Some famous American sports figures passed away in 2013

January 9, 2014
Jeff Brucculeri

The past year saw the passing of some very special athletes – notable superstars in their respective sports. Here are just a few that may jog great memories.

Earl Weaver, the fiery Hall of Fame manager who won 1,480 games with the Baltimore Orioles, died at age 82 on Jan. 19. It was quite entertaining to watch guys like Weaver, Billy Martin and Sparky Anderson carry on a raging argument with an umpire. Weaver was certainly one of the best.

Stan “The Man” Musial, one of baseball’s greatest hitters and a Hall of Famer with the St. Louis Cardinals for more than two decades, died Jan. 19. He was 92. Musial was loved by the people of St. Louis, and beyond. He was well known for his great sense of humor, his folksy demeanor and his harmonica playing.

Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss directed the NBA team to 10 championships and transformed the Lakers into Southern California’s most beloved sports franchise after buying the club in 1979. Buss, 80, died Feb. 18 from kidney failure related to cancer.

Former OU coach Chuck Fairbanks, who coached Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens and spent six seasons as coach of the New England Patriots, died April 2, after battling brain cancer. He was 79.

Pat Summerall, best known for his work as an NFL play-by-play announcer, died April 16, at age 82. He was a former kicker for the New York Giants. For many of us, he was the voice of NFL football for years, along with his longtime broadcast partner John Madden.

Dick Trickle, a former NASCAR race car driver, died May 16 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 71.

Ken Venturi, who won the 1964 U.S. Open and spent 35 years in the broadcast booth for CBS Sports, died May 17. He was 82.

David “Deacon” Jones, a Hall of Fame defensive end, died June 3 of natural causes at his home in Southern California. Jones, who played in the NFL from 1961-1974, was credited with coining the word “sack” for how he knocked down quarterbacks, but because sacks weren’t an official statistic until 1982, his total is uncertain. He was also well known for appearing in beer commercials and movies following his playing days.

Former Boston Red Sox first baseman George “Boomer” Scott died in his home on July 29 in Greenville, Miss. Scott was a three-time All-Star with the Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers and won eight gold gloves.

Art Donovan may have been better known for his sense of humor following his football career, than he was known for his ability on the field. The defensive tackle, who was a favorite guest on late night talk shows, as he used funny stories to maintain his popularity before his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame died Aug. 4, while in hospice care in Baltimore. He was 89.

Former heavyweight champion Tommy Morrison died Sept. 1, at a Nebraska hospital, but the family would not disclose the cause of death. Morrison, who spent most of his younger days in Jay, Okla., had tested positive for HIV but he and his wife deny that he ever had the virus that causes AIDS. He was 44. I watched Morrison defeat George Foreman, on television in June 1993, and four months later I was seated ringside at the Tulsa Convention Center when Michael Bentt knocked him out in the first round. I remember seeing from across the ring, the look in Morrison’s eyes as he was crumbling to the mat. It was obvious his mind had left the building.

Ken Norton, a former heavyweight boxing champion who was one of only five people to defeat Muhammad Ali, died on Sept. 18. He was 70. I remember watching Norton’s epic battles in the ring, including his win over Ali. What a strong and powerful puncher he was.

Wally Bell, a Major League Baseball umpire, died of an apparent heart attack in Ohio at the age of 48, on Oct. 14.

Former Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints coach Bum Phillips died at 90 on Oct. 18. He was one of the great characters of the NFL coaching ranks in the 1980s.

Former New York Knicks center and member of the basketball Hall of Fame, Walt Bellamy, died Nov. 2. He was 74.

Todd Christensen, a former Oakland Raiders tight end, died Nov. 13, from complications while getting a liver transplant. He was 57.

Former Baltimore Orioles center fielder Paul Blair died on Dec. 26, at the age of 69. My first baseball glove that I used back in Little League was a Paul Blair signature model. I didn’t know who he was at first and had to do some research. This, of course, was before the days of the Internet. So, I referred to my baseball cards and The Sporting News to learn more about Blair. What I found out was, although he wasn’t a household name, he had impressive numbers. Blair was an 8-time Gold Glove winner and won two World Series titles with the Orioles and later won two with the New York Yankees.

[Jeff Brucculeri is freelance writer and broadcaster. Follow him on Twitter @JeffBTravels. Contact; jeffb@tulsabeacon.com.]