Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Diamond Deaths (Concluded)

A question that sporadically appears on various baseball trivia sites is as follows: Has anyone ever died on a baseball field? I addressed the answer (to some extent) in two previous posts and will attempt to put the topic to rest in this installment.

Chapter One of my book Cellar Dwellers provides anecdotal evidence of an on-field death that occurred during a nineteenth century game between the University of St. Joseph and the Chatham Stars at New Brunswick. The Stars were leading 2-0 in the ninth when a St. Joseph's player named O'Hara (reputedly the team's weakest hitter) doubled to left. The next batter, a man named Robidoux, slammed a ball over the center fielder's head. As O'Hara was rounding third, he suddenly collapsed and died of unknown causes. Upon encountering his fallen teammate, Robidoux picked up the lifeless form and carried it with him to home plate. The umpire reportedly counted both runs.

In June of 1916, former major leaguer Johnny Dodge was struck and killed by a pitch from Nahsville's Tom "Shotgun" Rogers in a Southern Association game. Rogers would reach the majors the following year and hang around long enough to compile a 15-30 record for the Browns, A's and Yankees.

Long after Dodge's on-field demise, another horrific scene unfolded during an Evangeline League game in Alexandria, Louisiana. On June 16, 1951, twenty-one year-old Andy Strong of the Crowley Millers was killed after being hit by a bolt of lightning. The game had been delayed due to a thunderstorm and, when Strong took his center field post in the sixth inning, he was struck down.

In a 1974 Carolina League contest, eighteen year-old prospect Alfredo Edmead of the Salem Pirates made a diving catch in right field. As he did so, he collided with second baseman Pablo Cruz. Specifically, Edmead's head slammed into Cruz's knee. According to numerous sources, the force of the blow killed the aspiring outfielder. The unfortunate incident happened in 1974.

Twenty-two years later, umpire John McSherry collapsed and died on opening day in Cincinnati. He called just seven pitches at Riverfront Stadium before walking back toward the stands and collapsing. The fifty-one year-old arbiter never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead of a massive heart attack at University Hospital.

Yet another on-field tragedy occurred in 2007. During a Texas League game between the Tulsa Drillers and Wichita Wranglers, Tulsa's third base coach Mike Coolbaugh was hit by a line drive while standing in the coach's box. The thirty-five year-old Coolbaugh had played briefly for the Cardinals and Brewers. Sadly, he left behind a pregnant wife and two sons. His death brought about a rule requiring coaches to wear helmets on the field.

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