The sports figures we've lost in 2021

The sports figures we've lost in 2021

Marvin Hagler, right, scores a TKO over Thomas Hearns.
Marvin Hagler, right, scores a TKO over Thomas Hearns.
Image: AP

Here’s a look at the athletes and sports figures we’ve lost in 2021.

Been editing/writing sports for some time, mainly in NYC and a stint in LA.

Managing editor. Former N.Y. Daily Newser. Former broke poker player.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.

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Luke Ratliff - April 2

Luke Ratliff - April 2

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Photo: Luke Ratliff/Instagram

Luke Ratliff was an Alabama student and men’s basketball superfan known around campus as “Fluffopotamus.” Last week, he made the trip to Indianapolis to watch the Tide in the Sweet 16. Ratliff was in Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse on Sunday for the game. After UCLA pulled off the upset that night, he returned to Tuscaloosa the following day. Later in the week, he was hospitalized and died of complications related to COVID-19. He was only 23.

“He had a personality that was bigger than this world, never met a stranger,” Ratliff’s mother told the New York Times on Saturday.

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Howard Schnellenberger - March 27

Howard Schnellenberger - March 27

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Image: Getty Images

Legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger died on March 27 at the age of 87, his family announced.

Schnellenberger was an All-American end at Kentucky in the 1950s, then quickly moved into coaching as an assistant at his alma mater. He moved to Alabama in 1961 and became offensive coordinator under Bear Bryant, recruiting Joe Namath to the Crimson Tide and winning three national championships before moving to the NFL to become an assistant coach with the Rams.

After serving as the offensive coordinator for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, Schnellenberger got his first head coaching job, with the Baltimore Colts. While that didn’t work out, Schnellenberger did become a wildly successful college coach at Miami, where he mined local talent en route to winning the national championship in 1983. Schnellenberger also coached Oklahoma and Louisville, then built the program at Florida Atlantic from the ground up — the Owls’ stadium is now named in his honor.

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Dr. Bobby Brown - March 25

Dr. Bobby Brown - March 25

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Image: Getty Images

The last living member of the 1947 World Series champion Yankees, Dr. Bobby Brown died on March 25 at the age of 96, in Fort Worth, Texas.

A third baseman who hit .279 over eight major league seasons — and .439 in four World Series with the Yankees, all of which the Bronx Bombers won — Brown was best known in baseball as the president of the American League in the 1980s.

Calling Brown “Doctor” wasn’t just an honorific, he was a cardiologist who started saving lives even before he was a doctor. In 1943, Brown and fellow Stanford student Robert McClean swam from the California beach to save the life of Coast Guard Radioman Henry Kind, who survived a plane crash that killed Navy pilot Dale Burroughs during an anti-submarine reconnaissance mission.

Brown continued to appear at Yankee Stadium for Old Timers Days through 2019, always receiving a warm welcome as a Yankee and American hero.

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Mike Bell - March 26

Mike Bell - March 26

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Mike Bell, the bench coach of the Minnesota Twins and a third-generation major league player along with his brother David, died on March 26, two months after being diagnosed with kidney cancer. Bell, 46, a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 1993, made it to the majors in 2000 with the Reds and played for several organizations before joining the Diamondbacks’ player development staff after his playing career. He became the Twins’ bench coach in 2020.

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Oscar Frayer - March 23

Oscar Frayer - March 23

Three days after playing for Grand Canyon University in the Antelopes’ first-ever NCAA Tournament game, Oscar Frayer was on his way home to visit family in California on March 23 when he was one of three people who died in a car crash on Interstate 5. Frayer, who was 23, had finished his studies at Grand Canyon and was set to graduate with a degree in communications in April.

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Elgin Baylor - March 22

Elgin Baylor - March 22

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Photo: AP

From Minneapolis to Los Angeles – Elgin Baylor, a Hall of Famer yet still one of the most underrated players in NBA history, died Monday of natural causes, the team announced alongside a statement from his family. He was 86.

Playing during the same era as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Baylor is often overlooked. He never won an MVP, nor did he win a championship, but his career averages of 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game puts him in the conversation of all-time greatness. Baylor is 3rd all-time in points per game behind only Michael Jordan and Chamberlain, and is 10th all-time in rebounds per game. He is one of only three players to be in the top-10 in both categories.

Baylor’s number 22 is retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and a statue for the legend stands outside the Staples Center.

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Marvin Hagler - March 13

Marvin Hagler - March 13

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Image: AP

“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, who spent eight years as the world middleweight champion, died on March 13. He was 66 and had not been known to be ill — in announcing his death, Hagler’s wife Kay wrote on Facebook that he died “unexpectedly.”

Hagler was 62-3-2 in his professional career, with 52 knockouts, and was named Boxing Illustrated’s Fighter of the Decade for the 1980s.

Hagler claimed the middleweight belt with a TKO of Alan Minter on September 27, 1980, in London, then made 12 successful title defenses over the next five and a half years, most memorably a unanimous 15-round decision over Roberto Durán and a TKO of Thomas Hearns.

When Hagler finally lost, it was a controversial split decision to Sugar Ray Leonard, and Hagler never got a rematch. Hagler went 11 years between his previous loss, to Willie Monroe in 1976, and the Leonard fight, which marked the end of his career.

After his boxing career, Hagler became an action movie star in Italy. He was inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

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Walter Gretzky - March 4

Walter Gretzky - March 4

Walter (l.) and Wayne Gretzky
Walter (l.) and Wayne Gretzky
Image: Getty Images

Walter Gretzky, the father of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, died on Thursday after a long battle with Parkinson’s. He was 82.

Wayne Gretzky announced his passing late last night on Twitter.

“For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey,” he said. “He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey but in life. We will miss him so much, but know that he’s back with our mom and that brings me and my family peace.”

Although he never played professionally, Walter Gretzky is credited with teaching his son the finer points of the game, particularly in anticipating the play. He also helped the future “Great One” meet and develop what would be a lifelong relationship with hockey legend Gordie Howe.

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Irv Cross - February 28

Irv Cross - February 28

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Irv Cross who became a fixture in American living rooms each football Sunday for 15 years on The NFL Today has died. He was 81.

Cross spent nine years in the NFL playing cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams, twice named to the Pro Bowl. But it was his switch to TV and CBS where Cross became an integral part of the network’s popular pregame show as co-anchor — the first black anchor in the network’s history — along with Brent Musburger.

“All of us at CBS Sports are saddened by the news of Irv Cross’ passing,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. “Irv was a pioneer who made significant contributions to the storied history and tradition of CBS Sports and, along with Phyllis George and Brent Musburger, set the standard for NFL pregame shows with THE NFL TODAY. He was a true gentleman and a trailblazer in the sports television industry and will be remembered for his accomplishments and the paths he paved for those who followed.”

Cross greeted football fans each Sunday morning during football season from 1975 to 1989, providing analysis and insight on the day’s games.

Musburger released a statement via the Eagles.

“I’ve been around all kinds of people, from every walk of life. I don’t know that I could give you one person who was nicer than Irv Cross. He was a constant gentleman.”

In 2009 he was presented with the Pete Rozelle Radio-Televsion Award for his contribution to the NFL.

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Juan Pizarro - February 18

Juan Pizarro - February 18

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Juan Pizarro, perhaps the greatest Puerto Rican pitcher in MLB history, died on Thursday night of cancer, according to ESPN Deportes. He was 84.

Pizarro, a left-hander with a blazing fastball, broke into professional baseball in 1955 in Puerto Rico, the same year his countryman Roberto Clemente made his MLB debut with the Pirates. He was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1956, and joined them in 1957 as a 20-year-old rookie. The Braves won the World Series that year, the only championship of his and teammate Hank Aaron’s careers.

After 1960, the Braves traded Pizarro and pitcher Joey Jay to the Cincinnati Reds for 31-year-old shortstop Roy McMillan. That trade may have kept the Braves from winning another title with Aaron as McMillan, a brilliant fielder but weak hitter, batted just .237 in four years with the Braves and Jay became a two-time 20-game winner. Pizarro, however, was traded to the Chicago White Sox without pitching an inning for the Reds. He blossomed in Chicago, going 14-7 and leading the league in strikeouts per inning. He was an All-Star in 1963 and 1964, going 16-8 with a 2.39 ERA and 19-9 with a 2.56 ERA, respectively.

Pizarro also pitched for Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, the Chicago Cubs, Oakland and Houston, finishing his career in 1974 with a 131-105 record, a 3.43 ERA and 1,522 strikeouts.

For his entire professional career, Pizarro won 392 games: 66 in the minors, 38 in Mexico and 157 in Puerto Rico while playing winter ball. He is a member of the Caribbean Confederation and Puerto Rican Hall of Fames.

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Vincent Jackson - February 15

Vincent Jackson - February 15

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Photo: Getty Images

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson was found dead at a Homewood Suites hotel in Brandon, Florida on February 15th. He was 38 years old.

Jackson was a big-body wide receiver and one of the best downfield threats in the game during his prime, being named to the Pro Bowl three times in a four-year period. Not including an injury-shortened 2010 season, Jackson amassed six straight 1,000+ receiving yard seasons in his 12-year career.

Off the field, Jackson founded the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, created to provide support to military families, focusing on the education, emotional, and physical health for the children of military personnel. Jackson and his wife Lindsey wrote three children’s books designed to help kids and their parents cope with the emotional issues of deployment. The foundation also held youth camps, scholarships, baby showers for military moms, and much more.

Jackson leaves behind his wife and four children.

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Marty Schottenheimer - February 8

Marty Schottenheimer - February 8

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Image: Getty Images

Former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer died on Monday, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Schottenheimer, who had been battling Alzheimer’s for years, had been moved to hospice earlier this month. He was 77.

Schottenheimer coached in the NFL for 21 years, compiling a 200-126-1 record. His 200 regular-seasons wins ranks him seventh all-time. He had stints with the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington, and the San Diego Chargers.

While he never coached in the Super Bowl, Schottenheimer coached in the AFC Championship Game three times. He was victimized by John Elway twice, losing heartbreaking games remembered for The Drive (1987, Elway drove 98 yards on 15 plays) and The Fumble (1988, Ernest Byner fumbled at the 1-yard line while trying to score a potential tying touchdown).

Schottenheimer, who played linebacker in the AFL for the Buffalo Bills and the Boston Patriots, retired from coaching in 2006 season after leading the Chargers to a 14-2 record, the best mark of his career. His son, Brian, recently agreed to become the passing-game coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Tom Konchalski - February 8

Tom Konchalski - February 8

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Screenshot: Grantland

Legendary basketball scout and New York City native Tom Konchalski passed away at 74 due to cancer on Monday, according to his family and friends. Konchalski’s sizeable contribution to grassroots basketball began in the northeast but rippled nationally as his reputation grew for being one of the art form’s foremost authorities at the high school level. The basketball world collectively expressed a great deal of sadness at Konchalski’s passing, beginning with many folks connected to New York City basketball and extending to national individuals deeply connected to the sport. If you watched a documentary about a New York City-raised basketball talent, chances are, the producers and documentarians sought out Konchalski’s perspective. And if you were in the same room, gymnasium, or arena as Konchalski, you knew you were in the right place. Konchalski peacefully passed away at the Cavalry Hospital in the Bronx. Per Adam Zagoria’s feature in Forbes, Konchalski is survived by his older brother Steve, his wife, Charlene, and their three adult children, Chris, Julianne, and Maria.

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Pedro Gomez - February 7

Pedro Gomez - February 7

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Screenshot: ESPN

Longtime ESPN baseball reporter Pedro Gomez died unexpectedly at his home Sunday. He was 58.

Gomez covered baseball for countless shows on ESPN, including SportsCenter and of course its Baseball Tonight broadcasts. According to ESPN, he covered over 25 World Series and over 20 All-Star Games. Gomez was instrumental in ESPN’s coverage of Barry Bonds and his assault on Hank Aaron’s home-run record.

Gomez is survived by his wife, Sandra, his sons Rio and Dante, and daughter Sierra.

“Pedro was far more than a media personality. He was a Dad, loving husband, loyal friend, coach and mentor,” the Gomez family said in a statement. “He was our everything and his kids’ biggest believer. He died unexpectedly at home this afternoon.”

ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro released a statement on Gomez’s passing.

“We are shocked and saddened to learn that our friend and colleague Pedro Gomez has passed away,” said Pitaro. “Pedro was an elite journalist at the highest level and his professional accomplishments are universally recognized. More importantly, Pedro was a kind, dear friend to us all. Our hearts are with Pedro’s family and all who love him at this extraordinarily difficult time.”

Before joining the World Wide Leader, Gomez wrote for the Miami News, the San Diego Union, the San Jose Mercury News, the Miami Herald and the Sacramento Bee.

Gomez’s son Rio pitches in the Boston Red Sox organization.

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Leon Spinks — February 5

Leon Spinks — February 5

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Image: AP

Leon Spinks, who won the Olympic gold medal as a light heavyweight in 1976, then upset Muhammad Ali in a split decision to become the undisputed world heavyweight champion in 1978, died on February 5 after a years-long battle with multiple cancers.

Born in St. Louis, Spinks served in the Marines, which is where he took up boxing. After leaving the service, he won back-to-back-to-back AAU national titles as a light heavyweight, leading up to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. There, Spinks dominated, winning one match by first-round knockout, his next three by unanimous decision, and the gold-medal bout against Cuba’s Sixto Soria on a third-round referee stoppage.

Two years later, the 24-year-old Spinks stunned Ali, who had just turned 35 and did not know what he was in for against a man in his eighth professional fight. Spinks decided to forego a bout with Ken Norton for the WBA title in order to have a rematch with Ali, which he lost by unanimous decision. Spinks boxed into the 1990s, but never enjoyed the same level of success. Then again, he didn’t have to: he was responsible for one of the only five losses that Ali suffered in his entire career.

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Image: AP

Spinks and his younger brother Michael became the first siblings to be world heavyweight champions when Michael garnered the belt in 1985. They were later matched by the Klitschko brothers.

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Butch Reed - February 5

Butch Reed - February 5

Professional wrestling legend Butch Reed passed away at age 66 on Friday. A statement was released through his official Instagram page, confirming that Reed’s death was due to heart complications.

Following a stint with the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1970’s, Reed turned to professional wrestling, where he became a staple during the 1980’s in Mid-South Wrestling, the then World Wrestling Federation, and NWA World Championship Wrestling (which became WCW in 1991). Reed was a three-time Mid-South North American Heavyweight Champion and co-starred on a tag team with Ron Simmons, named Doom. While managed by Teddy Long in 1990, the team became NWA World Tag Team Champions that May, defeating the Steiner Brothers (Scott and Rick) before dropping the titles to Fabolous Freebirds at WrestleWar 1991. It was during Doom’s run that the titles were renamed to the WCW Tag Team Championships, making them the first tag team titlists of the post-NWA era.

Former WWE Champion and one-half of the APA (along with Simmons) John Bradshaw Layfield offered his respects of Reed and Doom.

Reed is also known for the monikers of “Hacksaw” Butch Reed in the NWA, as well as “The Natural” Butch Reed during the then WWF. He was also the third entrant in the first-ever Royal Rumble held in 1988, where he was the first wrestler eliminated in the match. Throughout his career, he famously feuded with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Magnum T.A., The Honky Tonk Man, Junkyard Dog, Simmons, and Koko B. Ware, whom he defeated at WrestleMania III, his pay per view debut.

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Grant Jackson - February 2

Grant Jackson - February 2

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Screenshot: ABC

Grant Jackson, a lefthander who pitched in the majors for 18 years, died on Tuesday night due to complications from COVID-19. He was 78.

Jackson was an All-Star as a starting pitcher for the Phillies in 1969, but he spent most of his career as a reliever. As a member of the 1979 “We Are Fam-a-lee” Pittsburgh Pirates, he was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series.

Jackson’s former teammate and friend Omar Moreno shared the news of his passing on Twitter.

“This pandemic has affected every family throughout our community, and the Pirates family is no different,” a statement from Pirates president Travis Williams said. “As the winning pitcher for the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series, Grant was a World Series champion and All-Star, who remained dedicated to the Pirates and the city of Pittsburgh since his retirement in 1982. He was an active board member of our Alumni Association who was always willing to help make an impact in our community. More so than any on-field accomplishment, Grant was a proud family man. Our sincere condolences and support go to his wife Millie [Milagro], his children Debra, Yolanda and Grant Jr., as well as his 10 grandchildren. He will be missed.”

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John Chaney - January 29

John Chaney - January 29

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Multiple sources have confirmed that legendary Temple basketball coach John Chaney died at age 89.

Chaney coached at Temple for 24 years, posting a 516-253 record. Previously he coached 10 years at Cheyney State, winning a Division II national title in 1978. He finished with 741 career wins, and became the first Black coach to win 700 NCAA games. He led the Owls to eight regular-season Atlantic 10 titles and six A-10 tournament titles

He took Temple to the NCAA Tournament 17 times, making the Elite Eight five times. His Owls were the top-ranked team in the country heading into the 1988 NCAA Tournament, but he never reached a Final Four.

Known for being tough and demanding, Chaney infamously threatened to kill John Calipari at a press conference in 1994, after accusing the then-Massachusetts-Amherst coach of influencing referees. The two later reconciled.

Chaney is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted in 2001) and College Basketball Hall of Fame (2006).

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Sekou Smith - January 26

Sekou Smith - January 26

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Longtime and beloved NBA journalist Sekou Smith passed away Tuesday after a battle with COVID-19. He was just 48 years old.

A member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Smith covered the NBA as an analyst for NBA TV.

“The NBA mourns the passing of Sekou Smith, a beloved member of the NBA family,” the league said in a statement. “Sekou was one of the most affable and dedicated reporters in the NBA and a terrific friend to so many across the league.”

Said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, “I’m just devastated. Crushing news. Sekou has been part of the NBA family for a long time...Just another awful day and we’re all so saddened.”

Smith graduated from the HBCU Jackson State University in 1997 and began reporting on the NBA, first covering the Pacers for the Indianapolis Star and then the Hawks for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He later switched to TV at Turner Sports working as an analyst for NBA TV.

Smith is survived by his wife Heather and three children.

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Hank Aaron - January 22

Hank Aaron - January 22

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Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer and man many consider to still be the home run king, passed away at 86.

Few players have left a larger mark on the game of baseball.

Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1934. After stints in the Negro Leagues and minor leagues, Aaron made his MLB debut with the then-Milwaukee Braves in 1954. His MLB career started with mediocre production – a .280 average with 13 home runs. Three years later, Aaron had ascended to the best in the game. In 1957, Aaron hit .328, with 44 home runs and 132 RBI.

Over his 23-year career, Aaron averaged 31 home runs per season, with eight seasons over 40. In his third-to-last season in the major leagues, Aaron left his indelible mark on the game.

On April 8, 1974, after battling months of attacks from racists sending him death threats, Aaron took a 1-0 pitch from Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing deep to left field, breaking Babe Ruth’s long-time record of 714 career home runs.

He finished his career with 755 home runs, a record that would stand for decades until the steroid era and Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.

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Ted Thompson - January 20

Ted Thompson - January 20

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Former Packers GM Ted Thompson, who drafted Aaron Rodgers and helped build the team that won the historic franchise’s fourth, and most recent Super Bowl title, died Wednesday. He was 68.

Thompson not only led the Packers to a Super Bowl XLV title, he also presided over the transition from Hall-of-Fame quarterback Brett Favre to future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Rodgers, ending with Thompson trading Favre to the New York Jets in 2008.

The decision to draft Rodgers with the 24th pick of the 2005 first round was a controversial one to be sure, with Favre still productive, having led the Packers to the postseason after a 10-6 record. A gutsy call that paid off with a Super Bowl.

“I’m really thankful for Ted. The fact that I was his first draft pick will always link us together,” Rodgers said of Thompson. “I always appreciated his steady hand and the conversations that we would have. He always made things pretty clear about what he expected from the team and what he expected from me.”

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Don Sutton - January 18

Don Sutton - January 18

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Baseball Hall of Famer Don Sutton died on Monday night, the Atlanta journal Constitution reported. He was 75.

Sutton won 324 games, 14th in history, in a 23-year career that started in 1966 with the Dodgers. His death comes a little more than three weeks after fellow 300-game winner Phil Niekro died, and 10 days after his former manager Tommy Lasorda. Sutton pitched 16 seasons for the Dodgers and is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, innings pitched, starts, strikeouts and shutouts, ahead of such superstar pitchers as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Orel Hershiser, Fernando Valenzuela and Clayton Kershaw. He also pitched for the Astros, Brewers, Angels and A’s.

After his playing career, Sutton worked in broadcasting for almost 30 years, most of them with the Atlanta Braves, his calls broadcast to the nation on Ted Turner’s TBS.

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Tommy Lasorda - January 7

Tommy Lasorda - January 7

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Tommy Lasorda, a Hall of Fame manager and one of baseball’s legendary characters who bled Dodger blue through and through, died at age 93.

The Dodgers, whom Lasorda pitched for in Brooklyn and managed to World Series wins in 1981 and 1988, announced the icon’s death on Friday. Lasorda died on Thursday night of a sudden heart attack. His record as Dodgers manager: 1599-1439 and won his division eight times.

Beyond his triumphs on the field, Lasorda will be remembered for a lot of comedy in baseball, some stemming from his own anger, like his protest of a non-call of interference on Reggie Jackson in the 1978 World Series.

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Paul Westphal - January 2

Paul Westphal - January 2

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Paul Westphal won an NBA title as a player for the Celtics in 1974 and an NAIA championship as coach of the Grand Canyon Antelopes in 1988. But he will be forever known for what he did with the Suns.

It was in Phoenix that Westphal helped the Suns reach their first NBA Finals in 1976, then was a three-time first team All-NBA guard, over the next four seasons, as well as winning the first All-Star HORSE contest in 1978.

A college All-American at USC, Westphal’s pro career also included stops with the SuperSonics and Knicks. After retiring as a player, Westphal started coaching at Southwestern Baptist Bible College, then went to Grand Canyon before returning to the Suns as an assistant and eventually their head coach, winning the 1993 Western Conference title.

Westphal also coached the SuperSonics and Kings, as well as Pepperdine University and stints as an assistant with the Mavericks and, from 2014-16, the Nets. Westphal was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2020, Westphal died on January 2. He was 70.

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Floyd Little - January 1

Floyd Little - January 1

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Floyd Little was the first real star the Denver Broncos ever had, joining a downtrodden AFL franchise after being a three-time All-American at Syracuse, and making five Pro Bowls during his Hall of Fame career in the NFL from 1967-75.

Little had the honor of wearing the storied No. 44 at Syracuse, following in the footsteps of Jim Brown and Ernie Davis. He kept the number in Denver, where it’s retired for him alone. He received honorary doctorates from both Syracuse and the University of Denver, giving the commencement speech at the latter in 2019.

Sadly, Little was diagnosed with cancer, and after going public with that last May, he went into hospice care in November.

Little died on New Year’s Day. He was 78.

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Been editing/writing sports for some time, mainly in NYC and a stint in LA.

Managing editor. Former N.Y. Daily Newser. Former broke poker player.

Sorry to all the other Jesse Spectors for ruining your Google results.