The Obit For Taylor Duncan

Ex-baseball star Duncan dies of stroke

By Mark McDermott -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Monday, January 5, 2004

Taylor Duncan just wanted to play baseball. His energy and love for the game rubbed off on everyone. He touched the hearts of those he knew and gained the respect of those he played against.

Saturday, the Grant High School star from 1969 through 1971 and former No. 1 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves died at age 50 from a stroke in Asheville, N.C.

His friends and teammates called him "Dunc." And wherever Duncan would go in high school, his lifelong friend Leon Lee was sure to be no more than a bat's length away.

As 16-year-old sophomores in 1969, they helped lead Grant to the No. 1 ranking in the state, then used their youthful talents to pace the "Comeback Kids" of Haggin-Grant to the American Legion state tournament that summer.

They were inseparable. However, professional baseball would send them their separate ways.

Duncan signed with Atlanta and eventually made the major leagues with St. Louis in 1977 and Oakland in 1978. He hit .260 in 331 at-bats. Lee played in Japan and hit .308 with 268 homers during a 10-year career.

"A lot of people in Sacramento cared about Taylor," Lee said by phone from Asheville. "It's a shocker. I'm having trouble with it. He was so full of energy."

Lee and his wife, Pam, were driving from Sacramento to Atlanta to visit their daughter. They had planned to drop in on Duncan, who had suffered from heart trouble in the past year.

"Something told me something was wrong. I told Pam we'd better get there soon," Lee said. "I wish I'd gotten there in time."

Duncan, an infielder, was one of the most outstanding players to set foot on a Sacramento sandlot. One major-league scout compared him to eventual Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan.

"I really believe Duncan could have been as good as Joe Morgan," Atlanta scout Bill Wight said in a 1999 interview. "He had great range and was a big offensive player."

However, in his first minor-league season, Duncan broke his ankle sliding into second base and never reached his potential.

"I don't think Duncan ever realized how good he really was," Lee said. "Duncan made coming to the ballpark fun and the players around him better."

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Asheville. Memorial services in Sacramento are pending.