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Commentary: Baseball has lost many to early death

The tragic death of Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart early Thursday morning after he had blanked the Oakland Athletics for six innings in his first and last start of the year conjured memories of other big-league players who have died during the season – and how they finished their careers, often long before they were ready to.

One of the most notable incidences also involved an Angels player. On Sept. 9, 1978, outfielder Lyman Bostock was killed by a shotgun blast as he sat in the back seat of a car at a stoplight in Gary, Ind., by a man who intended to shoot the woman in the car rather than him.

Bostock had gone 2 for 4 against the Chicago White Sox that day at Comiskey Park, but his final at-bat was a groundout to end the game, lost by the Angels 5-4.

Thurman Munson, the great New York Yankees catcher, was playing first base in what turned out to be his final major- league game on Aug. 2, 1979. His final at-bat was a strikeout, also at Comiskey Park. He died the next day on an off-day when his private plane crashed while he was praticing takeoffs and landings at an airport in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Harry Agganis was a promising, 26-year-old first baseman for the Boston Red Sox in 1955. On May 16, a day after he had gone 6 for 10 in a doubleheader in Boston, Agganis was hospitalized with chest pains. Six weeks later he was dead of a massive pulmonary embolism, although he had returned to play two more games, again at Comiskey Park.

Agganis went 2 for 4 in his final game, June 2, but in his final at-bat, he flied out into a double play as baserunner Ted Williams was caught off first base.

Fans here, of course, recall the Cardinals’ two losses of life in this decade.

Both Darryl Kile, who died of a heart attack on June 22, 2002, and Josh Hancock, who was killed in a car crash on April 29, 2007, closed their playing careers on a positive note, as it turned out.

Kile beat the Angels 7-2 at Busch Stadium on June 18, giving up a hit to Garret Anderson, the last hitter he faced, before yielding to Gene Stechschulte.

Kile pitched the Cardinals into first place that night, and they would go on to win the division title.

Hancock, working the last three innings of a blowout game five days before he died, pitched two-hit scoreless ball and retiring Ken Griffey Jr. for his final out.

The last previous player before Hancock whose career was shortened by death was Yankees reliever Cory Lidle, who was killed just four days after the Yankees had lost out in the American League playoffs to Detroit in October 2006. Lidle, who was killed in a private plane crash while flying over Manhattan, had been knocked out in the fourth and final game of the division series, allowing a run-scoring double to Carlos Guillen as the final hitter he faced, giving up three runs in 11/3 innings.

Perhaps the most legendary player to die before his career was over came after the 1972 season, on Dec. 31, when Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente, 38, was killed in a small plane crash as he flew to Nicaragua to help earthquake victims.

What turned out to be Clemente’s last regular-season game came on Sept. 30, 1972, when he doubled off New York Mets left-hander Jon Matlack. The hit was No. 3,000 for Clemente, who was pinch-hit for on his next at-bat by fellow future Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski.

Shortstop Ray Chapman, who already had scored 97 runs for what would be one of only two World Series championship clubs in Cleveland, made an out in what turned out to be his last at-bat when he batted against Yankees submariner Carl Mays in the fifth inning on Aug. 16, 1920.

Chapman never moved as a Mays pitch hit him in the head and he died 12 hours later. The sound of Chapman being hit reportedly was so loud that Mays thought the pitch had been put in play and he threw to first base trying to retire Chapman.

 
Tags: baseball, MLB

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