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 just before he orbited the Earth, 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 calls Jonathan Papelbon 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--he coached with the Blue Jays 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 retell his stories and 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 Monbouquette ranks #420 among MLB pitchers, comes in just above Denny Neagle and Larry Gura. Denny and Larry should count their blessings.
Footnote one: Matt Vasgersian (MLB's Hot Stove) relates an anecdote about Monbouquette's habit of keeping a hatchet in his car.
Footnotes two: Sean Horgan wrote a great piece on Monbouquette for the Gloucester Times. Turns out Monbouquette was the last hitter to face Satchel Paige in the big leagues.