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Oldest Former MLB Player Dies in Texas

Postby MrMustang1965 » Mon Aug 01, 2005 1:02 am

Raymond Lee Cunningham, the oldest living former MLB player
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Raymond Lee Cunningham, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals of Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin in his first century and kept a daily watch on the 2005 Astros as he began his second, died Sunday in Pearland.

He was 100.

Born Jan. 17, 1905, in Mesquite, Cunningham last year was recognized as the oldest living former Major League Baseball player. He played in 14 games for the Cardinals in 1931 and 1932, hitting .154 with a double and an RBI.

His son, Gary, said Cunningham kept up with the game into his final days and was optimistic about the Astros.

"He would either watch or listen to the Astros every night," Gary Cunningham said. "His words to me were, 'I didn't have a lot to look forward to last year, since we hadn't shown any strength in the first half. This year, I'm interested to see what we can do on the back side. Maybe we can go farther than last year.' "

His favorite Astros were manager Phil Garner and second baseman Craig Biggio.

"He liked Biggio because he was a scrappy player," Cunningham said. "He felt the same way about (Garner)."

Young man's dream
Cunningham was signed in 1926 by the Cardinals. According to his son, he played minor league ball in Greenville (1926), Topeka, Kan. (1927), Dayton, Ohio (1928), Richmond (1929) and Danville, Ill. (1930-31) before he was called up by the Cardinals late in the 1931 season.

He roomed with Dean, a Hall of Famer, and Martin in spring training and, according to a story that Texas baseball historian Bill McCurdy wrote for an Internet site for Cardinals fans, relished playing third base.

"You had to react fast, and you had to watch the guys that tried to fool you with a bunt," he told McCurdy. "It felt good to come racing in on a bunt and to grab that ball with a meat hand for the quick throw to first."

His playing days were cut short by an injury suffered on such a play in the 1932 season.

"He got hurt in St. Louis, fielding a swinging bunt, when he made a snap throw to first base," Gary Cunningham said. "And that was it. (Medical) technology wasn't near where it was at today."

Always a Texan
Cunningham played in 1932 for the Houston Buffs and for teams in Tyler and Palestine in 1933 and 1934 before giving up pro baseball at age 29. After baseball, he worked for 40 years in the beverage industry, including 27 years with the Grand Prize brewery in Houston.

He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at an Astros-Cardinals game in 1992 at the Astrodome and at a 2002 game at Minute Maid Park. And he relished the celebration of his 100th birthday and his status as baseball's oldest alumnus.

"It was a big deal to him," Gary Cunningham said. "His (100th) birthday was one of the happiest days of his life.

"He was a very fair man. He liked to hear both sides of the story. He enjoyed his family, and he was a person who could really teach a son how to be a father."

He was married in 1948 to Madeline McCarley, who died in 1997. He was a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Houston.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Forest Park Lawndale at 6900 Lawndale. Burial will be Wednesday in Mesquite.

Survivors include his son; a daughter, Wanda Wiser; three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

The family will receive visitors from 5 to 8 p.m. today at Forest Park Lawndale.
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