Champ Summers, who played for six major league teams in an 11-year career that ended in 1984, died Thursday after a 2 1/2-year battle with kidney cancer, his wife told the AP.
Summers had a truly unusual career. After serving in Vietnam, he was signed at 25 and reached the majors for the first time at 28. He somehow stuck around and saw time in every year from 1974-78, even though he hit .205/.284/.318 with eight homers in 352 at-bats during the span.
In 1979, however, the 33-year-old Summers busted out, hitting a remarkable .291/.401/.556 with 21 homers in 306 at-bats. Almost all of that production came after he was traded from Cincinnati to Detroit and reunited with manager Sparky Anderson in May. His .957 OPS was a better mark than any of the three MVP winners (Don Baylor in the AL, Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell tied in the NL) amassed that year.
He followed it up with another nice year for the Tigers in 1980, hitting .297/.393/.504 with 17 homers in a career-high 347 at-bats. And then, as soon as it came, it was gone. Summers hit .255/.339/.358 with three homers in 165 at-bats during the strike-shortened 1981 season. The Tigers traded him to San Francisco afterwards, and he hit just five more homers in parts of three seasons.
So, even though Summers played 11 seasons, more that two-thirds of his 54 homers came between 1979 and 1980. As did more than half of his RBI and even 11 of his 15 career steals. He hit .294 those two years and .220 the rest of the time.
Summers was 66 years old. He’s survived by his wife and stepchildren.