he tells me, will be inscribed on one side with his favorite Bible scripture — Colossians 3:17, which as has been noted in several references I saw, he always included when he signed his baseball card.
The other side of the gravestone? A Royals logo.
Dave Wickersham died on June 19 at the age of 86.
In addition to Kansas City Royals that passed away, several members of the Kansas City Athletics also died in 2022.
Frank Cipriani was a native of upstate New York who played in 13 games for Kansas City as an outfielder in 1961. He was 9-for-36 (.250) in his only big league action. He died on June 7 at the age of 81.
Héctor López was a Panamanian-born third baseman and outfielder who collected 1,251 hits in a 12-year career with the A’s and Yankees. He debuted in the first year the A’s moved to Kansas City and was a regular for four and a half seasons before he was traded to the Yankees with Ralph Terry for Johnny Kucks, Jerry Lumpe and Tom Sturdivant, later becoming a World Series hero for them in 1961. After his career he was the first black manager in Triple-A, and he managed in the minors from 1967 to 1995. López died on September 29 at the age of 93.
Joe Pignatano was a backup catcher on the 1959 World Champion Dodgers that spent one season with the A’s in 1961. He enjoyed a career-high in games played with Kansas City with 93, enjoying his best offensive numbers with a line of .243/.347/.358. After six years as a player, he won another championship as a coach with the 1969 Mets. On May 23, Pignatano died at the age of 92.
Leo Posada was signed by the Braves out of Cuba, but the Athletics snagged him in the minor league Rule 5 draft. He was the primary left fielder for the A’s in 1961, his only full season in the big leagues, where hit .253/.321/.366 with 7 home runs in 116 games. After his career, he managed in the minors for several seasons, and his nephew Jorge became an All-Star catcher with the Yankees. Posada died on June 23 at the age of 88.
John Sanders was one of those “Moonlight Graham” players to appear in one big league game, but without a chance to hit. Sanders was given a large bonus out of high school in Nebraska and made the big league roster as an outfielder in 1965 at the age of 19. He only got into one game as a pinch-runner before the A’s lost him to the Red Sox on waivers when rosters were reduced to 25 in May. Sanders retired after a few years in the minors and got into coaching, leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers baseball program for two decades. He died on February 3 at the age of 76.
Ralph Terry pitched 12 years in the big leagues, mostly with the Yankees, but also two separate stints with the Kansas City Athletics. He began with the Yanks and was shipped to the A’s in 1957 in a seven-player trade, only to be re-acquired two years later and blossom in New York. He led the league with 23 wins and 298 2⁄3 innings in his only All-Star season in 1962, and was named World Series MVP that fall. Terry became a professional golfer after his baseball career, and retired in Larned, Kansas where he died at the age of 86 on March 16 of this year.
Gordie Windhorn was a track star who was able to reach the big leagues for parts of three seasons as an outfielder, including 14 games with Kansas City in 1962. Windhorn found it difficult to break past Triple-A, even retiring at age 26 only to come back with the Dodgers, so he became one of the earlier players to head to Japan for more playing opportunities, embracing the experience. He served as a scout for the Angels after his career and retired in Danville, Virginia. He died on May 21 at the age of 88.