Home Editor's Picks St. Louis Sports Figures That Passed Away In 2022

St. Louis Sports Figures That Passed Away In 2022

by Brian Ledford

2022 saw the passing of those connected with the St. Louis sports scene. Some had lengthy ties within the local community while others had smaller, but impactful, bursts of association with the athletic teams they were affiliated with.

Within the group included Hall of Famers, championship competitors, influential coaches, community leaders and off-field associates.

Here is a look back at those with St. Louis connections that departed this past year (in alphabetical order.)

DAMION BAKERCBC High School Football Star – A member of the undefeated 2014 CBC state champion football team, Baker was killed by gunfire in an attempted carjacking July 3 near Busch Stadium. After his tenure with CBC, Baker played cornerback for the Holy Cross Crusaders for four seasons (2015-18), appeared in 41 games and recorded 98 tackles, 15 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions. After his collegiate football career ended, Baker returned to the area and worked as a journeyman with St. Louis Laborers Local 42 and with Glaziers Local 513 when he tragically died at the age of 25.

GUSTINE “GUSSIE” CRAWFORDAmateur Athletics Pioneer – A long-time fixture of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Crawford passed away February 9 at the age of 86. Elected in 1988, the St. Louis lynchpin was the first – and only – female president of the organization in its more than 130-year history. During her four years of leadership, she championed the AAU as it transitioned from the governing body preparing athletes for the Olympics, to one of the largest multi-sport, volunteer-based amateur sports organizations in the world. In 1993, she was inducted into the AAU Hall of Fame and for her lasting impact on amateur sports, the AAU created an award in her honor in 2017.

DAVE DRYDENNational Hockey League Goalie – An innovator in goaltender gear, Dryden played nine seasons with the National Hockey League and had a one-season tenure (1966) with the St. Louis Braves of the Central Professional Hockey League. Dryden passed away October 4 at the age of 81. In 48 games with the Braves, Dryden collected a record of 17-17-14. His greatest claim to hockey fame was in 1977 when he created the modern goaltending mask, consisting of fiberglass and a cage, which set forth a prototype that has evolved to what is competed with today.

GEORGE ELDERSt. Louis Browns Outfielder – Then the oldest living survivor of Major League Baseball, Elder passed away July 7 at the age of 101. Elder played 41 games in his solo MLB full season in left field for the St. Louis Browns in 1949, where he collected 11 hits, two doubles and a pair of RBIs. Elder spent his later years as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and as a bailiff in a court in Santa Monica, California. Before his passing, Elder was only one of four former Browns currently living.

EMILE FRANCISSt. Louis Blues Coach – Nicknamed “The Cat” during his 17-season National Hockey League career as a player, the former Blues coach over three seasons (1976, 1981-82) passed away February 19 at the age of 95. Francis helmed the 1976 Blues to first place in the Smythe Division (32-39-9) and an appearance in the NHL Quarterfinals.  He was instrumental in finding a local owner for the financially troubled franchise in the early 1980s and returned for limited tenure as a coach.  Francis was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982 under the builders’ category.

BOB GOALBYPGA Masters Golf Champion – The Belleville, Illinois native, who won the Masters Tournament in 1968, passed away January 19 at the age of 92. A multi-sport athlete at Belleville West High School, Goalby converted into a golf pro in 1952 and collected his first PGA tour win in 1958 at the Greater Greenfield Open. He went on to collect 11 career tourney wins, highlighted by a one-stroke Masters Tourney win in April 1968. Goalby also netted a pair of wins on the PGA Seniors tour. Upon retirement, he served as national television commentator for NBC for 14 years and designed numerous area golf courses.

DAVID GREENSt. Louis Cardinals Outfielder – A member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 1982 championship team, Green died January 29 of respiratory failure at the age of 61. The outfielder’s initial four-season tenure with the Cardinals (1981-84) resulted in 293 hits with 25 home runs and 159 RBIs. Green was a member of the 1982 World Championship team that topped the Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series, four games to three. He returned to the Redbirds in July 1987 and played fourteen games and subsequently finished his career later that October at the age of 26.

JUSTIN HARDYWashington University Basketball Player – The Bears forward, whose courageous 14-month battle with stomach cancer inspired players and fans nationwide, died May 29 at the age of 22. Diagnosed with Stage IV stomach cancer in April 2021, the personable 6-5 senior played 21 games through the 2021-22 season and helped the Bears post a 13-game winning streak while collecting a pair of games where he scored 28 points on the court. As his confrontation with cancer continued, he was featured on ESPN’s College Gameday, highlighted by his positive attitude and inspirational words. His last basket scored was the final points in the Bears’ 70-59 home win over University of Chicago in February. For his career, Hardy scored 928 points in 69 games. In April, Hardy received the Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award from the United States Basketball Writers Association. Prior to his passing, his family established the Hardy Strong Scholarship to financially assist future student-athletes that shared his determination and resilience.

DEMETRIOUS JOHNSONNFL Defensive Back & Charity Organizer – The St. Louis native played five seasons with the NFL but his post-career tenure involving community outreach propelled his status as a local legend. Johnson passed away December 24 at the age of 61 from an aortic dissection. Following the defensive back’s career at the University of Missouri in the early 1980’s, Johnson was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1983 NFL draft, where he played for four seasons. Upon retirement, Johnson returned home and established the Demetrious Johnson Charitable Foundation in 1993, serving the underprivileged in St. Louis with events such as annual toy and food drives. He also served as a sports radio host for several local outlets and as a color commentator for football games aired on cable television.

MARK LITTELLSt. Louis Cardinals Pitcher – The right-handed hurler that had a five-year stint with the Redbirds passed away September 5 from complications of heart surgery at the age of 69. The Cape Girardeau-native’s baseball career started in 1973 with the Kansas City Royals, where he pitched for five seasons. During the 1977 off-season, Littell and catcher Buck Martinez was traded to St. Louis for Redbirds’ closer Al Hrabosky. In Littell’s five-year tenure (1978-1982) in mostly middle-to-late game relief, he was 14-18 with a 3.32 ERA and 28 saves. Although an elbow injury in June 1982 halted the then 29-year-old’s personal campaign, the Cardinals inevitably went on to claim a World Series title win over Milwaukee later that year. As a result, Littell is officially recognized as a member of the 1982 Cardinals Championship team.

MARTIN MATHEWSMathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club Co-Founder – A pioneer in St. Louis’ youth sports and a force in regional racial harmony, Mathews passed away November 9 and the age of 97. A former semi-pro baseball player with the St. Louis Dodgers, he formed alongside Hubert Habib “Dickey” Ballentine in 1960 a baseball sports club that integrated both white and African-American teams. Pushing the values of “respect, restraint and responsibility,” the sports league expanded to include football and basketball, as well as female sports, and became a fixture in the community. In his 60 years of leadership, over one million participants, aged five to 18, have been involved with the club. In 1982, he and Ballentine were awarded by President Ronald Reagan the Presidential Citizens Medal for lifetime achievement.

SEAN NORTHSt. Louis University Athlete – The Billikens’ swimming and diving team sophomore was only 20 years old when he took his own life April 5. In his 2020-21 freshman campaign, he was a member of SLU’s Atlantic 10 Conference Championship team, where he swam a leg in the school’s seventh-place finish in the 200-medley relay. North was named to the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll that same season. Prior to his SLU career, he earned First Team All-State honors at Blue Valley North High his junior and senior years.

JAY RANDOLPH JR.St. Louis Radio Sportscaster – Known for his golf commentary for numerous St. Louis-based sports talk radio outlets, Randolph passed away November 18 at the age of 53 following a battle with liver cancer. The son of long-time local broadcaster Jay Randolph Sr., ”Jay Junior” started his own respective St. Louis media career in 1992, primarily concentrating on golf analysis and commentary. This led to his own signature radio show, “Fairways and Greens,” on KFNS-AM. He also contributed to golf coverage for the PGA Tour Network and XM Satellite Radio and served as a fill-in host for other KFNS programming.

PAUL SILASNBA Championship Basketball Player – A two-time NBA All-Star that played on three-time championship teams, Silas died of cardiac arrest December 10 at the age of 92. Following a successful collegiate career at Creighton, the 6-7 power forward was selected by the St. Louis Hawks in the second round of the 1964 NBA draft and cobbled a five-season tenure with the team (which included the Hawks’ 1969 relocation to Atlanta). In his 16-season career (1964-1980), he scored over 11,700 points and collected over 12,000 rebounds. His personal achievements included championship rings claimed with the Boston Celtics (1974 & 1976) and the Seattle Supersonics (1979). After his playing career, Silas went on to coach squads from San Diego, Charlotte, New Orleans and Cleveland in a 12-season tenure that resulted in 387 career coaching wins. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.

BRUCE SUTTERHall of Fame Baseball Pitcher – Regarded as one of baseball’s most-dominant relivers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Sutter, who won a World Series title with the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals, died October 13 due to cancer at the age of 69. The right-handed hurler was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1976 and spent five seasons there, punctuated by his 1979 National League Cy Young Award win for his 37-save performance that year. He was traded to the Cardinals during the off-season for Leon Durham, Ken Reitz and a future pick, which ultimately resulted in additional future benchmarks achieved.

With Sutter’s 36-save output in 1982, the Cardinals won that year’s World Series over Milwaukee, where he snared a pair of saves, which included a trophy-clinching strikeout over the Brewers’ Gorman Thomas in Game 7. Sutter’s four year-campaign with St. Louis resulted in 127 saves in 203 appearances, topped by a personal best of 45 during the 1984 campaign.

In 12 major league seasons overall, the six-time MLB All-Star collected 300 career saves, which currently places him 30th all-time. Sutter was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006 and his number (42) is retired with the Cardinals.

TOM URBANISt. Louis Cardinals Baseball Pitcher – Urbani, who played with the Redbirds for four seasons in the mid-1990s, passed away September 29 at the age of 54. The left-handed hurler made his major league debut in April 1993 and was a component in the Cardinals’ starting rotations during the 1994 and 1995 seasons. He collected eight wins with the Redbirds and ten overall, which ended with a brief tenure with Detroit during the 1996 season. Following his major league retirement, Urbani started as a pitcher for the 2020 Italian national team that earned a berth that year’s Olympic games.

TIM VAN GALDERSt. Louis Cardinals Quarterback – Known more as a popular local television sports personality compared to his early-1970’s tenure as a Redbirds’ quarterback, Van Galder died from cancer January 26 at the age of 77. As a quarterback, Van Galder had two tenures with the Cardinals, topped by five starts with the team during their 1972 NFL season. Upon retirement, he became a sportscaster with KMOV – identified with the moniker of “TVG” – for a 13-year stretch. He was defined by his non-traditional appearance, opting for sweaters and golf shirts compared to the tight suits known at the time. During his broadcast career, he worked national NFL games with CBS in 1975 and popped up on both KPLR and local radio following his KMOV run.

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By trade, he is a six-time, regional Emmy Award-winning news videographer/editor for KTVI/KPLR-TV. By hobby, he is an announcer and digital content producer for St. Louis-based Arch Rival Roller Derby. Also a webcast announcer for post-season roller derby tournaments on wftda.tv. Yep, this Illinoisan primarily writes about derby, covering Arch Rival, the St. Chux Derby Chix and the STL GateKeepers men's league. He also writes about St. Louis SLAM Women's Football, St. Louis Lions women's soccer and other sports topics.

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