The first Mets uniformed personnel member to die was Red Kress, who passed away from a heart attack November 29, 1962, after coaching the team during the 1962 season. Despite sharing a staff with old timers like Casey Stengel and Rogers Hornsby, the younger Kress was the first to go — only 57, like Gary Carter.
Red’s remains lie under this marker in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. (Lot #5648, for those of you keeping score at home.) My friend Richard from The Ultimate Mets Database says that having the signature on the grave marker is pretty classy.
If you can read that monument a stone’s throw away (see the image just below), it says DAVIS. That’s the Sammy Davis, Jr. family plot. Fancy neighbors, Red!
Coaches weren’t officially associated with their assignments back then (not typically, anyhow) but I would guess he instructed the infielders, having fashioned a nice long playing career for himself as an American League shortstop (and later, utility infielder) between the wars. He had a great batting eye, and his .286 batting average and 89 homers wasn’t too shabby for a shortstop of that era. In his late thirties as World War II was getting underway, he somehow escaped the notice of the draft board and began a career coaching in the minors, eventually returning to the majors on the Giants staff, and even getting into a game in 1946, his first in six years and the only one of his 1,391 appearances for a National League club.
But here’s where it gets a little kinky. That appearance — that let’s-throw-coach-out-there-and-shut-him-up appearance — was as a pitcher. With starting pitcher Ken Trinkle knocked out in the first inning, and presumably his bullpen gassed, manager Mel Ott turned to his coach to take the hill, even though the game wasn’t yet out of reach! (It was the first inning! Nothing is out of reach!) Red appears to have done yeoman’s work, keeping his proteges in the game, but gave up a homer to none other than Ralph McPherran Kiner, who must have been licking his chops that day to swing against a non-pitcher/coach taking the mound.
Other career highlights noted in his obituary below include a minor-league appearance for Toronto in which he played nine positions in nine innings, as well as a minor-league near-no-hitter.
Casey called Kress “the hardest working coach I ever saw.” That’s the sort of thing you get out of a morning-after-a-guy-dies obituary, but it is true that he was originally hired for the Syracuse staff, but apparently made such an impression at camp that Casey added him to the big-league squad.
I’m not sure if he was technically replaced after his death. During the 1962-1963 offseason, Ernie White replaced Red Ruffing, who was the pitching coach even if they didn’t always explicitly specify a role for coaches back then. But in place of Kress and de facto batting instructor Rogers Hornsby (who died a month later), they added only Clyde McCullough, a former catcher.
Red Kress (1907–1962)