Former San Diego Padres catcher Chris Cannizzaro—who was the organization’s first All-Star in the 1969 season—died Thursday night, according to Kirk Kenney of the San Diego Union-Tribune

He had lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“He taught me a lot about pitching and how to be a professional baseball player,” pitcher Randy Jones, Cannizzaro’s former teammate, told Kenney. “He was hard-nosed, old-school. He fit me perfectly, to tell you the truth.”

Jones added:

He wasn’t afraid to take charge. Like young (pitchers) could be stubborn, might say, ‘My curveball’s my best pitch.’ He’d say, ‘Well, you better learn how to use the fastball.’ Chris Cannizzaro would make you learn how to use it, and he’d stay on you. He’d push you. That’s old school, and you needed that. I always enjoyed that. He loved to compete and play.

Cannizzaro was a .235 career hitter in a 13-year career that included stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Padres, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was an original member of the 1962 Mets and was “regarded as a hard-nosed defensive catcher with a strong arm,” per Kenney.

In the 1969 All-Star Game, the National League needed a catcher to serve as Johnny Bench’s backup. Cannizzaro—who was batting .245 with two homers and 23 RBI at the time—got the nod, although he didn’t see the field.

“I was hoping I would get to play, but it was a thrill just to be on the team,” Cannizzaro said at the time, per Kenney. “It was something I’ll never forget.”

After his playing career, Cannizzaro decided to coach. He was the Atlanta Braves bullpen coach from 1976-78. He also coached in the minor leagues and at the high school and college levels.  

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