Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Category: Farewells (Page 1 of 4)

Farewell, Don Sutton

Photo: Baseball Hall of Fame

Befitting the longest and in some ways most complex pitching career in the history of the Dodgers, Don Sutton has the longest chapter in Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw, and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition. For someone who was a Hall of Famer without much doubt, Sutton was almost chronically underestimated in his value. 

In tribute to Sutton, who has died at the age of 75, here is that chapter:  

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Farewell, Tommy Lasorda

The amazing life of Tommy Lasorda ended Thursday at the age of 93

I was just becoming a baseball fan when he became the Dodgers’ manager in September 1976. Nearly 40 years later, I would find myself in the Dodger press box cafeteria at lunch as an employee and introducing my two sons to Lasorda, and having him shake hands with them.  

Here is my chapter on Lasorda for 100 Things Dodgers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die:

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Puig, Dodgers grieve over José Fernández

Matthew Mesa/Los Angeles Dodgers

Matthew Mesa/Los Angeles Dodgers

By Jon Weisman

A number of Dodgers had personal connections with José Fernández, such as Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher and Kiké Hernández, who all played in the Marlins organization with the All-Star right-hander.

But perhaps no one in Los Angeles was closer to the Miami All-Star, who died overnight in a boating accident, than Yasiel Puig.

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Baseball mourns death of José Fernández

Yasiel Puig embraces José Fernández at Marlins Park on August 19, 2013. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Yasiel Puig embraces José Fernández at Marlins Park on August 19, 2013. (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

Baseball fans woke to tragedy and shock this morning with the news that José Fernández and two others had been killed overnight in a boating accident.

“José Fernández was one of the nicest, most respectful, young players I ever had the pleasure of getting to know. My heart is shattered,” SportsNet LA’s Alanna Rizzo said on Twitter this morning, expressing the sentiments of so many.

“The fact that José, his mom and others risked their lives to flee Cuba, saved her from drowning, only to die in this way, is incomprehensible,” she added.

Said former Dodger pitcher Dan Haren on Twitter: “José Fernández is one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever played with. He loved life, he loved baseball. … He will be missed dearly.”

Los Angeles Dodgers at All Star Monday

For Dodger fans of my age, it was instinctive upon hearing the news to think instantly of former Dodger pitchers Tim Crews and Bobby Ojeda, who were in a 1993 Spring Training boating accident that took the life of Crews and their new Cleveland Indians teammate, Steve Olin. Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated wrote a devastating story four months after that accident, and Jon Saraceno and Bob Nightengale of USA Today revisited in 2013.

Fernandez was 24 years old.

Toles takes Dodgers from milder to wilder

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By Jon Weisman

Andrew Toles found the golden ticket.

Impossible to believe even as it was happening right in front of us. Joe Davis making the call into his mic, TV capturing the dramatic picture.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Dodgers, who scored three runs in their first 25 innings at Coors Field this week and trailed 8-2 after seven innings in their series finale with the Rockies, rode the Wonkavator to three runs in the eighth and five in the ninth — capped by Andrew Toles’ everlasting gobstopper of a grand slam — to a 10-8 victory over Colorado.

In a week-long performance that resembled a Broadway show purposefully designed to be the worst it could possibly be, the Dodgers shocked expectations (spookily similar to Alex Guerrero’s ninth-inning grand slam last season) by bringing their fans to their feet.

This Dodger team, a veritable young Frankenstein for all the ways it has been reconstituted during this injury-plagued, transaction-filled season, delivered a “Puttin’ on the Ritz” finish thanks to Toles, whose remarkable rise from Single-A ball now has him batting .397 with a .463 on-base percentage while slugging .690 on the big stage.

Let’s not go stir-crazy: Toles isn’t about to unseat Corey Seager for the National League Rookie of the Year Award. But for all the publicity that Yankees freshman Gary Sanchez is getting in New York, Toles leads Sanchez and all other late arrivals (minimum 50 plate appearances, in other words) in on-base percentage, holds similarly gold-medal status in batting average and is riding a silver streak to second in slugging percentage.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Colorado Rockies - Game TwoFor the Dodgers, it was thievery worthy of Bonnie and Clyde. Major League teams had lost 448 out of 449 games this year when trailing by at least six runs after the seventh inning. According to Elias Sports, this franchise rallied from a similar deficit against the Cleveland Spiders in 1899 — this is only the fourth time they’ve done so in 117 years since.

Did the Dodgers need any help? Oh, all they could get. And they got it, with a string of hits and walks leading up to the opposite-field blast by the Way-to-Go Kid.

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Scully, Dodgers remember victims of Orlando tragedy

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By Jon Weisman

Flags flew at half staff Thursday at Dodger Stadium in tribute to the victims of the mass murder early Sunday morning in Orlando. Before Thursday’s game, Vin Scully led those in attendance at Dodger Stadium into a moment of silence. Here is the text of what he said:

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Former Dodger pitcher Lee Pfund dies at 96

Maury Wills greets Lee Pfund in August 2012 (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Maury Wills greets Lee Pfund in August 2012 (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

Lee Pfund, who pitched 15 games for the Dodgers in 1945 and later went to become an immensely successful baseball and basketball coach at Wheaton College, passed away Thursday at age 96.

Pfund, the father of former Lakers coach Randy Pfund, coached Wheaton to the 1957 NCAA College Division basketball title and won 362 games from 1952-75, then later was honored by the school naming its baseball stadium after him.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois nine days after the 1919 World Series involving the Chicago White Sox ended, Pfund pitched two shutout innings on April 25, 1945, in his Major League debut, a memory he described in this Dodger Insider story commemorating the 70th anniversary of that moment and recalling his life in sports. Click here to read the entire story.

Our best wishes go to Randy Pfund and the Pfund family.

Remembering Mike Sharperson, 1961-1996

Sharperson pic

By Jon Weisman

At 5:05 a.m., 20 years ago today, former Dodger All-Star infielder Mike Sharperson died at the age of 34, following a one-car accident near the junction of Interstate 15 and 215 in Nevada.

All-Star infielder. When Sharperson made the National League All-Star team in 1992, he and the Dodgers got a lot of grief. It was a year of grief. Los Angeles was in turmoil after the riots of late April. The Dodgers were on their way to their worst season in 87 years. Their best hitter was a 30-year-old who had never played a full season in the Major Leagues, whose career high in home runs was three.

The right-handed Sharperson was best known as a platoon partner of lefty-hitting Lenny Harris. A good contact hitter who batted twice for the Dodgers in the 1988 playoffs, Sharperson hit .297 with a .376 on-base percentage and more walks than strikeouts in 415 plate appearances in 1990. He played and hit a bit less in 1991, when the Dodgers lost the National League West title by one game.

Then in the spring and early summer of 1992, as Darryl Strawberry faded and before Mike Piazza arrived, Sharperson — still alternating at second and third base with Harris, Juan Samuel, Dave Hansen and Dave Anderson — somehow emerged as the Dodgers’ best hitter.

Come July, the Dodgers needed an All-Star representative, and Sharperson was it.

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Farewell, Alan Young — and remembering ‘Mr. Ed’ at Dodger Stadium

Today, we remember Alan Young, the “Mr. Ed” actor who passed away Thursday at age 96. Young and his horse companion made a memorable visit to Dodger Stadium for the 1963 season premiere, highlighted above. Sandy Koufax, Willie Davis, Leo Durocher, Johnny Roseboro and more appear.

A meaningful tribute to Louis Coleman’s grandfather

Louis Coleman stands during introductions at the Dodgers' home opener April 12. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

Louis Coleman stands during introductions at the Dodgers’ home opener April 12. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)


Harold Louis Coleman Sr.

By Jon Weisman

As you know, Louis Coleman’s grandfather, Harold Louis Coleman Sr., passed away last week. That’s about all we knew about the Dodger reliever’s need to go on bereavement leave.

But thanks to a column by Coleman’s uncle, Billy Watkins, in Jackson, Mississippi’s Clairon-Ledger, we now know much more.

Watkins’ piece is not only a reflection on his own uncle, but a reflection on our priorities, our choices and our lives.

… I asked Uncle Harold a few years ago something about my maternal grandfather, who I loved deeply. Uncle Harold was one of the few still alive who knew the answer and the only one I felt comfortable asking about it. Understand, it wasn’t concerning anything illegal or shameful. It was merely something I wanted to know about my grandfather.

“I’ll tell you,” Uncle Harold said to me. “But you have to drive to Schlater to hear it.”

It was his way of inviting me to come see him.

I never made that trip. So whatever he would have said to me was lowered with him into the black Delta earth late Saturday afternoon.

My ignorance, arrogance and apathy haunt me. …

Billy Watkins

Billy Watkins

Watkins also wrote this passage on Louis Coleman (that is, Harold Louis Coleman III):

… Hal and Kathy’s son, Louis, spoke at the funeral.

Louis is a relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I read on the team website the night before: “Louis Coleman has been placed on the bereavement list following the death of his grandfather. Also, the Dodgers called up … ”

One line. I wish all Dodger fans could’ve heard Louis’ tribute. He didn’t dance around the fact that his “Pappy” was “always right” and, at times, not the easiest person to get along with. He called him “a man’s man.”

Louis Coleman pitching Monday against the Marlins, in his first game back after bereavement leave. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodger)

Louis Coleman pitching Monday against the Marlins, in his first game back after bereavement leave. (Juan Ocampo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

“But he had a way of making things simple,” Louis said. “I used to throw at a tater sack hung across a barbed wire fence when I was growing up. That was my target.”

As a member of the Kansas City Royals in 2011, Louis earned his first save at Yankee Stadium in New York and his first win at Fenway Park in Boston.

“And to this day, if I can’t find my control, I can hear Pappy saying, ‘Just hit the tater sack.’ ”

A little more than 48 hours after delivering that talk, Louis was back with the Dodgers, back on the mound in a one-run game against the Miami Marlins in the seventh inning. Louis was perfect. Three up, three down. He struck out slugger Giancarlo Stanton for the third out. I came out of my recliner and pumped my fist. …

You can read the entire piece here. Thanks to Watkins’ longtime friend, Dodger senior vice president of planning and development Janet Marie Smith, for forwarding it to me.

Vin Scully remembers Joe Garagiola

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Scully-JoeBy Jon Weisman

Joe Garagiola, the one-time big-league catcher and longtime big-league announcer who was Vin Scully’s partner on NBC the night Kirk Gibson hit his 1988 World Series home run, passed away today at age 90.

Garagiola played in the Majors from 1946-54 and worked as a broadcaster until he was 87. He was also a frequent presence on entertainment shows, such as “To Tell the Truth” and “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” but if you’re from my generation, you remember him fundamentally for his work on NBC Game of the Week baseball broadcasts. His voice was integral to Saturday afternoons for years.

Today, Scully shared some thoughts about his former colleague.

“I was very fortunate to know and work with Joe Garagiola,” Scully said. “Boy, did he surprise me as a broadcaster. Joe was always a funny and decent man, but he was a big surprise to me. When we got together in the booth, he was very serious. The part that surprised me was how well prepared he was for each and every telecast.  Joe didn’t just rely on his experience as a player, but he did his homework and all of us benefited from his knowledge and research.

“I will miss his laughter and his love for the game, but most of all I will miss a deeply religious man, who had a great sense of humor.  My prayers are with Audrey and his family.”

With Vin Scully at his side, Glenn Frey calls Pedro Guerrero homer in 1985

Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, who passed away today at age 67, once called a Pedro Guerrero home run alongside Vin Scully. Jason Footer of The Sporting News passed along the clip.

– Jon Weisman

Lance Rautzhan, 1952-2016

rautzhanBy Jon Weisman

We’re sorry to pass along the news that former Dodger reliever Lance Rautzhan has passed away at age 63.

Rautzhan was a rookie on the 1977 Dodgers, making his MLB debut that July and going all the way to the World Series both that year. In 1978, he returned to the postseason after delivering a 2.93 ERA in 61 1/3 regular-season innings.

As Ken Gurnick of points out in his obituary for Rautzhan, the left-hander from Pottsville, Pennsylvania was the winning pitcher in one of the most famous Dodger playoff games ever, when Los Angeles scored three runs in the top of the ninth to defeat Philadelphia in Game 3 of the 1977 National League Championship Series. Rautzhan faced one batter, retiring Bake McBride to end the eighth inning.

Overall, Rautzhan pitched in 80 regular season games for the Dodgers with a 3.73 ERA. He finished his career with Milwaukee in 1979, shortly before his 27th birthday.

Rautzhan was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in November 2014.

Longtime Dodger Billy De Lury passes away

Vin Scully and Billy DeLury (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)
Vin Scully and Billy DeLury (Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers)

By Jon Weisman

Billy DeLury, a Dodger employee since 1950, the same year Vin Scully joined the organization, passed away Saturday evening. He was 81 years old.

“I was privileged to know Bill DeLury for more than 60 years,” Scully said, “from the time he was an office boy in Brooklyn and rose to become a most valuable member of the organization as our traveling secretary. A Dodger from head to toe. A respected baseball man. And a deeply religious husband and father. Anyone and everyone in baseball who knew Bill will mourn his passing and he will be truly missed.”

Said Dodger president and CEO Stan Kasten: “Billy’s consistent dedication and outstanding character were both an inspiration in our front office as well as a daily reminder of our roots in Brooklyn. His presence will be missed by all who knew him.”

A native of Brooklyn, DeLury began his career with the Dodgers on September 1, 1950 at age 17 after graduating from high school, employed by the organization both in New York and Vero Beach, starting out in jobs including laundry and the mail room. He received his first World Series ring in 1955 while, as he called himself, “an office boy.”

Working his way up the ladder, DeLury sold advertising for Dodger programs, then moved into the minor-league department under vice president Fresco Thompson, before becoming assistant ticket manager and, for more than 20 years, the Dodgers’ traveling secretary. His service with the Dodgers was continuous, save for his military duty from 1957-58. In recent years, he has served as an assistant to the broadcasters and to the traveling secretary.


Billy DeLury with Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax, Jaime Jarrin, Tommy Lasorda and Maury Wills

A famous DeLury story involved him getting the assignment, while still a teenager, to leave the Polo Grounds in the ninth inning of the final game of the 1951 National League playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers, with Brooklyn ahead 4-1, to take the train back to Ebbets Field and begin distributing World Series tickets. When he arrived, there were no crowds, only a night watchman who told him of Bobby Thomson’s home run, which was dubbed the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Update: Jon SooHoo has posted some of his favorite photos of DeLury.

In Memoriam: John Keenan

john keenanBy Mark Langill

It was only natural Kansas native John Keenan would become a baseball scout, a position he held with the Dodgers between 1962 and 1998. His grandfather, Bert Wells, was a Dodger scout from 1940-79, and Keenan’s son Mike would become a Midwest crosschecker with the Cincinnati Reds.

Keenan was hired as a part-time scout by Al Campanis, who was then the franchise’s scouting director. He became a full-time scout in 1963, serving first as an area scout in the Midwest. Keenan spent his final 13 years in the organization as the Midwest supervisor or national crosschecker.

Among the players signed by Keenan are Don Sutton, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Rick Sutcliffe and Mickey Hatcher. Keenan also signed outfielder Mitch Webster, who as a scout in 2008 represented the Dodgers when Keenan was inducted into the Greater Midwest Professional Baseball Scouts Association Hall of Fame.

“John signed me, and has known me since I was a kid,” Webster said. “He has been a great mentor for me as a scout and as a player. All those hard times as a minor leaguer, you’re looking to stay alive, and John was always there to add encouragement.”

The funeral service for Keenan, who died Thursday, will be held Monday in Great Bend, Kansas.


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