Not in the sense that he’s retouched pictures of Adam Dunn to add eye makeup or dyed-black hair, although that’d obviously be worth doing. But at Slate, Jon Mooalem has an article that falls, in the words of Peter Segall, somewhere between “fascinatingly morbid” and “morbidly fascinating.” Mooalem has unearthed something like baseball’s book of the dead — a bizarre project by Robert Gorman and David Weeks, a pair of Winthrop University baseball historians, that purports to chart every baseball-related death to have occurred over the sport’s history. As creepy baseball-related projects go, theirs probably about as darkly weird a document as we’ll get until Steve Carlton writes his autobiography. Mooalem writes:
The authors say their aim was to “raise awareness” about baseball’s many dangers, but there aren’t any recommendations for making the sport safer here, no real signs of impassioned outrage, and no warnings to suburban parents about aluminum bats. Death at the Ballpark is fundamentally a reference book”a list carefully organized into categories like “Thrown Ball Fatalities, Amateur Fatalities”Position Players” and “Thrown Ball Fatalities, Amateur Fatalities”Baserunners.” Often, however, the authors pause for a half-page to narrate a death in noirlike detail. The opening paragraph of one entry ominously begins, “Patrick J. McTavey, 38, worked home plate during a heated semipro championship game on Long Island, NY, on September 26, 1927,” and ends: “It was the last call he ever made.”
…All the old romantic baseball tropes turn up again and again in Death at the Ballpark. But the effect is haunting, since here each is mercilessly punctuated with a death. There’s the aging minor leaguer, battling his way back to the majors after a couple of stints in the show”except that Millard Fillmore “Dixie” Howell, who played in the White Sox farm system in the ’50s, never gets called up again and dies of a heart attack instead. A few incidents are such ruthless perversions of our shared baseball idylls that it’s as if Roman Polanski had recut Field of Dreams. One July night in a backyard in Houston in 1950, a 7-year-old boy asks if he can throw his dad one more pitch before heading inside. The father says OK. The son pitches. Then the father swings and connects, inadvertently “striking his son over the heart.” The son dies before they can make it to the hospital.
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