Notable Sports Deaths of 2020: October

By Anthony McClean, Editor-In-Chief Emeritus

As the year slowly begins to wind down, BASN has devoted the final days of 2020 and the early days of 2021 to look back at the pioneers, contributors, and innovators we lost during the last 12 months. The specter of Covid-19 has been prevalent all year and the sports world was no different.

Today, we focus on the month of October.

OCTOBER

Lou Johnson, MLB star (10/1)

An outfielder for five different teams in his 8-season career and the man behind some 1965 Dodger heroics. “Sweet Lou” died days after his 86th birthday. Other reports list the date of his death as September 30 or September 23. A cause of death was not listed, but it was reported that Johnson had been in poor health. He played for the Chicago Cubs (1960, 1968), Los Angeles/California Angels (1961, 1969), Milwaukee Braves (1963), Los Angeles Dodgers (1965-67) and Cleveland Indians (1968).

Bob Gibson, MLB Hall of Famer (10/2)

One of the most dominant pitchers of the 20th Century, Gibson died in his hometown of Omaha at the age of 84 from cancer. Gibson’s full list of accomplishments are lengthy and include two Cy Young Awards, two World Series MVP Awards, 9 All-Star teams, an ERA title and, of course, induction to the Hall of Fame. Baseball had to rewrite the rule book because Gibson was so successful at what he did that he made the league’s hitters look ridiculously over matched. Gibson pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959 to 1975. In Gibson’s 17-year career, he had a 251-174 record and a 2.91 ERA. He struck out 3,117 batters, which is currently 14th all-time. He made 482 starts among his 528 appearances and completed 255 of those games, including 56 shutouts. 

Kim Batiste, MLB star (10/7)

An infielder whose clutch hit in the 1993 NL Championship Series helped the Phillies on their way to the World Series. Batiste died in a Louisiana hospital from complications after emergency surgery, according to his family. Batiste, who lived in Prairieville, was 52 years old and had been battling kidney failure for many years. He played for the Philadelphia Phillies (1991-94) and San Francisco Giants (1996). Kim will always be remembered in Philadelphia for his 10th-inning base hit to give the Phillies the walk-off win in Game 1 of the 1993 National League Championship Series. Batiste played for the Phillies from 1991-94 and regularly entered late in games as a defensive replacement. His career batting average was .234 with ten home runs.

Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB executive (10/8)

A onetime executive for Major League Baseball, Solomon died at 64. During a career that lasted 21 years, Solomon was for years one of the most prominent African American executives in Major League Baseball. He went from director of Minor League operations in 1991 to executive vice president for baseball development in 2012. Between, Solomon left a legacy that will not be forgotten. Long before Bryce Harper and Mike Trout became stars, they appeared in the Futures Game, a contest created in 1999 by Solomon as part of the All-Star Game festivities. It was Solomon who made sure that baseball’s connection to the civil rights movement was never forgotten by creating the Civil Rights Games, played annually from 2007-15. Solomon was instrumental in providing outreach to African American kids by creating the first MLB Youth Academy in Compton College, Calif. 

Joe Morgan, MLB Hall of Famer (10/11)

A Hall of Fame second baseman and a key member of the Cincinnati Reds’ famed Big Red Machine, Morgan died at the age of 77. Morgan died at his home in Danville, California, family spokesman James Davis said in a statement. Morgan struggled with various health issues in recent years, including a nerve condition, a form of polyneuropathy. Morgan was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove Award winner. He is widely regarded as one of the best second basemen in baseball history, and he gained renown for his 25-plus years as a broadcaster after his playing career. Morgan first played in the majors in 1963, when the Houston Astros were the Houston Colt .45s. He was traded to Cincinnati in November 1971 as part of an eight-player deal. He played the next eight years with the Reds.

Fred Dean, NFL Hall of Famer (10/14)

A defensive end who played for the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers, Dean passed away at the age of 68. After playing college football at Louisiana Tech University, Dean was drafted by the Chargers in the second round of the 1975 draft. In the years before sacks became an official NFL stat, Dean helped the Chargers lead the league in sacks in 1980, with 60 sacks. With Dean, the Chargers won their division in 1979 and 1980, but he was traded to the 49ers in 1981 after a contract dispute. He helped the 49ers to victory in Super Bowls XVI and XIX, and he set a league record in 1983 with six sacks in one game. Dean was a Pro Bowl pick in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1983, and he was named first team All-Pro in 1980 and 1981. Dean retired from the NFL after the 1985 season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Matt Blair, NFL star (10/22)

Blair, one of the greatest linebackers in Minnesota Vikings history, died of what’s believed to be complications from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease linked to football and considered to be the signature menace in the NFL’s concussion claims in recent years. He was 70 and had been in hospice care for an extended period of time. Forty-one years earlier, the Vikings drafted Blair out of Iowa State in the second round. He played for the Vikings for 12 seasons. Blair also became a six-time Pro Bowler and Associated Press first-team All-Pro in 1980. In 2012, the Vikings placed him in their Ring of Honor. Including playoffs and two Super Bowls, Blair played 173 games (139 starts). Only Scott Studwell and Roy Winston played more games at linebacker in Vikings history.

W.C. Gorden, HBCU football coach (10/23)

Gorden, a Hall of Fame coach who led Jackson State to a 28-game Southwestern Athletic Conference winning streak while building a league power in the late 1980s, has died. He was 90. The school announced on its athletics website that Gorden died after being informed by his family. Considered JSU’s winningest coach, Gorden went 119-47-5 from 1976-91 after serving as defensive coordinator and head baseball coach. The Tigers won eight SWAC titles and reached the NCAA playoffs nine times under Gorden, who worked two years as athletic director at the historically Black college after retiring as coach. Gorden was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. The Mississippi legislature in 1997 honored the Nashville, Tennessee, native with a proclamation as JSU’s winningest coach and credited his academic oversight for JSU having the highest graduation rate in the SWAC and higher than the student body.

Eddie Johnson, NBA star (10/26)

Johnson, a former Auburn product and a two-time All-Star for the Atlanta Hawks died at the age of 65. “Fast Eddie,” as he was nicknamed, grew up in Weirsdale, Florida and attended Lake Weir High School where he graduated in 1973. After continuing his basketball career at the University of Auburn, where he was voted All-SEC three times, Johnson was taken by the Atlanta Hawks in the third round of the 1977 NBA Draft where he went on to play the majority of his career. While in the NBA, Johnson was an All-Star in 1980 and ‘81 and was named second-team All-Defense in 1979 and ‘80. He averaged 15.1 points, 5.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds for his career.

Essex Johnson, NFL star (10/29)

Johnson, one of the club’s original draft picks who became a keystone of Paul Brown’s cutting-edge AFC Central champ Baby Bengals, died at 74 and left a legacy you can see whenever a Bengals running back catches a ball out of the backfield or lines up in the slot. Johnson, a sixth-round pick out of Grambling in that first Bengals draft of 1968, is one of seven starters from the 1973 roster that Cincinnati drafted out of historically black colleges. Wide receiver Charlie Joiner, acquired in a trade the season before, played with Johnson at Grambling. Teaming with bruising rookie fullback Boobie Clark in a Fast-and-Furious backfield that took advantage of Ken Anderson’s accuracy and the advent of the watershed West Coast offense devised by Paul Brown and assistant coach Bill Walsh, Johnson was a first down waiting to happen with 5.1 yards per carry and more than a dozen yards per catch.

Herb Adderly, NFL Hall of Famer (10/30)

Adderley, the Hall of Fame cornerback who joined the NFL as a running back and became part of a record six championship teams with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys has died. He was 81. Adderley played in four of the first six Super Bowls and won five NFL championships with Green Bay and one with Dallas during his 12-year career. Along with former teammates Fuzzy Thurston and Forrest Gregg, Adderley is one of four players in pro football history to play on six championship teams. Tom Brady is the other. Adderley was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980. Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame quarterback and a former Packers teammate, once called Adderley the “greatest cornerback to ever play the game.” Born on June 8, 1939, in Philadelphia, Adderley was a three-sport star in high school. He excelled at running back at Michigan State and was the 12th pick overall of the 1961 draft. Adderley’s speed and instincts made him a quick learner in his new position, which helped propel him into a stalwart of Green Bay’s secondary. Adderley intercepted 48 passes, returning them for 1,046 yards and seven touchdowns.

NEXT: November and December.

Anthony McClean can be reached via email at anthonymcclean@basnnewsroom.com.

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