Wednesday, July 3, 2013

There but for the grace of God...

                    Last week, former MLB pitcher Justin Miller died at the age of 35 of  to this date, unknown causes.  He played between 2002-2012 for the Blue Jays, Marlins, Giants and Dodgers, both starting and relieving.  Nicknamed "Tattoo man", for his many tattoos, Miller was responsible for the "Justin Miller rule", in which players had to cover up their arm tats with sleeves in order not to distract the others team's players.  In his first start for Toronto, he plunked the first two batters he faced and let up four hits and a run in 2 1/3 innings of relief.  While his career was rather nondescript, his death at a young age got me  thinking about other players who have left us too soon.  There are many players like Miller who have passed away after their playing days were done, as well as players that were active and still under contract that have left us in the offseason...but what of those who died while the season was going on? 

             The most recent tragedy was at the beginning of the 2009 season, when Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenheart died in a car crash shortly after his first start of his career.  Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle's plane crashed into the East river in Manhattan back in 2006....Cardinal pitcher Daryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room in June of 2002 at the age of 33...I was in fourth grade when I heard of Thurman Munson's death; like Lidle, he was on the Yankees and died while flying his own plane..  Lymon Bostock, who finished second in the 1977 batting race to fellow Twins teammate Rod Carew, was offered a big contract by the Angels for 1978.  He had such a bad April, he decided to give his month's salary back to the team, which they in turn gave to charity.  He became a big hit with the fans for his unselfish gesture, and went on to lead the team in hitting...that is, until a mid summer game in Chicago, where he was hanging with his uncle in nearby Gary, Indiana, and a bullet meant for someone else struck and killed him.

                    Of course, there are others who have died during the season, including Hall of famers Addie Joss and Ed Delahanty, as well as Red Sox young phenom from the mid '50s, Harry Agganis. But there's only one player who died due to an injury he sustained on the field, and that was Indians shortstop Ray Chapman. The year was 1920, and Chapman was enjoying his finest season in the bigs, batting over .300 for much of the year. Then on August 17th, tragedy struck.  Yankees pitcher Carl Mays hit him in the head with a pitch, fracturing his skull, and eventually killing him.  Chapman was known to crowd the plate, and some observers have claimed the pitch was actually a strike.  The ball actually appeared to have been hit by the bat, as some of the Yankee players tried to field it.

             After Chapman died, MLB decided that the next year, a tighter, more visible ball was going to be used, officially ending the so-called "Dead ball era" and ushering in the Babe Ruth led, "Lively ball era"( although why helmets wouldn't be worn for a few decades is beyond me).  Despite the tragedy, and loss of their star shortstop, Cleveland went on to beat the Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) in the World series that year. A little over 50 years later, the Indians suffered another on the field tragedy, although this one wasn't fatal. The final play of the 1970 All Star game had Pete Rose of the Reds slamming into Cleveland's  catcher Ray Fosse, separating his shoulder, and effectively shortening what looked to be a long career.

                   So basically, we all need to live our lives to the fullest, because as Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett once said shortly before his untimely death, : "Tomorrow's not promised to any of us..." well put, Kirby...

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