As we still try to process the death of Marlins star Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, we can’t help but be reminded that it is, sadly, not without precedent. Indeed, as soon as the news broke this morning baseball fans were immediately put in mind of other instances where active major leaguers were suddenly and tragically lost.
The example which most obviously and immediately springs to mind are the deaths of Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, who were killed in a boating accident on Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Florida during spring training in 1993. Teammate Bob Ojeda was with them and was seriously injured in the crash. Crews was 31 at the time of his death and, after six seasons with the Dodgers, was getting ready for his first season as an Indian. Olin was only 27 and had four years in the bigs, all with Cleveland, under his belt. Three years ago, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com caught up with the families of Crews and Olin — their widows and their children — and told us about how they have all coped with their shocking deaths over the previous two decades.
In June 2002 Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died of a heart attack in Chicago the night before a game against the Cubs. Kyle had won 133 games in his career during which he starred for the Astros, Rockies and Cards. To this day all three teams honor his memory in various ways. In 2003 the Darryl Kile Good Guy Award was established by the St. Louis and Houston chapters of the BBWAA and is presented annually to the Astros player and Cardinals player who best exemplify Kile’s traits of “a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man.”
In 2006 we lost Cory Lidle, a nine-year veteran of six teams. In July 2006 he was traded to the Yankees and finished the season with New York. On October 11, Lidle, an amateur pilot, was flying a small plane from New York to his home in California with his flight trainer. While flying above the East River and executing a turn, a gust of wind sent the plane out of control, crashing into an apartment building on New York’s Upper East Side, killing both aboard the plane and injuring 21 people in the building. The Yankees wore black armbands in Lidle’s memory during the 2007 season. George Steinbrenner called Lidle’s death a “terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization.”
Sadly, Lidle was not the first active Yankees player to die in a plane crash. On August 2, 1979, Yankees captain and 1976 AL MVP Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash near his Canton, Ohio home while practicing touch-and-gos at the Akron-Canton airport on a day off. On his final approach the plane was too low, clipped trees and crashed over 800 feet short of the runway. The next day the Yankees held an emotional tribute before their game against the Orioles and on August 6, the entire team attended Munson’s funeral in Ohio. Munson’s number 15 was retired and a plaque in his memory was placed in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium. It bears the inscription, “Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next . . . Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”
On April 9, 2009, Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in Fullerton, California, hours after making his first start of the season, tossing six scoreless innings against the A’s, and only the fourth start of his career. Adenhart was only 22-years old and his future seemed limitless. Though neither Adenhart or those in the car he was riding had been drinking, his death due a drunk driver’s acts led to a renewed focus on drinking and driving in the baseball community.
Sadly, there have been many others. Twins and Angels outfielder Lymon Bostock was shot and killed while riding in the backseat of a car in his hometown of Gary, Indiana after a game against the White Sox in Chicago late in the 1978 season. Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock was killed in a car crash early in the 2007 season. He had been driving while intoxicated. There are others, of course. Far too many.
Even one is too many.