A Brief, Sad History of Players to Pass Away During Their Playing Careers

The recent death of Kansas City Royals ace Yordano Ventura put him on an unfortunate list: players who passed away during their active playing careers. Ventura became the 99th active Major League Baseball player to die during his career since 1872, when Brooklyn Atlantics outfielder Al Thake drowned while on a fishing trip.

The baseball community has been mourning the deaths of Ventura and former infielder Andy Marte, after they both passed away in separate car accidents in their native Dominican Republic. A player dying young is a terrible thing, but it seems to happen every year. The baseball world lose Tommy Hanson in late 2015 and Jose Fernandez in 2016, and 2017 already took Ventura from the world. As careful as players can be, there seem to be a dozen or so different ways players have lost their lives.

Some of the more unusual and uncommon deaths include Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty being swept over Niagara Falls, Ray Chapman being hit in the head with a pitch during a game, a runaway carriage hitting and killing Doc McJames, and Danny Frisella dying in a dune buggy accident. Car accidents and plane crashes have taken a majority of the lives, while heart diseases and homicide make up another large portion.

In addition to Delahanty, four more Hall of Famers are among the list of those who passed away while actively playing. Pitcher Addie Joss succumb to meningitis, Ross Youngs lost his battle with Bright’s disease, Roberto Clemente infamously died in a plane crash while trying to send relief aid to Nicaragua, and Negro League star Josh Gibson had a brain tumor and stroke which stole his life.

The common trend among players dying is that they are all young. They are in the prime of their lives and careers, and before they know it, it’s all over. Ventura was 25, Fernandez was 24, and Oscar Taveras was 22 when a car accident took his life in 2014. Car, boat, and plane accidents, as rare as they are, are the leading cause of deaths in baseball players more recently. Since Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in 1979, 16 of the 25 player deaths have been a result of a boating, car, or plane crash. So how can these be prevented?

Obviously, preventing players from riding in cars, boats, or planes would be unrealistic. There are steps that can be implemented to try and be precautionary to prevent such accidents, but getting players to follow them would be difficult. The reality is that accidents will happen, and there is no real way to prevent them. As unfortunate as it is, player deaths are going to happen, just hopefully most of them will be prevented. Waking up to hear another superstar has passed away is a very unsettling feeling, and hopefully is doesn’t happen again in the near future.

One Response

  1. Steve S

    I guess fact checking is a lost art. Delahanty was not “swept over Niagara Falls”. He was tossed off the train for being out of control drunk. In his drunken stupor he went the wrong way and staggered on to the railroad bridge well downstream of the falls and fell into the Niagara river.


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