Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 23: Those we lost

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

The baseball world lost some all-time greats, some beloved figures and players, managers and executives well-known and less-well-known in 2018. Here’s a brief look at some of the members of the baseball family who passed away this year. Click through to more thorough remembrances.

Willie McCovey: A 22-season big leaguer, 19 of which came with the Giants. He hit .270/.374/.515 with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBI in 2,588 games in the course of his legendary career. Along with being a Hall of Famer, McCovey won the 1959 NL Rookie of the Year Award, made the All-Star team six times and won the All-Star MVP award in 1969, and won the NL MVP Award in 1969 as well.

Rusty Staub: Staub starred for the Astros, Expos, Mets, Tigers and Rangers over a 23-year playing career, hitting .279/.362/.431 with 292 homers, 1,466 RBI and an OPS+ of 124. He remains 13th all-time in games played, 35th all-time in career plate appearances, 44th all-time in times getting on base and 52nd all-time in career walks. He was a beloved figure everywhere he played, but is particularly identified with the Expos, for whom “Le Grand Orange” was their first major star.

Red Schoendienst: He played in the majors for 19 seasons between 1945-63, spending 15 of those years with the Cardinals and helping them win the 1946 World Series. He later managed the Cardinals from 1965-76, winning two pennants and winning the 1967 World Series. He hit .289/.337/.387 over 2,216 career games, making the National League All-Star roster 10 times. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.

Dutch Rennert: National League umpire who worked from 1973 through 1992 and who possessed one of the most distinctive — and loudest — strike calls you’ll ever hear.

Davey Nelson: An All-Star infielder who played in the bigs from 1968 through 1967, Nelson also coached in the majors, worked in the Brewers’ front office and was a broadcaster in Milwaukee for several seasons.

Wayne Huizenga: Founding owner of baseball’s Florida Marlins, under whose ownership they won the 1997 World Series.

Tito Francona: A 15-year major leaguer who played for nine teams but who is best known for his time with the Indians. In 1959, his first year in Cleveland, he batted .363/.414/.566 with 20 homers and finished 5th in AL MVP voting. It also happened to be the year that his son — current Indians manager Terry Francona — was born. Nice year for old Tito, eh?

Wally Moon: 1959 was very good to Wally Moon, too, as he helped the Dodgers to their second-ever World Series title and their first in Los Angeles. Before that he came up with the Cardinals and was named NL Rookie of the Year in 1954 after hitting .304/.371/.435 with 12 homers and 18 stolen bases. He’d make the All-Star team in 1957. In Los Angeles he was famous for taking advantage of the short, short porch in left field of the L.A. Coliseum, which was only 220 feet from home plate. To compensate for the distance, the Dodgers put up a 42-foot tall net. A white monster, if you will. Moon, a lefthanded hitter, began swinging with a pronounced uppercut and attempting to push the ball the opposite way, hitting a career-high 19 dingers in 1959, 14 of which came in Los Angeles. His homers came to be called, appropriately enough, “Moonshots.”

Oscar Gamble: A fine hitter with an outstanding batting eye and plate patience who posted a career line of .265/.356/.454, for an OPS+ of 127. His trade to the New York Yankees before the 1976 season helped set the stage for the Bronx Bombers’ return to the World Series after 12 years in baseball’s wilderness. He may be best known by fans too young to remember the 1970s, however, for his AMAZING afro, which was immortalized on his 1976 Topps “traded” card.

Kevin Towers: A college baseball star who found his true calling as an executive, serving as he general manager for the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks. Under his watch the Padres won four division titles and the 1998 National League pennant. Upon moving to Arizona, the Dbacks won 94 games and the National League West Division title in his first season in charge, just one season after they finished in last place with 97 losses. He was a wheeler-dealer, making many of the more notable trades baseball saw in the mid-to-late 1990s and beyond.

Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo: Valbuena was an 11-year big leaguer who played for the Mariners, Indians, Cubs, Astros, and Angels. Castillo spent parts of five years in the majors from 2004-08 with the Pirates, Giants, and Astros. The two were playing winter ball in Venezuela when they were tragically killed in an automobile crash earlier this month that, as of this moment, appears to have been intentionally caused by men who sought to rob them.

Others we lost in 2018: 17-year big leaguer Bob Bailey, Ed Charles, who played for the Athletics and Mets in the 1960s, 12-year MLB veteran John Kennedy, 114-game-winner Marty Pattin, Billy O’Dell, a two-time All-Star who won 19 games for the NL pennant-winning 1962 Giants, Pirates and Angels mainstay Bruce Kison, and 1981 ERA champ and longtime Orioles reliever Sammy Stewart.

As is always the case with these sorts of remembrances, there are no doubt some we forgot. Apologies for that but, hey, it gives you a good chance to remind us of them in the comments, where we can talk about them and what they meant to you and to baseball a bit more.

Rutschman has five hits in opener, Orioles outlast Red Sox 10-9

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – The last time Adley Rutschman recalls feeling this level of emotion on a baseball field was playing in front of intimate, 5,000-seat crowds in college at Oregon State.

He trumped that experience at Fenway Park on Thursday in his first career opening day start.

“This blows that out of the water,” Rutschman said.

Rutschman became the first catcher in major league history with five hits in an opener, and the Baltimore Orioles survived a wild ninth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9.

“To have that close game in the ninth inning and the crowd get so loud. You kind of sit there and say, ‘This is pretty cool,’” said Rutschman, the top overall pick in the 2019 draft.

Rutschman – who debuted for the Orioles last May and quickly became indispensable to the young, resurgent club – homered in his first at-bat and finished 5-for-5 with a career-best four RBIs and a walk on a chilly day at Fenway Park, with a temperature of 38 degrees at first pitch.

Ramon Urias hit a two-run homer for Baltimore, which finished with 15 hits, nine walks and five stolen bases.

Kyle Gibson (1-0) allowed four runs and six hits over five-plus innings to earn his first opening-day victory since his 2021 All-Star season with Texas. Gibson gave up an RBI groundout in the first inning before retiring nine straight Red Sox hitters.

The Orioles nearly gave the game away in the ninth.

With Baltimore leading 10-7, closer Félix Bautista walked pinch-hitter Raimel Tapia. Alex Verdugo followed with a single and advanced to second on an error by center fielder Cedric Mullins.

Rafael Devers struck out. Justin Turner then reached on an infield single to third when Urias’ throw was wide, scoring Tapia. Masataka Yoshida grounded to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who stepped on second for the force but threw wildly to first, allowing Verdugo to score.

Bautista struck out Adam Duvall on three pitches to end it and earn the save.

The Orioles scored four runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. Baltimore led 10-4 before Bryan Baker allowed three runs in the eighth to give the Red Sox some hope.

The eighth could have been even better for the Red Sox had Devers, who led off the inning, not become the first player in major league history to strike out on a pitch clock violation. Devers was looking down and kicking debris off his cleats when umpire Lance Barksdale signaled a violation that resulted in strike three.

“There’s no excuse,” said Alex Cora, who dropped to 0-5 in opening-day games as Boston’s manager. “They know the rules.”

Boston offseason addition and two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (0-1) struggled in his Fenway debut, surrendering five runs on six hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings.

“Less than ideal,” Kluber said. “Didn’t turn out the way I would have hoped for.”


Red Sox: Christian Arroyo stayed in the game after taking an inadvertent cleat to the side of his head in the second inning. Arroyo was applying a tag to Rutschman at second base as he attempted to stretch out a single. Rutschman’s leg flipped over as he slid awkwardly. … LHP James Paxton was placed on the 15-day inured list (retroactive to March 27) with a strained right hamstring.


Rutschman, one of six Baltimore players making his first opening-day appearance, became the youngest Oriole to homer in his first opening-day at-bat since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1984.


The Orioles took advantage of MLB’s bigger bases – going from 15- to 18-inch squares – that are being used for the first time this season. Baltimore hadn’t stolen five bases in a game since last June 24 against the White Sox. Mullins and Jorge Mateo swiped two bags apiece, and Adam Frazier got a huge jump on his steal against reliever Ryan Brasier. There was nothing Boston catcher Reese McGuire could do to stop them and on the majority of Baltimore’s steals, he didn’t bother to throw.


Right-hander Kaleb Ort and Tapia earned Boston’s final two roster spots to open the season. Tapia got the nod over Jarren Duran, who was sent down to Triple-A Worcester. Ort pitched a scoreless sixth with one strikeout Thursday.


Orioles: RHP Dean Kremer will make is sixth career start against Boston when the three-game series resumes on Saturday. In 11 road starts last season, he went 5-3 with a 3.63 ERA.

Red Sox: LHP Chris Sale, who has pitched in only 11 games over the past three years due to injuries, is set to begin his seventh season in Boston.