By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former Toronto Blue Jays first base coach Denis Menke passed away on December 1 at the age of 80.
His death was reported on Monday on an Iowa radio station that’s located close to Menke’s hometown of Bancroft, Iowa.
No cause of death was reported, but Menke passed away at his home in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Menke was the Blue Jays’ first base and infield coach in 1980 and 1981, but prior to that he was the manager of the club’s class-A affiliate in Dunedin in 1978 and 1979. He also managed the Blue Jays’ Instructional League teams in those same years.
Before his coaching career, Menke had a successful playing career. Signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1958, the 6-foot, 185-pound infielder rose through the club’s ranks and played two seasons for their affiliates in Canada. In 1961, he batted .293, posted a .415 on-base percentage (OBP) and belted 15 home runs in 137 games for the triple-A Vancouver Mounties. The following year, he hit .270 with 10 homers and a .387 OBP in 79 contests with the triple-A Toronto Maple Leafs.
He graduated to the big leagues in 1962 and established himself as Milwaukee Braves’ starting shortstop. In one of his finest big league campaigns, in 1964, he hit .283 and belted 20 home runs in 151 games.
He later moved with the club to Atlanta and continued to be a regular in the team’s infield before he was dealt to the Houston Astros on October 8, 1967. With the Astros, he became a two-time all-star (1969, 1970). In 1970, he set career-highs in batting average (.304), OBP (.392) and RBIs (92).
Following the 1971 campaign, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds along with future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan,Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham and Ed Armbrister for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. The trade turned out to be one of the most lopsided in major league history and helped the Reds develop into one of the most dominant franchises of the 1970s.
Menke was the Reds’ regular third baseman in 1972, helping the team to a National League pennant before losing to the Oakland A’s in the World Series.
The Iowa native returned to play his final 30 games for the Astros in 1974, before embarking on a long coaching and managerial career.
On top of his tenure with the Blue Jays, Menke also served as a hitting coach with the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. He was the Phillies’ hitting coach in 1993 when they faced off against the Blue Jays in the World Series.
He later served as the hitting coach for the Cincinnati Reds from 1997 to 2000.
In 2014, he told MLB.com writer Paul Hagen that he was happily retired and living in Tarpon Springs, Fla.
“I have nine grandkids — seven boys and two girls,” he told Hagen. “So they’ll keep you pretty busy. My wife and I just got through celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary.”
In that same 2014 interview, Menke told Hagen that he had fond memories of his more than 40 years in pro baseball.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my life. Baseball has been really good to me,” Menke said.
According to the Algona, Iowa radio station that reported Menke’s passing, there will be a private family service for Menke in Bancroft, Iowa.