1) Big Ed Delahanty
Remember the scene in "Field of Dreams" where Ray's daughter asks him if Shoeless Joe could hit, and he responds "Could he hit?! Lifetime average .356, third highest in history." Well, Big Ed Delahanty couldn't quite beat that, but his lifetime .346 average is still fifth-best in history (and yet no character played by Kevin Costner ever plowed down his cornfield for Del!). Big Ed was one of baseball's top players throughout the 1890s, when he hit .400 three separate times (the first player to do so) and was routinely on the leaderboard in walks and home runs. He was also the second player ever to hit four home runs in a game and the first to have a four-homer and four-double game on his resume. He was also renowned in the field and on the basepaths.
At the turn of the century, Delahanty found himself in the middle of the struggles between the National and American Leagues, with Big Ed trying hard to find the team that would pay him the most. As his financial troubles mounted, he took to drinking—and it didn't suit him well. On the night of July 2, 1903, Big Ed got on the train from Detroit to New York. He became disruptively drunk on the train—smoking, drinking, breaking things. Finally, the conductor had enough and ordered Del off the train in Bridgeburg, Ontario, on the Niagara River (on the border of Canada and the US). At some point, the drunk Delahanty tried to cross the International Bridge on foot. He didn't make it. He fell 25 feet into the water below, with his body washing up 20 miles away. No one knows if it was suicide or just an accident, as there are plenty of reasons to believe either story. To this day, it is one of professional baseball's greatest mysteries.It also happens to be a fantastic song from The Baseball Project:
2) Jae Kuk Ryu Ryu last appeared in a regular season game back in early 2008. He underwent elbow surgery in May of that year and missed the next season and a half without anyone noticing, then disappeared back into the abyss. Some would chalk it up to attrition, others to bad luck. The truth is that Ryu wrote his own ticket to damnation by intentionally hitting an osprey with a baseball. The bird died, thus provoking the animal spirits and all but ending any chance he had at a meaningful major league career. —R.J. Anderson
3) Robb Nen
As late as 2005, nearly three years after Robb Nen threw his final pitch, Giants clubhouse manager Mike Murphy hung Robb Nen's jersey up in a spare space in the Giants' clubhouse. Before each road trip, "Murphy folds a gray Nen jersey with the reverence of a soldier folding an American flag and nearly places it in a metal box," Henry Schulman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. That jersey would hang in whichever city the Giants were going to. Nen, as much as any player of this generation, took one for the team. He quietly pitched through a torn rotator cuff in the second half of 2002. He wouldn't even take painkillers, as his training staff worried that it would enable him to injure himself even worse. After barely surviving August, he saved the final nine games of the season, posting a 0.84 ERA. He didn't allow a run in the division series and saved three of the Giants' wins in the NLCS. He kept pitching until Game Six, when he was the last man on the mound for the Giants' collapse. Even after Troy Glaus hit the game-winning double, he got three more outs. Then, finally, he had the surgery he should have had months earlier.
Two weeks before the next season was to begin, Nen continued to insist he would be ready for Opening Day, even though he hadn't yet pitched in an exhibition game. The Giants said he would be fine, just not ready, perhaps, to pitch three days in a row. But he didn't pitch at all that season. In April 2004, the Giants were a day away from activating him; after a bullpen session, though, he couldn't lift his arm over his head. He didn't pitch that year, either. And in the offseason before 2005, he said he felt better than he had in two years, but two months later, as players were reporting for Spring Training, he retired. It's arguably inspiring that he sacrificed his career trying to pitch his team to the World Series; it's heartbreaking that he did it and still watched his team lose. It was particularly hard on his trainer, Stan Conte. "It's my job, our job, to get the players back on the field, and we couldn't get the right combination," Conte said. —Sam Miller
4) Lyman Bostock
I found out early in the life that baseball heroes are mere mortals. I was two weeks shy of my eighth birthday when I awoke on New Year's Day in 1973 to learn that my first hero, Pirates right fielder and future Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, had died in an airplane crash. While other active players passed away in the interim, the reality that ballplayers were subject to death just like anyone else really hit me on a Saturday morning in September, 1978 when I awoke and read in the morning newspaper that Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock had been shot and killed while sitting in the backseat of a car at a red light in Gary, Indiana (a city where he had relatives), while in Chicago to play a late-season series with the White Sox. It turned out that Bostock was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bostock was shot by Leonard Smith, the estranged husband of the women he was sitting next to in the car. Smith believed his wife was having an affair and thought Bostock was her boyfriend. When Smith went to trial, the first one ended in a hung jury, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity the second time. In all, he spent just seven months behind bars while Bostock's promising career—and life—ended at 27. The whole episode represented a jumping off in my life—much like when you come to the realization that there is no Santa Clause—as I learned that life truly isn't fair and it can be taken in an instant. —John Perrotto
5) Cory Lidle
I was there on October 7, 2006 when Cory Lidle took the Comerica Park mound for the New York Yankees in Game Four of the 2006 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers. Lidle threw one and one-third innings in the final game of the ALDS against the Tigers and gave up three earned runs; he did not, however, register the loss, as the Yankees lost the game 8-3 and the series 3-1. Had I or anyone in the stands that day known it would be his last game, we likely would not have cheered his aid of the Yankees demise as Tigers fans, or the opposite as Yankees fans as their comeback hopes faded into the Detroit sunset.
We didn’t know, we couldn’t know, that Cory Lidle lived his dreams. Among those dreams, he had a family, he made it to the major leagues, and he had learned to fly a plane.
On October 11, 2006, Lidle lost his life as the small plane he was flying in crashed into a condominium building in New York. The Cirrus Design SR-20 took off from Teterboro Regional Airport in New Jersey at about 2:30 PM, flew over the Statue of Liberty, and roughly 12 minutes after takeoff, fell off the radar as it crashed, claiming the life of Lidle and his instructor. At the time, it was not known that the plane was Lidle’s or that he was even on board. As a result, fighter jets were scrambled into the skies of major cities across the country; our nation feared the worst—a plane flew into a building in New York. This was obviously not an act of terror but rather the shocking, tragic loss of Cory Lidle, father to Christopher, husband to Melanie, and eternal member of our baseball family. —Adam Tower
6) Eric Show To call Eric Show complicated would be to grossly understate matters. The right-hander won exactly 100 games for the San Diego Padres from 1981 to 1990 (the only pitcher in franchise history to reach triple digits), but this says almost nothing about the man.
In 1984, Show played for the first Padres team ever to win the National League pennant. Less than 10 years later, on March 16, 1994, he became the second member of that team (Alan Wiggins beat him by three years) to pass from this earth.
Show, a physics major in college, once told a newspaper reporter that “as long as air has weight, I'll have a slider.” This is hardly the stuff of Crash Davis clichés. Neither is the fact that Show was an accomplished jazz guitarist and composer.
On the field, he was no less complicated and often found himself at the eye of the storm. In 1985, Show gave up Pete Rose's 4192nd hit, then sat on the mound while the world celebrated. Two years later, he drilled Andre Dawson in the face with a fastball that sparked a melee and led to seven ejections.
Show had back surgery in 1989 and pitched poorly for the Padres the following year, prompting boos from fans, as well as feuds with teammate Jack Clark and pitching coach Pat Dobson. Show gave his career one last shot with the Oakland A's in 1991, but at age 35, he had nothing left to offer baseball.
After retiring, Show dropped 20 pounds and spent much of his time in drug rehab centers. Whether it was the pain from surgery, a troubled childhood (in another gross understatement, Show's college coach said that his dad, Les Show, a street fighter from Pittsburgh with a short fuse, was “a very difficult father”), or some combination of factors known and unknown, Show couldn't break free from drugs. He died of an overdose at age 37 in a facility 32 miles southeast of Jack Murphy Stadium. —Geoff Young
7) Nick Adenhart
In 2009, according to CDC figures, 10,839 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes—almost one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the country. Among the victims that year were Nick Adenhart of the Angels and two of his friends.
The Maryland native had taken an unusual route to the big leagues. He ranked as one of the top high-school prospects in the country in 2004 but learned a month before the June draft that he needed Tommy John surgery. The Angels drafted and signed Adenhart despite the injury, and the 14th-round gamble had only just begun to pay off. At age 21, he was the youngest active pitcher in baseball when the Angels promoted him for a brief, three-start stint in 2008. The right-hander made the starting rotation out of spring training the following season, fulfilling a lifelong dream. But tragically, his dream was cut short.
On April 9, 2009, hours after making his first start of the season, Adenhart was a passenger in a Mitsubishi Eclipse that was broadsided by a Toyota Sienna minivan driven by Andrew Gallo, a 23-year-old man with a suspended license and a blood-alcohol content level nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08. Investigators determined the Sienna was traveling at more than twice the posted 35 mph speed limit at the time of the collision. A jury convicted Gallo of three counts of second-degree murder for his role in the crash, and he is serving 51 years-to-life in prison.
8) Bo Diaz
Drafted by the Red Sox, Bo Diaz became the first major league baseball player of Venezuelan descent to regularly play catcher and played throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Primarily a backup early in his career, he replaced Bob Boone—who had been traded to the Angels and became the starting catcher for the Phillies—in 1982. He had his best year at the plate, setting career highs in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Despite having trouble keep runners from stealing, he was Steve Carlton’s catcher for his 300th career win.
Diaz met his unfortunate fate on November 30th, 1990. High winds that day knocked his satellite dish offline, so he went up to fix it. As he was adjusting it, the dish collapsed. Diaz’s head and neck were crushed, killing him instantly. He was 37 years old at the time. —Corey Dawkins
9) Manny Ramirez
Very few legends close their careers on a high note. Willie Mays famously fell down in the outfield during his final season; Ken Griffey Jr. fell asleep in the clubhouse during his. Stan Musial, owner of the third-highest career batting average since 1940, hit .255 in his 1963 farewell tour. In that sense, it’s not unusual that Ramirez, one of the best right-handed hitters in history, bid farewell to the big leagues (barring a baseball miracle) by going 1-for-17 with a single for the Rays last season. However, quite fittingly for a player who did so many things that defied understanding over the course of a 19-year career, even Manny’s exit from the major-league stage was far from routine. While many great players have gone out with a whimper, very few have gone out with a whimper, a dose of female fertility drug, and the looming threat of a 100-game suspension for being the first-ever two-time violator of MLB’s PED policy. His forced, non-retirement retirement would get still weirder if Manny were to make good on his desire to play in Japan. Alas, his tryout for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks a few weeks ago reportedly “didn’t go well.” —Ben Lindbergh
10) Thurman Munson
I am not now, nor will I ever be, a fan of the New York Yankees. I will, however, be a student of the game and a guardian of its history. When you think of the all-time greats, Thurman Munson, “The Yankee Captain,” is on that list. He was the 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, a two-time World Series Champion, the 1976 AL MVP, a seven-time All-Star, and a three-time Gold Glove Winner. He was also a pilot, a husband, and a father to three kids.
On August 2, 1979, the Yankees organization and all of baseball were shocked and saddened to hear that Munson had lost his life in a plane crash. In fairness to the legacy of Thurman Munson, I researched what others had written and/or composed. One of the pieces I found captured the story better than anything else I read, and as a result, I will allow the story of this Yankees legend to be told by Yankees fans. —Adam Tower
This shortstop was, belatedly, a Hall of Famer, but he should have been Derek Jeter. The native Arkansan had his career shortened by a combination of injuries, wartime family responsibilities, and a personal dispute with his manager. Despite the latter, which caused him to sit out from 1944-1946, he was a nine-time All-Star. Vaughn earned these citations with several excellent seasons, but nevertheless did not get the MVP recognition he deserved, finishing third in the MVP voting to catcher Gabby Hartnett in his best season of 1935, a campaign in which he led the NL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He also finished third behind another catcher, Ernie Lombardi, in 1938, his second-best season. He hit .322/.433/.444 that year. In both instances he had at least as good a claim on the award as the winner.
The Sporting News observed that Vaughan had a wide stance and swung hard at the ball. “He’ll rupture himself some time,” a Giants player once remarked. Overhearing this, Giants second sacker Hughie Critz retorted, “he’s already ruptured me, trying to get in front of those balls he hits to right field.”
The quiet Arky was elected to the Hall of Fame via an unusually perceptive vote by the Veteran’s Committee in 1985. His former teammate Billy Herman remarked, “he never sought this fame and glory that is now his.” Unfortunately, Arky had no choice; he had drowned in 1952 when his fishing boat capsized in “Lost Lake” in California, a shallow body inside the crater of an extinct volcano. The lake was apparently neither deep nor particularly wide, and Vaughan and a companion made it within about 20 feet of the shore before succumbing to the extremely cold water. He left behind a wife and four children.—Steven Goldman