So I have a fascination with history in general, baseball history in particular, and also a morbid curiousity with strange deaths. In yesterday's postgame page I made a quick note about one of the guys on the list and felt that he shouldn't be alone. If you have your own baseball deaths, please feel free to add them! This is intended to create debate, not end it. Or whatever they say at the beginning of Prime 9. I will point out here that I confined my list to guys who met their ends before the memories of people who might be reading this. So, no Cory Lidles or Lyman Bostocks. Sorry.
5. Marty Bergen. Catcher for the Boston Beaneaters (one of the worst team names in the history of mankind) in the 1890s. Bergen's son died during his last year in the bigs and this seemed to be the tipping point in his move from relatively sane backstop to paranoid schizophrenic. Okay, he wasn't *literally* a paranoid schizophrenic because that diagnosis didn't exist at the time, but check out what he told reporters what his teammates and bosses were doing to him:
To reporters, Bergen made the following claims:
-that his teammates were hounding him
-that at least four of his teammates shouted, “Strike him out!” when he was at bat
-that his teammates and team owner Soden were avoiding him
-that he was upset because manager Frank Selee wouldn’t give him a day off to visit with his family
-that he was upset that he was fined $300 for jumping the club
-that he did not like the tone of a telegram that he received from Soden during his absence
-that he was injured and could only be cared for by his lifelong, local doctor and friend (Dr. Louis Dionne).
That winter, he killed his wife and remaining child with an axe and then slit his own throat with a razor so strenuously that he almost decapitated himself. I did not say this list would not be bloody.
4. Jim Creighton. One of baseball's first superstars, Jim Creighton is said to have died from the exertion of hitting a homerun.
On October 14, 1862, in a match against the tough Unions of Morrisania, Creighton played the field while Brainard pitched the first five innings. In four trips to the plate, he hit four doubles. In the sixth he came in to pitch, and then in the next inning something happened. John Chapman later wrote: "I was present at the game between the Excelsiors and the Unions of Morrisania at which Jim Creighton injured himself. He did it in hitting out a home run. When he had crossed the [plate] he turned to George Flanley and said, 'I must have snapped my belt,' and George said, 'I guess not.' It turned out that he had suffered a fatal injury. Nothing could be done for him, and baseball met with a severe loss. He had wonderful speed, and, with it, splendid command. He was fairly unhittable."
Creighton had swung so mighty a blow-in the manner of the day, with hands separated on the bat, little or no turn of the wrists, and incredible torque applied by the twisting motion of the upper body-that it was reported he ruptured his bladder. (Later review of the circumstances, aided by modern medical understanding, pointed to a ruptured inguinal hernia.) After four days of hemorrhaging and agony at his home at 307 Henry Street, Jim Creighton passed away on October 18, at the age of 21 years and 6 months, having given his all to baseball in a final epic blast that Roy Hobbs (the cinematic one, that is) might have envied.
I love the matter of fact way that a massive internal injury was reported in 1862.
3. Ray Chapman. Most people with a passing acquaintance with baseball history know this story. Chapman was the only man to die of the result of a pitched ball in the history of the major leagues. It may shock some of the younger folks, familiar as they are with Barry Bonds' body armor and even the little knee greaves used by guys like Mark Ellis to protect old injuries or what have you, to know that at one point in the game players did not even wear batting helmets. In a sense, it's somewhat amazing that Chapman was the only casualty of this variety. It would take several more close calls - most notably Mickey Cochrane in the mid-30s, who spent a week in a coma and who I believe had his last rites performed on him at one point - before the league began to require players to helmet up.
Another neat little aside, at least to me, regards Carl Mays, the man who threw the fateful pitch. Mays was a submariner in the fashion of Chad Bradford or Kent Tekulve, but he took it a step further. From what I've read, he contorted his upper body to the side when he pitched so that he effectively threw almost completely underhand. He also had a bit of a reputation as a headhunter. You might expect his career to be ruined by something like this, but no, he kept on pitching for several years afterwards.
There are entire books written on this subject so I won't get into too much detail here. In particular, I recommend Mike Sowell's The Pitch That Killed. Also, if you're ever a member of SABR, go into the Sporting News archives and check out the contemporary accounts of the Chapman beaning. If it wasn't for the fact that a man died, the over-the-top goriness would be hilarious.
2. Len Koenecke. Koenecke wasn't much of a player, but he really went out with a bang. After being released from the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935, Koenecke was on a plane over Canada. I guess he didn't like the way the pilot was flying the plane. Or he was despondent. In any case, he went into the cockpit and tried to take the controls from the pilot and was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher.
1. Chick Stahl. This one takes it for me because there's a bit of a mystery surrounding his death. A star outfielder in the 1890s and early 1900s, Stahl was the player-manager of the Boston Americans (later the Red Sox), which was pretty common at the time. The season was starting in a couple of weeks and the team was working out in what approximated spring training at the time. He had some sort of foot injury and had been given a vial of carbolic acid (now known as phenol) to treat it. Carbolic acid is pretty nasty stuff. Anyway, in what I've seen described as "a fit of melancholy", Stahl drank the whole bottle and died in 15 minutes.
So this is where the mystery comes in. Before he died, he is reported to have said the following to a couple teammates:
Boys, I just couldn't help it. It drove me to it.
What was "it"? One of the more popular hypotheses I've seen tossed around is that he was about to be caught cheating on his brand new (as of the previous November) wife. There are allegations that an (as far as I know) unnamed woman was blackmailing him. Another rumor was that he had gambling debts. Still another (to be honest I've only ever seen this cited in the BR Bullpen article on the subject) is that he was in a homosexual relationship. Whatever "it" was, we'll probably never know. Dead men tell no tales.