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.
Mark Buehrle last pitched in 2015, for the Toronto Blue Jays. He was still pretty effective and toyed with the idea of pitching last season, but he never signed anywhere and is, for all intents and purposes, retired.
Now at least his number will be retired officially. It will be done by the club for which he had the most success and with which he is, obviously, most associated:
Buehrle pitched for the White Sox for 12 years. He was the model of consistency and durability in Chicago, logging over 200 innings a season in every single season but his rookie year, when he was primarily a reliever. He was a solid defender, a multi-time All-Star, tossed a perfect game in 2009 and helped the Chisox to their first World Series title in 88 years in 2005.
He was also one of baseball’s fastest workers, so I’m going to assume that, in his honor, the number retirement ceremony will last, like, a minute 20, after which everyone can get on with their dang day.
Terry Francona just won the American League pennant, the Manager of the Year Award and his Cleveland Indians will likely be among the favorites to win it all in 2017. Between that and his 17-year track record as one of the best managers in the business, he will have a job, somewhere, for as long as he wants one.
He said yesterday, however, that his body will likely limit how long he manages:
“It gets harder and harder physically. It really does. It takes me longer to recharge every year . . . I’ve had a lot of surgeries, a lot of health problems. It just takes a toll on you. I love [the game of baseball]. I really do, but I can’t see myself doing something else. But there is going to come a day when I feel like I’m shortchanging the team or the organization. That’s not fair.
“Even now, during batting practice, I’ll come in and get off my feet a little bit. I think everybody understands. But when there comes a day when it gets in the way, I’m going to have to pull back, and it’s not because I don’t love managing. You have to have a certain amount of energy to do this job right.”
Francona experienced some chest pains and had an elevated heart rate that caused him to leave a game early last season. In 2005 a similar episode caused him to miss three games while managing the Red Sox. He also has a history of embolisms and blood clots, some of which have hospitalized him.
With multiple World Series rings there isn’t much more in baseball that Francona can accomplish, but here’s hoping he sticks around and accomplishes a lot more before he trades in his baseball spikes for golf spikes and calls it a career.