Tigers 1B coach Bartee passes away at 49

December 22nd, 2021

Tigers first-base coach , who played six seasons as a Major League outfielder before passing along his knowledge to the next generation as a coach and instructor, passed away suddenly at age 49, the Tigers announced Tuesday.

Bartee had just been brought back on manager A.J. Hinch’s coaching staff after joining as first-base coach midseason. He had previously coached with the Pirates and Phillies before joining the Tigers a year ago to serve as their baserunning instructor.

"Like many across baseball, I was devastated by the news of Kimera’s passing," Hinch said. "From the start of Spring Training last year, it was clear that 'KB' was the epitome of a player’s coach, having an uncanny ability to build deep connections with anyone from a rookie to a 10-year veteran. I was proud of his selflessness and adaptability when he quickly shifted to the Major League staff last season, and how excited he was about the bright future he had in both baseball and life. The sport has lost an amazing man, but more importantly, his family has lost a loving fiancé, father and son."

Born and raised in Omaha, Neb., Bartee stayed home and played college ball at Creighton University. He played on the Bluejays team that reached the College World Series in 1991. He was back in Omaha visiting his father, Jerry, when he collapsed. Jerry Bartee told the Omaha World-Herald that medical examiners determined a large brain tumor caused the death.

“All of us in the Tigers baseball family were shocked and saddened to learn that first-base coach Kimera Bartee suddenly passed away on Monday at the age of 49,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a statement from the club. “Throughout his time in our organization, as both a player and a coach, Kimera was known as a kind soul but [an] intense competitor who did his best every day to elevate those around him to do great things. While Tigers fans got used to seeing him in the first-base coach’s box, Kimera’s impact on our ballclub went far deeper and he will be sorely missed. In speaking with Kimera’s father, Jerry Bartee, we offered our condolences and support to his family. The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the organization are with Kimera’s family and friends, and his memory and spirit will never be forgotten.”

"KB was a special human with an unbelievable heart," Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter said on Twitter. "His smile and positivity would lift up those around him, even on their worst days. He made me better as a person/coach and will be dearly missed."

Bartee was the middle generation of a baseball family. His father, Jerry, was a seventh-round Draft pick and played in the Cardinals farm system from 1966-70 before serving as head coach at Creighton from 1978-80. Bartee's son, Amari, played college ball before spending last summer playing in the MLB Developmental League.

Family had a heavy influence on Bartee’s career path. He became a baseball lifer, and talked about his connection to the game when he took part in the Tigers’ Negro Leagues tribute celebration in July.

“It was real simple: My dad always told me this is a baseball house, and you either play baseball or you get out of the house,” Bartee said at the tribute luncheon. “And at the time, I took him at face value. Just going through my career, I started to understand a little bit more what my dad was talking about. It wasn't just a game. It was about the relationships, the family, the fraternity. It was not just in between those two foul poles. It was about what happens in the families and the people and the relationships that we develop.”

Bartee’s hire in Detroit brought him back to the organization with which he made his Major League debut as an outfielder in 1996. He stole 20 bases as a rookie in '96 and hit a leadoff home run off Rookie of the Year candidate Jose Rosado on Aug. 24 in Kansas City for his first Major League homer. Bartee played parts of three more seasons in Detroit, and took the Tigers’ last at-bat at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 27, 1999, grounding out as a pinch-hitter. He finished his Major League career with stints with the Reds and Rockies.

Bartee eventually found his calling as an instructor, spending nine years in the Pirates organization as their outfield and baserunning coordinator in addition to managing for a year at Class A State College before serving as Pittsburgh’s first-base coach for three years.

Bartee was a midseason addition to Hinch’s staff after third-base coach Chip Hale became head coach at the University of Arizona. Despite jumping into a new group in July, Bartee endeared himself not only to fellow coaches, but to Tigers players, many of whom had only known him from Spring Training. Bartee picked up and built on bench coach George Lombard’s principles of aggressive, alert baserunning and outfield alignments.

Though the Tigers interviewed other candidates at season’s end, they came back to the idea that Bartee was the best fit.

“Our culture that we were building, our chemistry on our staff, we had a really good thing going,” Hinch said last month. “I didn’t want to change that.”

Bartee would have turned 50 next July. He leaves behind his fiancé, Terri, and three children: daughter Taeja, 15, and sons Amari, 21, and Andrew, 24.