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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.

Freddie Freeman has elbow surgery

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Freddie Freeman‘s elbow began barking in the second half of the season and he was a shadow of himself in the month of September. The Braves rested him for half a minute in the season’s final week but he still played 158 games in 2019. They said he was good to go for the NLDS but he was clearly limited, going 4-for-22 in the Braves’ series loss to the Cardinals.

Today the Braves announced that Freeman underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Wednesday. The team said today that the procedure involved the removal of three fragmented loose bodies and the cleaning up of multiple bone spur formations.

It’s not clear if more rest down the stretch would’ve made a difference for him — and it’s not clear that the Braves had options at first base for the postseason that were substantially better than even a limited Freeman — but it’s clear that not having Freeman feeling like himself in the heart of the order was a problem.

Freeman is expected to be good-to-go for spring training.