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Chicago sports legends we lost in 2023

Here are some of the Chicago sports legends we lost in 2023

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The year 2023 marked a rollercoaster of emotions for Chicago sports fans. And sadly, the city lost some indelible figures in the sports scene.

Here are some of the Chicago sports legends we lost in 2023.

Rocky Wirtz

The Blackhawks' principal owner and CEO, Rocky Wirtz, died in July. He was 70.

Wirtz, who was also the owner of the Wirtz Corp, which included Breakthru Beverage Group, took over as the owner in 2007 after his father Bill passed away. Rocky was the fifth principal owner in franchise history; his grandfather Arthur purchased a stake in the Blackhawks in 1950 and acquired majority ownership in 1966.

Wirtz immediately revitalized hockey in Chicago, which started by televising home games and spending money, whether it was inside the organization or for the on-ice product. Shortly after he took over, the Blackhawks' popularity exploded, they became a staple in outdoor games, and put together a dynastic run in the salary cap era by winning three Stanley Cups in six years.

Wirtz hasn't made a public appearance since March 2022 when Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson was introduced as the permanent general manager. The appearance came a month after Wirtz made headlines for his comments about the Kyle Beach sexual assault scandal.

During Wirtz's tenure as the chairman, the Blackhawks made the postseason 10 times, won 17 rounds, reached five Conference Finals and won three Stanley Cups.

"Our hearts are very heavy today,” Rocky's son and Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz said in a statement. "Our dad was a passionate businessman committed to making Chicago a great place to live, work and visit, but his true love was for his family and close friends. He was a loving father, a devoted husband to Marilyn, a brother, a nephew, an uncle and a doting grandfather to his six remarkable grandchildren. His passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of many and we will miss him terribly."

Dick Butkus

Dick Butkus, one of the most fearsome defensive players in Chicago Bears history, died in October. He was 80.

Over his career, Butkus earned eight Pro Bowl nods, five All-Pro selections and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His No. 51 was retired by the Bears, and he has long been one of the team's most iconic figures.

Before his NFL career, Butkus was a defensive star at the University of Illinois, and is one of only two players to have their numbers retired by the university.

"Dick was the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was Chicago's son. He exuded what our great city is about and, not coincidently, what George Halas looked for in a player: toughness, smarts, instincts, passion and leadership," Bears Chairman George McCaskey said in a statement.

Bobby Hull

The Blackhawks' all-time leading scorer, Bobby Hull, died in January 2023. He was 84.

Hull spent 15 of his 16 NHL seasons in Chicago, where he ranks first in goals (604), third in points (1,153), fifth in assists (549) and sixth in games played (1,036). Over that span, "The Golden Jet" won the Art Ross Trophy three times, the Hart Trophy twice, the Lady Byng Trophy once and was named a first-team NHL All-Star 10 times. 

Hull helped lead the Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup win in franchise history in 1961, finishing third in the playoffs with 14 points.

Off the ice, Hull made some headlines for the wrong reasons. He was accused of domestic violence by two of his wives, and was also quoted by a Russian newspaper in 1998, allegedly making reprehensible comments. He vehemently denied those quotes in a statement published by the LA Times, saying he was "deeply offended" by the "false statements."

Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 and had his No. 9 retired by the Blackhawks that same year. His statue, along with Stan Mikita, was unveiled outside the United Center in 2011.

Joey Meyer

Joey Meyer, a former DePaul University men's basketball player and head coach, died. He was 74.

Meyer served over 30 years at DePaul University as a player, assistant coach and head coach of the men's basketball team.

He played under his father, Ray Meyer, as a player before succeeding him as the head coach of the basketball team in 1984. He coached the Blue Demons through the 1996-97 season.

During his time as a head coach, he recorded a 231-158 record with the team. He brought the Blue Demons to seven NCAA tournament appearances in his first eight seasons as head coach. They qualified for the Sweet 16 portion, too, in back-to-back seasons in 1985-86 and 1986-87. They made three NIT tournament berths, also.

Johnny LuJack

Johnny LuJack, the 1947 Heisman winner and All-Pro quarterback for the Bears, died. He was 98.

In the 1940s, LuJack led Notre Dame to three different championships. He is considered one of the greatest Notre Dame players of all time, having won the Heisman in 1947 and leading the Irish to national titles in 1943, 1946 and 1947.

Lujack intercepted eight passes as a rookie with the Bears and in 1949 he threw for 468 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-21 win over the Chicago Cardinals. He played in the Pro Bowl his final two seasons before retiring.

George Frazier

George Frazier, former Cubs pitcher and acclaimed broadcaster, died in June. He was 68.

Frazier helped the Chicago Cubs win their first division title in 1984 and became a World Series champion with the 1987 Minnesota Twins, pitching two scoreless innings in Game 4 against St. Louis. He had a 4.20 ERA with 35 wins and 29 saves in 415 major league appearances.

After that, he spent 18 years as a television broadcaster with the Colorado Rockies.

Andrew McKenna

Andrew McKenna, partial owner and board member for the Chicago Bears, died at the 93-years-old. 

A Chicago native, McKenna earned his undergraduate degree in business administration and marketing from Notre Dame and a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from DePaul University College of Law.

Most notably, he was the chairman of McDonald's from 2004-16. He wore many hats as a businessman, serving as the director of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, the Big Shoulders Fund, the Ireland Economic Advisory Board, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, Civic Committee and the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.

"This afternoon we lost a friend of more than 40 years to our family and the Bears," chairman George McCaskey said in a statement from the team. "Few people have had a larger impact on our great city. Andy spent his life dedicated to institutions across sports, media, museums, academia, health care and more sharing his insights and leadership.

"His guidance helped us make sound business decisions, most recently with our selection of Kevin Warren as our next President & CEO. We are grateful for his many contributions to the Bears and his wisdom will be missed. Our prayers are with his family."

Gary Peters

Gary Peters, a star pitcher for the White Sox in the 1950s and 60s, died in January 2023. He was 85.

Peters made his MLB debut with the White Sox in 1959 but only pitched 21 innings over 12 games from 1959-1962. He became a fixture in the White Sox rotation in 1963 and found immediate success in his new role. Peters had a 19-8 record that year, led the A.L. with a 2.33 ERA and led all of baseball with a tiny 0.3 HR/9 rate. He was recognized with a Rookie of the Year award that year.

From that point forward, Peters was a force in the White Sox rotation. He led the league ERA again in 1966 (1.98) and led the league in wins in 1964 (20). Peters was a two-time All-Star and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting three times. His 1,098 strikeouts with the White Sox rank eighth in franchise history.

Peters was no slouch at the plate, either. He slashed .212/.240/.344 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI over his 11 seasons on the South Side. Peters even had one pinch hit, walkoff homer according to Baseball Almanac. That came off of Wes Stock in the 13th inning of a game against the A’s in 1964.

Donald Savage

Donald Savage, the Chicago Bears' longest season-ticket holder, died in December. He was 106.

“One of our longest season ticket holders passed away [Thursday] at 106, Don Savage," Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said. "I just wanted to recognize him. My deepest sympathies to his family and friends. Don was the head usher at Queen of All Saints for 50 years. One of our most loyal Bears fans. Just a special shoutout to him and his family."

According to his obituary, Savage was quite the athlete himself. Savage was inducted into the 16-inch Softball Hall of Fame in 2014. He also worked for Gateway Erectors for 72 years in sales, retiring as vice president.

“Don Savage has been a member of a 16-inch softball team for 78 years, from 1935 to the end of the 2013 season. His teams have won more than 40 championships, and Don has played in or managed in approximately 35 senior leagues at parks throughout Chicago and the suburbs,” the Hall of Fame wrote of Savage years ago.

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