Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Baseball Necrology, 2011

By Tom Hawthorn
The Emerald Guide to Baseball, 2012
Society for American Baseball Research

Reno Bertoia
Pierino (Reno) Bertoia [1953-1963] died on April 15 at Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He was 76. He was born in San Vito al Tagliamento, Italy, on Jan. 8, 1935, sharing a birthdate with Elvis Presley. He moved to Canada with his family as an infant. At age 18, he signed an $11,000 bonus, joining the Detroit Tigers without playing a single game in the minors. A smooth infielder, he hit .244 over 10 major-league seasons with the Tigers, Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, and Kansas City Athletics. While with the Tigers, he began studies at Assumption College in his Windsor hometown. After baseball practice in Detroit, he would walk across the Ambassador Bridge to attend classes. He became a teacher after leaving baseball. Bertoia was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

Wes Covington
John Wesley (Wes) Covington [1952-1966] died of cancer on July 4 at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was 79. A football prospect in high school in his native North Carolina, a knee injury led him instead to sign a minor-league contract with the Boston Braves. The 20-year-old prospect was assigned to a farm team at Eau Claire, Wis., where he was joined by a teenaged shortstop from Alabama. Hank Aaron, the future home-run king, hit nine homers for the Class-C team in 1952; Covington swatted 24. After two years of army service, the outfielder led the South Atlantic League with a .326 average in 1955. He joined the parent club, which had since moved to Milwaukee, the following season. The knock on Covington was that he was all bat, no glove, but spectacular catches in Games 2 and 5 of the 1957 World Series helped the Braves prevail against the New York Yankees. The lefty batter stayed with the Braves until 1961, when he was selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox. He also played for the Kansas City Athletics, the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies, including during their infamous slump to close out the 1964 season.

Billy Harris
William Thomas (Billy) Harris [1951-1965] died on May 28 at Kennewick, Washington. He was 79. Born in the hamlet of Duguayville, New Brunswick, Canada, the right-handed Harris caught the attention of scouts by pitching his junior and senior teams to consecutive Canadian Maritime championship. At age 20, he went 25-6 with the Class-B Miami Sun Sox, recording a sterling ERA of 0.83 in 294 innings pitched. He’d appear in just two major-league games, losing his 1957 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving up three runs in seven innings. He pitched in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in one game in 1959. Over 15 seasons in the minors, including several fine campaigns with the Montreal Royals, Harris went 174-134. In retirement, he operated Billy’s Bullpen Tavern in Kennewick. He was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Ron Piché
Ronald Jacques (Ron) Piché [1955-2004] died on Feb. 3 at Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was 75. Piché (pronounced pee-SHAY) made his major-league debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. The right-hander started only 11 of the 134 major-league games in which he appeared. He compiled a 10-16 record with a 4.19 earned-run average over six seasons with the Braves, California Angels and St. Louis Cardinals. (He had a lone single in 42 at-bats in the majors, but did manage two runs batted-in.) The reliever spent 16 seasons in the minors including stints in four Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Quebec) though not in his hometown of Montreal. He retired as a player in 1972. Piché served as director of Canadian scouting for the Montreal Expos from 1977-1985. He later did promotional work as a roving ambassador for the club, earning the nickname Monsieur Baseball (Mr. Baseball) in his native Quebec. Piché was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

Dick Williams
Richard Hirschfeld (Dick) Williams [1947-2002] died of a ruptured aortic aneurism on July 7 at Las Vegas, Nevada. He was 82. Williams was one of the most dynamic managers of his era. A hard-nosed stickler for fundamentals, he was an abrasive and volatile firebrand who battled with players, general managers and owners. The pitcher Vida Blue once said Williams made “drill sergeants look like Boy Scouts.” His autobiography was titled, No More Mr. Nice Guy, a witticism not lost on the baseball world. Williams had a knack for squeezing victories from teams that seemed to have little business as contenders. A utility journeyman as a player, he spent enough time on the bench to absorb the nuances of the game. He kicked around the majors for 13 seasons on five teams for a .260 average, playing all three outfield positions as well as every base. After guiding the Toronto Maple Leafs to consecutive International League championships in 1965 and 1966, he was promoted to handle the Boston Red Sox, a moribund team that had finished ninth in both those seasons. The turnaround was dramatic, the club winning 20 more games than the previous season. The Red Sox claimed the American League pennant by winning the 162nd game in a campaign forever to be remembered as the Impossible Dream. Williams did well to push his squad to a seventh game in the World Series before losing, for a third time, to Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals. Williams lasted two more seasons in New England before being fired. In 1971, he was hired by the mercurial Charlie O. Finley, a tyrant whose own disdain for society’s niceties matched those of his new manager. Under Williams, the Oakland A’s won three consecutive American League West division titles, as well as World Series championships in 1972 and ’73. Tired of the owner’s meddling, Williams quit. He handled the California Angels for three seasons before building the Montreal Expos into a contender, though he was fired late in the 1981 season, the only campaign in which the franchise qualified for the playoffs. Williams moved on to the San Diego Padres, another franchise enduring a decade of mediocrity. After two .500 seasons, Williams guided the Padres to the National League pennant in 1984, though they lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers in five games. Williams ended his managerial career after three seasons in Seattle. He had been only the second manager, along with Bill McKechnie, to lead three different clubs to the World Series. Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2008.

The Emerald Guide can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

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