Sunday, August 26, 2012

Strange Diamond Deaths

Chapters 3 and 4 of my book, Cellar Dwellers, are dedicated to the plight of the 1904 and 1909 Senators, who lost 223 games between them. Both clubs were impacted to some extent by the tragic deaths of their baseball brethren. The '04 Sens lived in the shadow of fallen teammate Ed Delahanty, a multi-talented superstar who had plunged to his death in an inebriated state while trying to cross the International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada on foot. Without Delahanty, the club sank to the bottom of the pack in '03 and fared poorly again the following year.

The '09 Washington squad felt compelled to attend the funeral of A's catcher Doc Powers, who had fallen seriously ill on opening day at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. The cause of Powers' demise was in some dispute. By the seventh inning of the season opener, he was writhing in pain in the Philadelphia dugout complaining of extreme stomach discomfort. Some accounts attribute the malady to an attempted catch that had sent him crashing into the wall in foul territory. Other versions blame a tainted sandwich he had eaten during the game. Like most hard-nosed players of the era, he soldiered on and finished the match--going 1 for 4 at the plate with a run scored. He later collapsed in the clubhouse and was transported to Northwestern General Hospital. He was operated on three times by surgeons and succumbed to a gangrenous stomach two weeks later. The entire Senators  team paid their respects at Powers' April 29th funeral--a somber moment in an already dreary season for the club.

Powers' mysterious death was not the only peculiar one of the era. In February of 1901, Pirates' outfielder Tom O'Brien died in Phoenix after ingesting seawater duing a trip to Cuba for a series of exhibition games. Members of the New York Giants and Brooklyn Superbas had hazed O'Brien, telling him that if he drank enough seawater, he would fall ill, but then be cured of sea sickness. Infielder Kid Gleason also fell for the prank, which proved monumentally unfunny when O'Brien suffered devastating damage to his internal organs and died several months later. Gleason recovered fully. O'Brien was a fair hitter, compiling a .296 average for the Giants in 1899 and a .290 mark for Pittsburgh the following year.

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