Bill Monbouquette has left us. This bums me out. I never knew the man during his prime. He'd played his last game before I was born. I met him long after the sun had set on his playing days (1958-1968), but those days was pretty great. He left this mortal coil with a bouquet of on-field accomplishments: a no-hitter in '62, 20 wins in '63, and three All-Star appearances.
More importantly, he appreciated the greats with whom he played and knew a great anecdote when he lived it. He was the baron of the banquet circuit, even better on the dais than on the mound, gifted with a Don Rickles-like ability to churn over the same material year after year in ways that were forever charming and endearing and made you grateful for following this foolish game. He was quick to celebrate the heroes of his time--he went fishing with Ted Williams, met John Glenn, golfed with the Mick, cautioned a young Doc Gooden to stick with his natural mechanics. And he had no reservations about outing the turkeys--anyone who berates Jonathan Papelbon as the turd I asssume him to be is all right in my book.
My brother and I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Monbouquette at consecutive hot stove dinners a few years ago in Syracuse. His connections to Syracuse were tenuous--certainly they existed though he wasn't the sort of guy who lingered in local folklore--but he won us over after story one, converted us to Monbouquette lifers who look for his cards whenever we stumble into a memorabilia shop. We approached Monbouquette after the dinner, just to say thanks and snap a picture. He talked our ears off, delved deeper into the stories he'd told earlier, griped about the officials telling him to keep it short, and like all the greats, asked about us, steered the conversation away from himself (which really made it more about him in all the right ways).
Baseball Reference will tell you that Bill Monboutquette ranks #420 among MLB pitchers, comes in just above Denny Neagle and Larry Gura. Denny and Larry should count their blessings.