Another link to the lone season of the Seattle Pilots in 1969 is gone. First baseman Don Mincher, who led the Pilots in home runs with 25 and represented them at the All-Star Game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., died Sunday night at age 73 in Huntsville, Ala., after a long illness.
Sadly, many of the Pilots have died in recent years, which I suppose shouldn’t be that surprising when you consider they played here 43 years ago (which is hard to fathom all by itself). Our assistant sports editor, Bill Reader, is a Pilots aficianado, and he compiled this list of Pilots personnel who have passed away:
Manager Joe Schultz
INF Ray Oyler
1B Greg Goossen
C Jim Pagliaroni
OF Jose Vidal
C Merritt Ranew
1B Don Mincher.
P Miguel Fuentes
P Gene Brabender
P George Brunet
P Steve Barber
P Jerry Stephenson
It’s a sobering list, one that hopefully won’t grow for a good long while.
Mincher made several appearances in Jim Bouton’s classic chronicle of that ’69 Pilots season, “Ball Four.” The Pilots, of course, bolted for Milwaukee after the 1969 season, though Mincher never played for the Brewers. In January of 1970, they traded him to the Oakland A’s. The A’s traded him to the Washington Senators in May of 1971, then re-acquired him in July of 1972 (in a deal which sent, among others, Marty Martinez to the Texas Ranger, which the Senators had become in 1972; Martinez would go on to manage the Mariners for one game in 1986).
It was with Oakland in ’72 that Mincher had perhaps his most memorable moment, delivering a game-tying, pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning of Game 4 against the Reds. It was his only at-bat of the Series, and helped the A’s win the game. They went on to win the World Series in seven games, the first of their three consecutive titles.
With the Pilots, Mincher hit .246 with 78 RBIs, the latter total second on the team to Tommy Davis’s 80. He launched the Pilots first home run on Opening Day at Sicks Stadium. He was one of two Pilots’ All-Stars that year, the other being outfielder/first baseman Mike Hegan. Hegan did not appear in the game because of injury, while Mincher appeared as a pinch-hitter against Bob Gibson and struck out.
After his retirement, Mincher returned to his native Huntsville to serve as general manager of the Double-A Huntsville Stars, an Oakland affiliate most of the time, from 1985-2001, and was president of the Southern League from 2000 until he had to retire last year because of his health issues. He was part of an investment group that bought the Stars in 1994 to keep them in Alabama, and broadcast their games.
As someone who went to high school for a few years in Huntsville, Alabama, while my dad was working for NASA, I can attest to the fact that he was a legend in that town. And from talking to him over the years for various stories, I know he loved living there. (I went to Grissom, and he went to our arch-rival, Butler, but I never held that against him). I know he wasn’t a big fan of Ball Four, and didn’t like the way Joe Schultz, the manager, was portrayed as a bumbler — a lovable bumbler, but a bumbler nonetheless.
“What are you going to do with 25 guys, half of whom have never played in a major-league game and the rest on their way out?” he said in a 1997 Birmingham News story.
Mincher, who hit 200 homers, played in two World Series and made two All-Star teams, provided some credibility for the Pilots. He should be remembered for a fine major-league career that included a memorable stint in Seattle.
(In this Seattle Times file photo from the 1969 Pilots season, Mincher is pulled off first base as A’s baserunner Dave Duncan — who would later gain renown as a pitching coach — reaches first).