photo: Wally Westlake (Getty Images)
To note that 2019 was a difficult year for former St. Louis Cardinals is an understatement, as 18 individuals with direct ties to the team as a player or coach left us during the prior 12 months.
They include 98-year old Wally Westlake, who had been the oldest living Cardinal for almost three years. Then-98 year old Bill Endicott held the record for four years before he passed away in November 2016. Now, 1954 Cardinals pitcher Bill Greason is the oldest living Cardinal. The right-hander celebrated his 95th birthday on September 3rd.
Others to have passed away during the prior year include Ernie Broglio, forever known as the player traded for Lou Brock, and outfielder-turned-broadcaster Chris Duncan, who left us far too early at the age of 38.
A short remembrance of each of the 18 follows, along with a brief look at the St. Louis Browns, as is our annual custom.
2019 Cardinals deaths
January 2, Jerry Buchek, age 76
The St. Louis native played for the Cardinals as a reserve infielder from 1961 through 1966. Following a trade to New York, Buchek concluded his MLB career with the 1967 and 1968 Mets, batting .220 over his seven partial seasons in the majors. Buchek was dealt back to the Cards after the 1968 season and was traded the next spring to the Phillies for Bill White, a one-time star first baseman who returned to St. Louis.
February 5, Joe Presko, age 90
The Kansas City native and right-hander pitched in 114 games, including 61 starts, for St. Louis from 1951 to 1954, posting an ERA of 4.70. Via the Rule 5 draft, “Baby Joe” moved to Detroit for 1955 and 1956.
February 11, Jack Crimian, age 92
The Pennsylvania native pitched in a total of 16 games in relief for the Cardinals during the 1951 and 1952 seasons, posting an ERA of 9.24. Following the 1953 season, Crimian was dealt to the Reds for Alex Grammas. After four year absence, Crimian was back in the majors with the A’s and finished with the Tigers the next year.
February 24, Johnny Romano, age 84
The catcher concluded his 10-year major league career with the 1967 Cardinals, batting .121 over 24 games before his release that winter. Romano spent all of his prior MLB time with the White Sox and Indians, finishing with a career .255 average.
March 19, Chuck Harmon, age 94
Originally property of the Browns, the corner infielder-outfielder broke into the majors with the 1954 Reds, as their first African American player. Harmon moved to the Cardinals during the 1956 season in exchange for Alex Grammas and Joe Frazier, but went just 1-for-15 in 1956 and 1957. He was dealt to the Phillies in May 1957 and concluded his career with a .238 average over his four seasons.
May 27, Kelly Paris, age 61
1982 marked the MLB debut of infielder Kelly Paris, as he batted .103 in 12 games with St. Louis. The next season, he joined the Reds, then Orioles. In 1986, Paris was seriously injured an automobile accident that took the life of his teammate Joe DeSa. He recovered and worked his way back with the 1987 White Sox.
July 3, Gary Kolb, age 79
The catcher broke into the majors at age 20 with the 1960 Cardinals. Kolb appeared in 90 games, batting .264 with St. Louis, mostly in 1963. In the final day of the season, he pinch ran for Stan Musial following the Hall of Famer’s final hit. The following season, he moved to the Braves in exchange for Bob Uecker, then to the Mets and Pirates, playing through 1969.
July 12, Joe Grzenda, age 82
The reliever concluded his career with the 1972 Cardinals, logging a 5.66 ERA in 30 games. Grzenda previously pitched for the Tigers, A’s, Mets, Twins and Senators after making his debut in 1961.
July 16, Ernie Broglio, age 83
His name will forever be famous as the centerpiece of the Cubs’ take in the Lou Brock trade in 1964. Broglio made his MLB debut with St. Louis at the age of 23 in April 1959 and went 70-55 as a Cardinal until encountering arm problems with Chicago. He was done pitching by 1966 and retired to San Jose, California. Brogio passed after battling cancer.
July 27, Mike Roarke, age 88
After nearly a decade in the minors, Roarke made his big league debut as a 30-year old with Detroit in 1961. The catcher went on to play four seasons and 194 games with the Tigers before embarking a long career in coaching. One of his most famous students was Bruce Sutter, first with the Cubs and again with the Cardinals in 1983. Whitey Herzog hired the Rhode Island native as St. Louis’ pitching coach and he remained in the role from 1984-1990. Roarke later coached for San Diego and Boston.
August 19, Al Jackson, age 83
The original New York Met was part of another major trade in Cardinals history, acquired in return for Ken Boyer following the 1965 season. In the rotation for the 1966 and 1967 Cardinals, Jackson went 22-19 with a 2.97 ERA. He returned to the Mets in 1968 and finished his MLB career with Cincinnati the next season.
September 5, Wally Westlake, age 98
The Cardinals’ oldest living former player, Wally Westlake of Sacramento, California, passed on September 5. At 98, he was the second-oldest living MLB player by four days. The outfielder played nine seasons in the major leagues for the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds, Indians, Orioles and Phillies, from 1947 to 1956. He joined St. Louis from Pittsburgh along with Joe Garagiola in 1951 and was traded to Cincinnati the next year.
September 6, Chris Duncan, age 38
A first round draft pick by the Cardinals in 1999, the first baseman-outfielder and son of long-time pitching coach Dave Duncan reached St. Louis in 2005. He remained until 2009, when traded to the Red Sox. In 389 games over his five seasons, Duncan hit 55 home runs and registered an .805 OPS. A radio commentator after his retirement, Duncan battled brain cancer for several years before his passing.
September 13, Alex Grammas, age 93
The shortstop and second baseman played seven seasons for the Cardinals, from 1954 into 1956 and again from 1959 into 1962. In his 10-year career, Grammas also played for the Reds and concluded his playing days with the Cubs. The Alabama native was known as a solid fielder and batted .247 overall. After moving into coaching, Grammas was the third base coach for six years with Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine. He later managed the Brewers in 1976 and 1977 before concluding with 12 years coaching again for Sparky Anderson, in Detroit.
October 13, Bobby Del Greco, age 86
The Pennsylvania native spent just part of one season with the Cardinals, 1956. In 120 games, the outfielder batted .215. Del Greco began his nine-year career with Pittsburgh and also played with the Yankees, Phillies and A’s.
October 30, Ron Fairly, age 81
The long-time Dodgers and Expos first baseman-outfielder joined St. Louis in 1975 and remained until September 1976, his age 37 and 38 seasons. Fairly batted .289 with seven home runs in 180 games in a part-time role. He moved to the A’s, Blue Jays and Angels before becoming a broadcaster post-retirement.
November 12, Bob Johnson, age 83
When Johnson joined the Cardinals for 19 games in 1969 at the age of 33, St. Louis became the infielder’s seventh MLB team. With the Cards, he batted just .207 and soon moved to Oakland, where he concluded his MLB career in 1970.
November 15, Irv Noren, age 94
The former Senators and Yankees star became a Cardinal during the 1957 season via a waiver claim and the outfielder remained with the team for almost three years before he was traded to the Cubs. In 142 games with St. Louis, Noren batted .273. He was later a scout and coach with the Oakland A’s.
Remembering the Browns
The dwindling ranks of former St. Louis Browns players suffered two losses during 2019.
On January 10, Johnny Hetki passed away at his home near Cleveland. He pitched for the Browns in 1952 and spent additional time with the Reds and Pirates in a career that spanned 10 years, from 1945 to 1954.
Tom Jordan, who took one at-bat with the Browns in 1948 after playing with the White Sox and Indians, was the oldest living former major leaguer, and of course the oldest living Brown, as well. The 99-year old died on August 26, just 10 days short of the century mark.
The nine living Browns from the 764 men who once played for the team are George Elder, Billy DeMars, Frank Saucier, Johnny Groth, Ed Mickelson, Al Naples, Billy Hunter, Don Larsen and J.W. Porter. They range from 98 (Elder) to 86 years of age, per the St. Louis Browns Historical Society and Fan Club.
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