Former pitcher and Yankee coach, Tony Cloninger, has passed away at the age of 77. Born in 1940, he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958, making his debut with them in 1961. He remained with the Braves as they moved to Atlanta, playing alongside greats such as Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, and Phil Niekro. In 1965, he had his statistically best season going 24-11 with 178 strikeouts and even a save. After being traded by Atlanta, Cloninger played four seasons with the Reds and did his final stint with the Cardinals in 1972.
Cloninger threw the first pitch in Atlanta Braves history, after the team moved from Milwaukee, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, in a game he went 13 innings in a 3-2 loss that was ended by a Willie Stargell home run, according to ESPN. He pitched in one World Series as a member of the Reds in 1970, losing game 3. It was the only World Series he would appear in as a player.
Cloninger brought a lot to the game when pitched. While he was never dominant, he was durable eating up innings in an era prior to the five-man rotation and the bullpen taking over games in the sixth inning. He could hit as well with 11 career homers, five of which came in 1966, the season in which he hit two grand slams in one game beating the Giants 17-3, becoming the first player in the history of the National League to ever accomplish that feat, and to this day, the only pitcher to ever do it.
Cloninger returned to baseball in 1988 according to MLB.com, filling various roles until he became Joe Torre’s bullpen coach with the Yankees from 1992 until 2001. Cloninger earned four World Series rings during that time. In 2002, he moved to the Red Sox where he was named pitching coach. It was a short tenure, however, as he left the team in 2003 due to medical reasons, which were eventually revealed to be bladder cancer. The Red Sox kept him in the organization until he returned as a senior pitching adviser in 2004, and as a special consultant until his passing.
Cloninger was considered to be partially responsible for helping develop young talents such as Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, and Ramiro Mendoza who helped anchor the Yankees decade of dominance in the ’90s. He was also cited as helping veteran pitchers such as Dwight Gooden, David Cone, and Roger Clemens retool and squeeze a little extra time out at the major league level.
Cloninger is survived by four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. No service arrangements have been announced to the public.