With the year at its end, let’s look back fondly at those we lost in 2021. In all, at least 98 former major league players died in 2021, with several of them tied in some way to the Dodgers.
January was a devastating month, not only for the Dodgers but throughout baseball.
Sandra Scully died on January 3 at age 76, of complications from ALS.
Vin Scully, who was married to Sandra for 47 years, tweeted, “I want to express my gratitude for all your kind messages about my beloved Sandi. And with the loss of my dear friend Tommy, it’s been quite a lot to bear.”
Tommy Lasorda passed away on January 7 from cardiac arrest, only days after returning home from an eight-week hospital stay. He was 93 years old, 71 of which were spent in the Dodgers organization, either as a player, scout, coach, manager, general manager, or special advisor.
Nobody exuded the Dodgers more than Lasorda, who won four pennants and two World Series with the Dodgers.
“I believe Tommy Lasorda had no boundaries on a daily basis,” Orel Hershiser said of his longtime manager. “There were no boundaries to something positive, something about winning that he could do.”
Lasorda’s last attended baseball game was Game 6 of the 2020 World Series.
Jo Lasorda, Tommy’s wife of 70 years, passed away on September 20.
Just eleven days after Tommy Lasorda died, Don Sutton died of cancer at age 75. Sutton pitched for the Dodgers from 1966-80, then again in 1988, his final season, and very rarely missed a start.
“I’m an unspectacular grinder who stayed around for 21 years and did his part,” Sutton once said. “It’s nice to know, of course, that there’s more than one way to do something.”
Sutton was spectacular in his consistency. He’s the only pitcher with 20 seasons of 30 starts, and the only one with 20 seasons of at least 200 innings pitched. The man could be counted on.
He still sits atop the Dodgers leaderboard in wins (233), starts (533), strikeouts (2,696), shutouts (52), and innings pitched (3,816⅓).
Sutton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, one year after Lasorda. Throughout the 2021 season, the Dodgers wore uniform sleeve patches honoring both Lasorda and Sutton.
On January 22, another Hall of Famer was lost. Henry Aaron never played for the Dodgers, but was baseball royalty and one of the greatest opponents the franchise has ever faced.
Aaron’s 95 home runs against the Dodgers are second-most ever, and in 1973 Dodger Stadium was the site of his 3,500th career hit. Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record against the Dodgers in 1974, with Vin Scully providing one of the most iconic calls of his career.
Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times once wrote, “Don Drysdale used to say of Henry Aaron that trying to smuggle a fastball past him was like trying to smuggle a sunrise past a rooster.”
A fixture of Dodger Stadium for years, both in the stands and in the press box, was Larry King, who died on January 23.
Before Game 2 of the World Series, I was having a conversation with a writer in the dining room behind the press box about Adrián González, who was injured but present in uniform with the Dodgers on this day, which reportedly rankled some teammates after he was away during the first two playoff rounds. We were discussing González’s previous trip to Italy during that postseason, when a voice from very close behind us interrupted with, “He was never in Europe, that report was false!”
It was Larry King ... and the report was not false.
Stan Williams died at age 84 on February 20. The Dodgers right-hander struck out 301 batters at age 18 in the minors, then debuted in the majors three years later in the team’s first year in Los Angeles.
Williams was an All-Star in 1960, struck out 205 batters in 1961, and won 43 games for Los Angeles in a three-year stretch. Williams in his career pitched 11 scoreless innings in the postseason, including two scoreless frames for the Dodgers in the 1959 World Series.
Norm Sherry, who died at age 89 on March 8, caught 165 innings of Williams’ career with the Dodgers, and managed three years in the organization at Class-A Santa Barbara, where Sutton gave Sherry 10 brilliant starts (and a 1.50 ERA) in 1965.
But it was a conversation with Sandy Koufax during spring training in 1961 that Sherry is perhaps most known for. Sherry told Koufax to ease up on his delivery, which helped unleash a behemoth who would win three Cy Young Awards over the next six seasons.
“We came off the field, and I said, “Sandy, I don’t know if you realize it, but you just now threw harder than when you were trying to.” What he did was that he got his rhythm better and the ball jumped out of his hand and exploded at the plate. He struck out the side,” Sherry recalled in a 2016 interview. “It made sense to him that when you try to overdo something, you do less. Just like guys who swing so hard, they can’t hit the ball. He got really good.”
On May 22, former Dodgers pitcher Joe Beckwith passed away after a battle with colon cancer. Drafted by the Dodgers in the second round in 1977 out of Auburn, Beckwith was a starter in the minors but found his calling in the majors out of the bullpen.
“Del [Crandall, Triple-A Albuquerque manager] told me the Dodgers were short in the bullpen, and that I’d probably make it up there quicker if I were to become a reliever,” Beckwith said.
Beckwith posted a 3.38 ERA and 106 ERA+ in his parts of five seasons with Los Angeles (1979-83, 1986), overcoming an eye injury that required multiple surgeries. The right-hander pitched 2⅓ scoreless innings against the Phillies in the 1983 NLCS.
Mike Marshall, who died on May 31 at age 78, redefined what it meant to be a workhorse relief pitcher.
There have only been nine major league seasons in which a pitcher appeared in 90 or more games. Marshall did so three times, and his record 106 games is 12 more than any other pitcher in a season.
That record year came in 1974, his first year with the Dodgers, when he set records for games pitched and innings pitched in relief (208⅓). That year, he pitched 13 games in a row and became the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award.
Marshall pitched in seven of the Dodgers’ nine postseason games as well, including all five World Series games against Oakland. He famously picked speedster Herb Washington off first base in the ninth inning of Game 2.
Of Marshall, Danny Gallagher of the Montreal Gazette wrote, “He was an eccentric screwball, but he possessed a mighty screwball.”
Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who for the Twins in 1965 was the first Black pitcher in American League history to win 20 games, died on June 11 at age 85.
Grant had two complete-game victories and a 2.74 ERA for Minnesota against the Dodgers in the 1965 World Series. He pitched for the Dodgers three years later, putting up a 2.08 ERA in 95 innings, mostly in relief. Grant pitched 14 seasons in the majors for seven teams.
J.R. Richard was a 6’8 dynamo who oozed intimidation on the mound. He died at August 4. He never pitched for the Dodgers, but was one of their fiercest foes. The Astros right-hander set a National League record with 303 strikeouts in 1978, then struck out 313 one year later. In 1980, he started for the National League in the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium.
Richard was 15-4 with a 1.86 ERA in 24 career starts against the Dodgers, the second-lowest ERA against them since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
“If he pitched against everybody the way he pitched against us, he’d never lose a game,” Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager once said.
Bill Sudakis, one of only two Dodgers to play 50 games at both catcher and third base, died at age 75 in Palm Springs in September 15. For whatever reason, the obituary I wrote slipped through the cracks and was never published, so please indulge this abridged version remembering “Suds.”
Sudakis was signed out of Joliet High School in Illinois in 1964, one year before the MLB draft was implemented. Working his way up the minor league ladder, he was a co-winner of the Texas League MVP in 1968 with the Double-A Albuquerque Dukes.
The Dodgers called the 22-year-old Sudakis up to the majors that September, and he made an immediate impression. He homered in his first game, on September 3, 1968, off Phillies reliever Dick Hall at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. Also in his first week, Sudakis hit a grand slam in a rout of the Cardinals.
Also-rans for a second straight season after the the retirement of Sandy Koufax, the Dodgers in 1968 installed Sudakis at third base and he played every inning of the final 24 games of the season. He hit .276/.382/.471 with nine extra-base hits. In the Year of the Pitcher, that was good for a 165 wRC+, and had folks thinking big things for Sudakis.
“Bill Sudakis is part Norwegian, part Lithuanian and all third baseman,” the Associated Press said during spring training in 1969. “He is the 36th player to play third base for the Los Angeles Dodgers since they landed on the West Coast in 1958, and may be the first to hold the job for any considerable length of time.”
Things didn’t work out that way, but Sudakis proved quite useful, hitting 14 home runs in both 1969 and 1970, second on the team in both years, including a 122 wRC+ in 1971.
A cantankerous and sometimes popular player, Sudakis had the nickname “Sudsy,” and not just because of his name.
“He liked to have fun, and he would drink beer — they called him Sudsy for a reason,” said his ex-wife Linda in a 1987 Camden Courier-Post story about Sudakis getting arrested for cocaine possession in Huntington Beach.
Though known mostly for his bat, Sudakis proved quite versatile. With a glut of young infielders on the cusp of the majors, the Dodgers had Sudakis play catcher in Arizona instructional league after the 1969 season. He started 48 games behind the plate in 1970-71 in addition to his time at third base, plus a handful of starts in left field.
Sudakis has the fifth-most games at catcher by a Dodgers switch-hitter, behind Yasmani Grandal, Todd Hundley, Chad Kreuter, and Dioner Navarro.
Sudakis played for five more teams after leaving Los Angeles, suiting up for the Mets, Rangers, Yankees, Angels, and Cleveland. He played in Triple-A Omaha for the Royals in 1976, but didn’t play that year in the majors.
Sudakis managed the Palm Springs Sun of the independent Western League in their inaugural season of 1995, with a coaching staff that included former Dodgers teammates Steve Yeager and Lee Lacy. Sudakis coached youth baseball for several years in the Coachella Valley.
In parts of eight major league seasons, Sudakis hit .234/.311/.393, a 101 wRC+, with 59 home runs in 530 games.
Julio Lugo, who played for seven major league teams in 12 seasons and won a World Series with Boston in 2007, died on November 15. The infielder was acquired by the Dodgers at the trade deadline in 2006, and started games for Los Angeles at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, and right field down the stretch.
Don Demeter was the regular centerfielder for the 1959 Dodgers championship team. He died on November 29 in Oklahoma City at age 86.
In 1959, Demeter had the Dodgers first three-home-run game since moving to Los Angeles. Demeter has the dual distinction of being the only Dodger with an inside-the-park home run as part of his three-homer game, and as the only one to hit a walk-off home run in his three-homer game.
May all of them rest in peace.