Dead Celebrity Friday: Bo Diaz

An occasional tribute to a totally random gone but not forgotten — at least not on Fridays — star.

Bo Diaz, catcher. Died on Nov. 23, 1990 when he was crushed by a satellite dish at the age of 37.

Diaz had a great season with the Phillies in 1982 when he posted a 3.6 WAR.

Diaz had a great season with the Phillies in 1982 when he posted a 3.6 WAR. (And yes, I know this is a 1985 card but I have a cold and don’t feel like scouring the Internet for a photo of an ’82 Diaz card right this minute)

It’s been a long time since I cranked out a Dead Celebrity Friday post so I thought I’d dust the feature off and start it up again. That led me over to BrainyHistory.com to browse their list of notable people who died around now and non-celebrity Bo Diaz caught my eye.

I guess I could have gone with Larry Hagman (loved ya in “I Dream of Jeanie“) or Roald Dahl (my daughter loves the movie “Matilda”) or Junior Walker (“Shotgun” is a great tune) for today. If I wanted a bigger baseball name I could have gone with “Hack” Wilson. They all died around now too, but Diaz caught my eye because I wanted to know more about Bo.

The fact that Diaz played ball and his death was unusual piqued my interest and gave me an easy excuse to spiral down the rabbit hole reading about baseball on the Internet. I can’t believe that I don’t remember Diaz dying because for some odd reason I usually lock obscure stuff like that away in my brain.

I won’t pretend to have any memories of Diaz’s playing days but I certainly recall his mug often being mixed into the piles of commons that I had stuffed away in shoe boxes when I was a kid. But after doing some research for this post I’m thoroughly annoyed at myself for not remembering Diaz because he had a hell of a career that included some All-Star seasons and a run to the World Series with the “Wheeze Kids” Phillies in 1983.

Ramon Hernandez is the best comp to Diaz I can find among guys who played for the A's.  The Venezuelan catchers had strikingly similar seasons in 1982 and 2003.

Ramon Hernandez is the best comp to Diaz I can find among guys who played for the A’s. The Venezuelan catchers had strikingly similar seasons in 1982 and 2003.

As an A’s fan, if I had to find a comparable player to Diaz it would probably be Ramon Hernandez. They’re both Venezuelan catchers and Hernandez’s best year with the A’s was 2003 when he posted a 3.4 WAR at the age of 27 while hitting .273/.331/.458 with 21 homers and 78 RBI. Diaz’s best season came with the Phillies in 1982 at the age of 29 when he posted a 3.6 WAR while hitting .288/.333/.450 with 18 home runs and 85 RBI. I was only 8 years old living in the Bay Area when Diaz had his best season in Philadelphia so I think I can be forgiven for having to look up his numbers to see how good he was at his peak.

According to this obit Diaz was crushed by a satellite dish on the roof of his house in Venezuela while trying to adjust it in high winds. Diaz had been playing winter ball to try and get in shape for a return to the majors after sitting out the 1990 season.  Diaz was survived by his wife and two sons. Brutal, just brutal.

As Charles de Mar said in the ’80s classic “Better off Dead,” “dying when you’re not really sick is really sick, you know.” That statement is as true as it is dumb and amusing. I’ll freely admit to being morbid and overly dramatic at times, but death by satellite dish is something even I’ve never contemplated.  And idea of dying before you even hit 40 when you have a wife and two kids certainly strikes home since I’m on the fast track to 40 with a wife and two kids.  As far as I’m concerned my best years are ahead of me which drives home just how sudden and tragic Diaz’s death was.

These Dead Celebrity Friday posts are meant to be a fun, off-the-beaten path look back at someone who entertained us and put a smile on our face. Unfortunately, this one has a depressing aspect to it because of the terribly random way Diaz passed away when he still had so many great years ahead of him as a husband and father. But there’s no doubt the All-Star catcher made a lot of baseball fans around America and in Venezuela smile over the course of his solid 13-year career. If I was a kid playing catcher in Venezuela in the late ’70s/early ’80s I probably would have loved Bo Diaz and I’m sure he inspired at least a few young players who eventually made it to the big leagues.

A somber tip of the cap to the late Bo Diaz.

Diaz trivia time

Wikipedia’s best
* Díaz was the first Venezuelan to play regularly as a catcher in Major League Baseball.
* He made his MLB debut with the Red Sox on September 6, 1977 at the age of 24.
* His random link to the A’s: In 1978 he was involved in the trade that brought future A’s closer Dennis Eckersley to Boston. While in Cleveland, Diaz eventually became the backup to future A’s catcher Ron Hassey. Diaz also played alongside former A’s slugger Tony Armas with Leones del Caracas team in the Venezuelan Winter League.
* Diaz was a reserve player for the American League team in the 1981 All-Star Game.

Diaz and Gary Carter, two dearly departed MLB catchers. In 1982 they were arguably the two best catchers in baseball.

Diaz and Gary Carter, two dearly departed MLB catchers. In 1982 they were arguably the two best catchers in baseball.

* In a 1982 computer ranking of major league players that used offensive and defensive statistics, Díaz was ranked second among National League catchers behind only Gary Carter.
* In 1987 Díaz was an All-Star selection as a reserve player for the second time in his career.
* This is easily the most interesting tidbit Wikipedia has to offer: “Díaz was part of an extremely unlikely event spanning thirteen years. On January 6, 1973, he caught for minor league pitcher Urbano Lugo, in a no-hit-no-run game when the Leones del Caracas defeated the Tiburones de La Guaira, 6–0. Thirteen years later, on January 24, 1986, Díaz was the catcher for another no-hitter in a 4–0 Caracas’ victory over La Guaira. This time, the pitcher was major leaguer Urbano Lugo, Jr., son of the elder Lugo.” Cool beans.

The best of Baseball Reference
* Out of 301 MLB position players born in Venezuela, he’s ranked at No. 119.
* The highest salary he ever earned was $900,000 with the Reds in 1989 when he was 36.
* Random stuff he led the league in over his career: Errors committed by a catcher in 1983 with 14. Stolen bases allowed by a catcher in 1982 with 122. Runners caught stealing by a catcher in 1987 with 59.

Random Diaz stuff from around the Web
* Autographed Bo Diaz cards are going for as much as $49 on ebay  so there’s still plenty of love out there for Mr. Diaz.
* According to Baseball Prospectus, Diaz underwent knee surgery three times and he missed 339 games in his career due to injury. Playing behind the plate is a hell on a man’s body.

Weird coincidence
I was at a used bookstore yesterday checking out their baseball section and I happened to come across a copy of “Shortened Seasons: The Untimely Deaths of Major League Baseball’s Stars and Journeymen.” Diaz isn’t in there but it was definitely a little creepy to come across a book about baseball players who died too young when I was one day into drafting this post.

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