Alec Distaso, a righthander who made two appearances for the 1969 Cubs, died July 13 in Macomb, Ill. He was 60.
Distaso was the first overall pick in the January phase of the 1967 draft out of a Los Angeles high school, then struggled to a 6-9, 4.57 record in his first pro season, which he split between three clubs. However, he turned things around in 1968, leading the Midwest League with 13 wins for Quincy and posting a 3.30 ERA. That performance earned him a promotion to Tacoma (Pacific Coast), where he made three appearances to finish out the season. At just 20 years old, Distaso was in the big leagues the following April, when he made two appearances out of the Cubs’ bullpen. He pitched two scoreless innings in Montreal in his big league debut April 20, but was tagged for two runs on six hits over three innings in Pittsburgh two days later. He returned to the minors for the rest of the season, and would pitch only one more year professionally, leaving the game after he went a combined 4-8, 8.36 in 56 innings in 1970, which he spent with three different clubs.
Ray Engel, a catcher who played in five professional seasons in the 1950s, died Jan. 21, 2005, in Jenks, Okla. He was 71.
Engel slugged 19 home runs and drove in 109 while batting .298 for Fort Walton Beach (Alabama-Florida) in 1954, his first pro season. He spent the next two seasons with Waycross (Georgia-Florida), but had a hard time replicating his numbers of 1954. After hitting only .215 in 1955, Engel bounced back in 1956 to hit .277 with 11 long balls and 73 RBIs. Engel moved on to Topeka (Western) in 1957 and spent the last two years of his career there. He hit 18 home runs and drove in 69 runs in 1957, but batted only .234 in 440 at-bats. He retired after making only 22 appearances for Topeka in 1958, hitting .105 in 38 at-bats.
Ted Gwinn, an outfielder who played professionally for three seasons, died May 26 in Texas. He was 82.
Gwinn spent the first two years of his career with Ponca City (Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri) in 1949 and 1950. He hit .281 with seven home runs in his debut season, then upped those numbers to 12 home runs while winning the league batting title with a .320 average. He also stole a league leading 53 bases that year. Gwinn moved on to Pueblo (Western) for his final season, hitting .242 with three home runs in just 62 at-bats.
Jessie Hollins Jr., a righthander who made four appearances for the Cubs in 1992, died July 9 in Polk County, Texas, in a fishing accident. He was 39.
The Cubs picked Hollins out of Willis (Texas) High in the 40th round of the 1988 draft and signed him the following June, right before the ’89 draft, as a draft-and-follow from San Jacinto (Texas) JC. Hollins worked out of the bullpen in his first professional season, going 3-1, 4.84 in 48 innings for Wytheville (Appalchian), but he converted to starting the following year. He made 17 appearances, all but one of them starts, for Geneva (New York-Penn) in 1990 and posted a 10-3, 2.77 record. Two years later, Hollins moved back to the bullpen and posted a 3.20 ERA in 70 innings for Double-A Charlotte (Southern), earning himself a September callup to the big leagues.
Hollins made four appearances, all in relief, for the Cubs in September 1992, during which he allowed seven runs on eight hits. Unfortunately, this essentially represented the end of Hollins’ career. He would miss the entire 1993 season due to injuries. After returning and making four appearances for Daytona Beach (Florida State) in 1994, Hollins was shut down again and would not pitch again unil 1997. He was picked up by the Yankees and made four appearances for their Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate, but posted a 12.00 ERA in six innings. Hollins ended his career pitching for independent Tyler (Texas-Louisiana), where he made four appearances and had a 3.18 ERA.
Sterling Hostetler, an outfielder who made 10 professional appearances in 1942, died May 4, 2008, in Wooster, Ohio. He was 86.
Hostetler got into 10 games for Washington (Pennsylvania State Association), hitting .235 with one double, one triple, and four RBIs in 34 at-bats.
Jay Kleven, a catcher who made two appearances for the 1976 Mets, died June 30 in San Lorenzo, Calif. He was 59.
The Mets signed Kleven out of Cal State Hayward in 1971 and he opened his pro career with Visalia (California) in 1972, batting .279 with two home runs and 31 RBIs. Kleven was never a specatacular hitter in the minors, as he hit only 11 home runs in his entire career and his .279 average in his first season turned out to be his career high, but he worked his way up the Mets’ system thanks to his defensive efforts. Kleven was summoned to the big leagues for the only time in his career in June 1976. He went 0-for-3 in his big league debut, but collected his only big league hit in his last appearance, when he came off the bench in a Mets blowout win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field and hit a two-run single off future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, then a rookie with the Cubs. Kleven’s career la-ted only one more season, and he retired after hitting a combined .163 between stints with Norfolk (International) and Indianapolis (American Association).
Greg Montalbano, a lefthander who pitched professionally for six seasons, died Aug. 21 in Westborough, Mass., after a battle with cancer. He was 31.
The Red Sox picked Montalbano in the fifth round of the 1999 draft out of Northeastern and he made his pro debut the following summer, making six appearances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and short-season New York-Penn League. He opened his first year in full season leagues by going 9-3, 2.96 for high Class A Sarasota (Florida State), earning a promotion to Double-A Trenton (Eastern), where he finished the year 3-3, 4.50 in 48 innings. He would miss the 2002 season, and saw limited action in 2003 and 2004, though he did post a 3.00 ERA in six appearances for Double-A Portland in ’04. He pitched his final two seasons for independent Worcester (Can-Am) in 2005 and 2006, ending his career after going 5-3, 1.80 in 55 innings in ’06. He had since become an engineer.
Ted Shandor, a righthander who pitched 13 seasons in the minor leagues, died June 29 in Lewes, Del. He was 83.
Shandor opened his career in 1947 with Madisonville (Kitty), going 5-11, 5.55 in 141 innings, and had his breakout season the following year, going 13-4, 2.63 for Wisconsin Rapids (Wisconsin State) and capturing the league’s ERA title. He practically duplicated that season a year later with Waterloo (Three-I), putting up a 14-9, 2.60 record. Shandor struggled to match those numbers over the next three seasons, although he did win 17 games in 1952 combined between stops with Salem and Yakima of the Western International League.
Shandor’s success in 1952 landed him a spot with the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals, where he appeared in 47 games in 1953 and went 9-9, 4.16. Shandor remained with the Seals into the 1954 season, but made only four appearances before leaving for Wenatchee (Western International), where he finished the year going 12-14, 4.74. Shandor posted a 20-win season in 1955 for Albuquerque (West Texas-New Mexico), going 23-12, 3.73 with 28 complete games. However, he never enjoyed that kind of succcess again over the last few years of his career. Shandor pitched until 1959, retiring after making 12 appearances in the Mexican League with Monterrey and Veracruz.
George Williams, a second baseman who played in parts of three big league seasons in the 1960s, died May 14 in Detroit. He was 69.
Williams opened his career in fine fashion, capturing an Appalachian League batting title in his first pro season after hitting .361 in 230 at-bats for Johnson City in 1958. Two years later, he batted .338, hit 11 home runs and drove in 101 runs for Elmira (Three-I). He found himself in the big leagues the following season, getting called up by the Phillies in July 1961 and making 17 appearances, during which he hit .250 with one RBI in 36 at-bats.
The Houston Colt. 45’s took Williams in the expansion draft after the ’61 season. However, Williams returned to the minors for most of the next two seasons, though he did make five appearances for the Colt .45’s in 1962. His next, and final, meaningful big league time came in 1964, when he appeared in 37 games for the Kansas City Athletics. Williams hit .209 with six doubles and two RBIs in 91 at-bats for the A’s before being sent back down to the minor leagues. He would play another four seasons, all in the Pacific Coast League, before retiring after the 1968 season. The best of Williams’ later years in the PCL came in 1966, when he hit .270 with nine home runs for the Phoenix Giants. For his big league career, Williams hit .230 in 135 at-bats, covering 59 appearances.
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