Thursday, November 20, 2008


Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007 by Robert M. Gorman & David Weeks (MacFarland, 2008)

It's books like this that make me realise that yes, it really is a wonderful world. Extensive, exhaustive, obsessive and authoritative without being dull, boring or pedantic, this is my kind of reference book. Messrs. Gorman and Weeks are university librarians and card-carrying SABR members who have combined their passion with their profession to uncover as many baseball-related fatality as possible, from Carl May's fatal beaning of Ray Chapman to a toddler getting hit by a thrown bat at the playground.

A must for the coffee tables of the sardonic, they classify the deaths into 13 broad categories such as beanings, on field collisions, and "Fan Fatalities From Falls, Risky Behavior, and Violence." Each category is broken down according to level (majors, minors, amateurs). In all, almost 1,000 deaths are covered. Although the longest write-ups are reserved for the small number of major league incidents, the minor-leaguers merit a page or so each, and even the sandlot players get a few lines. Although the writing is neutral in the reference book tradition, it's pleasantly readable and informative. Sometimes, you just gotta let the facts speak for themselves, especially when you're writing about the surprising number of guys killed by their own foul tips.

As long-time Murder Can Be Fun readers know, sports deaths is a particular passion of mine. Over the years, I've amassed a fairly thick file on the subject. But in going through my notes, I can find but six minor league fatalities. They found 16: 9 beanings, one chest pitch, one other thrown ball, three on-field collisions, and one lightning strike! Best trivia: two of the beanings took place at Winnipeg's Sherburn Park!

However, comprehensive is not a synonym for completel. I do have two significant cases that aren't in the book. Frankly, I'm surprised they missed the 1964 incident at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, where a bunch of Little Leaguers were chewed up by the escalator, one fatally so. (see MCBF #18 for full details). The other is a little more obscure. On June 21, 1904, Grove Thomas, catcher of the Babcock Baseball Club of Johnstown, PA took a foul tip in the chest that killed him almost instantly in game with the Indiana Normal (now Indiana University of Pennsylvania) nine. My source, Baseball's Greatest Tragedy by Bob McGarigle, claims it was the first actual on-field death, although DatBP clearly disproves this.

But this isn't even a quibble, just a few minor details that will undoubtedly make it into the next edition. As if anyone who reads this blog is going to wait. As is, this book is essential.

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