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Baseball Suffers Heartbreaking Loss

September 26, 2016
Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

Sunday morning I tapped into my laptop to check the Internet for the late baseball scores only to see that José Fernandez, the young, enthusiastic, and hugely talented right-handed pitcher of the Miami Marlins was killed in an early morning boating accident. He was only 24 years old.

The news knocked the wind out of my sails. Even with his abundant ability  the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of this kid is his wonderful smile. I call him a kid, perhaps, because he was the same age as our son. What a heartbreaking loss for his family, for baseball, and for the world.

It is terribly ironic that Fernandez should die of a boating accident off the coast of Florida given his struggles to get to this country from Cuba. He and his family made three failed attempts at reaching the mainland before finally making it in 2007 when Fernandez was 15.

At the time of his death, Fernandez was 16-8 on the season with a 2.86 earned run average. His 253 strikeouts in 182 1/3 innings demonstrate how dominant he had been this season. In his tragically short career Fernandez won 38 games, lost 17, and had a career ERA of 2.58. He was the National League Rookie of the Year and an All Star in 2012; he also was on the All-Star team this year.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

Given the number of active players in Major League Baseball, it is inevitable that tragedy will strike from time to time. Most deaths of active players seem to occur during the offseason. Roberto Clemente died on New Year’s Eve in 1972 while on a humanitarian mission to supply aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews of the Cleveland Indians died, also in a boating accident, on March 22, 1993 during Spring Training.  Unfortunately, in the history of baseball, several players have had their careers ended by tragic deaths during the season.

Before Fernandez the last player to die during the season was Darryl Kile of the St. Louis Cardinals. He died of coronary disease in his Chicago hotel room on June 22, 2002 while the Cardinals were in town for a weekend series with the Cubs. Kile had a career record of 133-119 with three teams over 12 seasons. He was a three-time All Star and won 20 games for the Cardinals in 2000. Kile was 33 years old.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

On August 2, 1979 catcher Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees was killed when a plane he was piloting crashed while he was practicing landings at an airport in Canton, Ohio. Munson, who was 32 at the time of his death, was captain of the Yankees, the American League Rookie of the Year in 1970, and the American League MVP in 1976.

Lyman Bostock signed a free agent contract with the California Angels before the 1978 season. He batted .323 in 1976 and .336 in 1977 for the Twins. The left-handed hitting outfielder was fatally shot on September 23, 1978 while sitting in his car at a red light in Gary, Ind. After a slow star for the Angels, Bostock had gotten his average up to .296 at the time of his death. He was 27 hears old.

Native Tennessean Walt Bond was a veteran of the Negro Leagues and a minor league slugger before making it to the majors in 1960 with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 32. The 6’ 7” former Kansas City Monarch played parts of six seasons in the big leagues. Bond smashed 20 homers for the 1964 Houston Colt 45’s. Despite battling leukemia, he was hitting .313 for the Minnesota Twins in 1967 when died on September 14 at the age of 39.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

Harry Agganis was the regular first baseman for the Boston Red Sox in his rookie season of 1954. The following year, he was hitting .313 on June 27 when he died of a massive heart attack while in the hospital recovering from pneumonia. Agganis was 25 years old at the time of his death.

Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians died on August 17, 1920. He remains the only player ever to be killed during a Major League game. On August 16, Chapman apparently was moving forward in the batter’s box to attempt a drag bunt when an up-and-in fastball from Yankees’ pitcher Carl Mays struck Chapman in the forehead, crushing his skull. He died in the wee hours of the morning despite showing signs of improvement after emergency surgery. The fleet-footed shortstop was 29 years old at the time of his death. He played nine seasons and hit .278 over the course of his career.

On April 14, 1911, pitcher Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps died suddenly of tubercular meningitis. Joss was all set to start his 10th season in the big leagues, but had not yet appeared in a game for the Naps, whose season began on April 12. He was 190-67 with a microscopic 1.89 ERA at the time of his death; Joss was 31 years old. Unlike the Marlins, the Naps went ahead and played their regularly scheduled game on the day Joss died. Even though he pitched for only nine years, the Veterans’ Committee elected Joss to the Hall of Fame in 1978.

One of baseball’s earliest stars, Big Ed Delahanty, died on July 2, 1903 as a result of a fall from a bridge at Niagara Falls. Delahanty was hitting .333 for the Washington Senators at the time of his death. He played parts of 16 seasons from 1888-1903 and had a career batting average of .346; he hit .404 in 1894 and again in 1895 and hit .410 in 1899. He was 35 years old at the time of his death. Delahanty was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

The death of José Fernandez will affect the Miami Marlins for a long, long time. He was their best player; he was a fan favorite. Fernandez was a huge talent and he seemed to love playing the game more than anybody else in baseball. Of all the deaths of active baseball players, the loss of José Fernandez may be the most tragic. At 24 his baseball star had only just begun to shine. It is said that life “is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth.” But for José Fernandez, that time was way too little.

With apologies to Jimmy Dugan, the fictional manager from the movie A League of Their Own, as of September 25, 2016, there is crying in baseball.

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