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overview of findings

Our research uncovered over 800 game-related fatalities of players, other personnel, and spectators from 1862 through 2007.

While only one major league player was ever killed by a beaning (Ray Chapman, Cleveland Indians, 1920), nine minor league batters met the same fate.  The first was Herbert Whitney of the Burlington (IA) Pathfinders in 1906, the last was Ottis Johnson of the Dothan (AL) Browns in 1951.

The first fatal beaning occurred on August 21, 1887, when amateur player Otto Bronson, 18, was struck behind his left ear during a game in Hamilton, NY.  Since that time, over 100 other batters were killed by beanings.

While beanings were the most frequent cause of player fatalities prior to the adoption of the batting helmet in the late 1950s, pitched and thrown balls striking other parts of the anatomy resulted in over 90 player deaths.  In most cases, these non-beaning deaths were due to sudden cardiac arrest caused by the ball striking the chest area over the heart, a condition known medically as commotio cordis, or concussion of the heart.

Minor league player Pete Mann of the Macon (GA) Peaches was killed instantly by a pitch striking his chest while at bat during a game on July 13, 1927. 

Dick Conway, first baseman for the minor league Twin Falls (ID) Cowboys, was struck on the chest by a ball thrown by the second baseman during infield practice before a game in Ogden, UT, on June 29, 1951.  He died on the way to the hospital.

Ten baserunners were killed by thrown balls.  The earliest was William Higgins, 20, who was struck on the temple by a ball while running from second to third in a game in Fontana, KS, on August 13, 1903.  He died two hours later.  The most recent death occurred on March 27, 2000, when Shawn Barnes, 15, was struck on the chest while running to second base during a high school practice game in Madison, IN.

Clifford Dirks, a high school pitcher from Wyoming, IA, fatally beaned Norman Latare, 16, during a game on September 21, 1948.  During a May 3 game the following season, Dirks again killed a player when his pick-off throw struck baserunner Glen Rhoads, 17, on the base of the skull.

Fifteen pitchers, 17 catchers, 35 position players, and four baserunners were killed by batted balls.  In addition, five batters were killed by foul tips off their own bats.

Blows from bats resulted in the deaths of 25 players.

Collisions with other players resulted in the deaths of four minor league players.  The first was Louis Henke, first baseman for the Atlanta Atlantas, who was fatally injured when the baserunner's head struck Henke's side during a game in 1885.  Most recently, Alfredo Edmead, outfielder for the Salem (VA) Pilots, died shortly after colliding with the team's second baseman as both pursued a pop fly during a game in Rocky Mount, NC,  in 1974.

Thirty other players at the amateur and semi-pro level also died from collisions.  Among these was John Quigley, 19, catcher for the semi-pro Harlem (NY) Clippers.  A collision with baserunner Dennis "Big Dan" Brouthers at home plate during a July 7, 1877, game in Wappingers Falls, NY, resulted in Quigley's death a month later.  Brouthers, who would go on to a distinguished 19-year major league career as a first baseman, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

Heart attacks and other health-related events resulted in the deaths of 48 players, including two major leaguers (Jim Creighton, Brooklyn Excelsiors, 1862, and Steve Bechler, Baltimore Orioles, 2003), five minor leaguers (Bob Osgood, Marion (OH) Cubs, 1948; Herb Gorman, San Diego Padres, 1953; Mac Smith, Hagerstown (MD) Packets, 1954; Dixie Howell, Indianapolis Indians, 1960; and Ronaldo Romero, Gastonia (NC) Rangers, 1990), two Negro Leaguers (John Garcia, Cuban Giants, 1904 and Clyde Nelson, Indianapolis Clowns, 1949), and 38 amateur players.

Orrie McWilliams, 15, was eating a piece of candy while catching during practice in Deep River, IA, on April 19, 1907.  When the pitcher threw a fastball, McWilliams inhaled the candy, causing it to lodge in his throat.  He was carried to a local doctor's office, but died before the doctor could dislodge the candy.

Thirty players, including one minor leaguer (Andy Strong, Crowley (LA) Millers, 1951) died from lightning strikes.  Allen Joyner, Jr., 23, Harry Moore, 24, and Joe Taylor, 20, were killed when lightning struck the backstop at the beginning of a game in Baker, FL, in 1949.  The bolt traveled around the infield striking Joyner at third, Moore at short, and Taylor at second, killing Joyner and Moore instantly, Taylor the next day.

Violence (shootings, stabbings, blows from bats and other objects) ended the lives of 22 players.  In 1935 game in Stantonville, TN, for example, batter Cal Wilson got into an argument with umpire Grady Walls over a decision Walls had made.  During the course of the argument, Walls picked up a bat and struck Wilson over the head, fracturing his skull.  Wilson died three days later.  This murder resulted in a second death when brothers Gerry and Troy Scott from nearby Selmer, TN, got into a violent argument over who was the instigator of the Wilson-Walls fight.  When Gerry threatened his brother with a shotgun, their father, Lon, attempted to separate his two sons.  The gun went off, shooting Lon Scott in the heart, killing him instantly.

Cal Drummond was injured by a foul tip while umpiring a June 10, 1969 game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.  Surgery was required to remove a blood clot in his brain. The following spring he was attempting a comeback when he fell ill during a minor league game in Des Moines, IA, on May 2, 1970.  He died the next day from a Acerebral infarct.

Fourteen umpires, batboys, scorekeepers, and other field personnel died in ball-related incidents.  In addition, 13 died from heart attacks and other health-related events.

During a May 29, 1909, game in Millvale, PA, umpire John Donaldson was fatally injured when his brother, Frank, foul tipped a ball, which struck the umpire on the nose.  John Donaldson died of a blood clot on his brain several days later.

Violence against field personnel, including umpires, resulted in eight deaths.  The first umpire to be killed by a player was Sam Powell, 19, who was assaulted by Frank McCoy, 18, during a game in Lowndesboro, AL, on April 29, 1899.  An argument over a disputed call led to McCoy striking Powell over the head with a bat, thus killing the unfortunate umpire instantly.

While Alan Fish, 14, was the only fan killed by a foul ball at a major league game (Los Angeles Dodgers, May 16, 1970), one fan at a minor league game and 49 fans at amateur games were fatally injured by foul balls.  In addition, balls thrown into the stands killed one fan at a major league game (Clarence Stagemyer at Griffith Stadium, September 29, 1943), one at a minor league game, and 17 at amateur games.  Bat blows killed eight fans, while collisions with players resulted in two deaths.

The most unusual foul ball fatality occurred on October 25, 1902, at an amateur game in Morristown, OH.  Stanton Walker, 20, was seated between Frank Hyde, who was scoring the game, and Leroy Wilson, another fan.  During the course of the game, Hyde asked Wilson for a knife so he could sharpen his pencil.  Wilson opened the blade of his penknife and handed it to Walker to pass along to Hyde.  Just as Walker took the knife, a foul ball struck him on the hand and drove the blade into his chest over his heart.  Walker bled to death within moments.

Fans falling resulted in 15 fatalities at major league games and one at a minor league game.

Capt. E. P. Webb was killed on June 2, 1918, when the military biplane he was flying in crashed on the infield just before the start of a game between the Indianapolis ABCs and a team of Army aviators.  Piloted by Maj. Guy Gearhart, the plane was flying 500 feet above the park when it suddenly went into an uncontrolled dive.  It slammed into the ground nose-first between second and third, instantly killing Webb and severely injuring Gearhart.

Violence between fans, between fans and players, and between fans and umpires and other field personnel led to 35 deaths.  Four of these were at major league games, four at minor league games, and 27 at amateur games.  Five fans were killed by thrown objects, eight by bats, two by stabbings, and 20 by shootings.

Heart attacks or other health-related events resulted in 31 fan fatalities at major league games and 13 at amateur games.

Storms and lightning killed two fans at a major league game, six at minor league games, and 14 at amateur games.

Joseph Carter, 60, and Eleanor Price, 17, were trampled to death when a severe thunderstorm caused fans to panic and run for the only exit in the "Ruthville" (right field) section of Yankee Stadium on May 19, 1929.  Over 60 others sustained injuries as well.

Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was present at a minor league game in Portsmouth, VA, on May 25, 1927, when a sudden hurricane-force windstorm tore the roof off the right field section of the grandstand.  Debris crashed down on the huge crowd below, killing Richard McWilliams, 42, and William Barker, 67, and injuring over 30 others.  Landis was not injured.

An umpire and four fans were killed instantly when lightning struck a crowd shortly after the conclusion of an amateur game near Mobile, AL, on May 27, 1906.  Less than two months later, five fans were killed when lightning hit the grandstand of a baseball park in Manitowoc, MN.

The worse tragedy in baseball history occurred at the Baker Bowl, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, on August 8, 1903.  In the fourth inning of a game against the Boston Beaneaters, the balcony overhang atop the left field stands collapsed, hurtling hundreds of fans 30 feet to the street below.  Twelve fans were killed and over 300 were injured.

On May 14, 1927, the Baker Bowl was once again the scene of tragedy when three sections of the seating in the lower right field pavilion collapsed, killing Fred Haas, 50, and injuring over 50 other spectators.  An autopsy revealed that Haas died of a heart attack brought on Aby excitement and terror of the crash.

Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were slated to face each other in an exhibition game in Tulsa, OK, on October 28, 1913.  Just before the start of the contest, the right field bleachers collapsed, fatally crushing Chester Taylor, 20, as he walked beneath the stands.

 

 

 

 

 

© 2011, Robert Gorman