This article was written by L. Robert Davids
This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal
Only in death did Roberto Clemente receive the acclaim which during his playing career seemed reserved for others. No one knows how long he might have played or what career records he might have broken.The tragic death of Roberto Clemente in a plane crash on December 31, 1972 removes from the active rolls the seasoned player with the highest lifetime batting average in the majors. He left a mark of .317, a fraction of a point above Rico Carty, and several points above another Latin American, Tony Oliva, who has an average of .313. Clemente also led in triples with 166, compared to 140 for Willie Mays, and in singles with 2,154 compared to 2,051 for Henry Aaron. In fielding he led in outfield assists with 266, well ahead of Aaron, Mays, and Kaline, all of whom played more outfield games than he did.
But only in death did Clemente receive the acclaim which during his playing career seemed reserved for others. No one knows how long he might have played or what career records he might have broken. But this way fans at least will not have any trouble remembering how many hits he collected — a big round 3,000!
Clemente was probably the best known player to have his career ended by death so abruptly. There have been other players, however, who had their careers cut short by death, which resulted from accidents, illness, or even suicide. Here is a list of some of the more prominent long-service players of the post-1900 era who succumbed a short time after their last game.
George “Win” Mercer, 28, handsome young pitcher and good batter who also played every other team position. Won 25 games for Washington in 1896. Had played 9 years and had just signed as player-manager of Detroit for 1903. Took his own life in hotel in San Francisco, January 12, 1903.
Ed Delahanty, 36, one of baseball’s best hitters, who batted .410 in 1899. Primarily an outfielder, he had played 16 years and was a future Hall of Famer. Was hitting .333 when he probably fell from bridge at Niagara Falls, N.Y. and drowned, although the exact circumstances of his death were never fully clarified. Date was July 2, 1903.
Charles “Chick” Stahl, 34, was player-manager of Boston Red Sox. Had played ten years and managed one. Led in triples in 1904, and had career batting average of .305. Took his own life at spring training site of club, West Baden, Indiana, March 28, 1907.
Adrian “Addie” Joss, 31, gifted hurler of Cleveland club, 1902-10. Won 27 games in 1970; pitched two no hitters, including perfect game. Hurled 45 shutouts. Became ill in spring training of 1911. Went home to Toledo where he died of tubercular meningitis on April 14, 1911.
Mike “Doc” Powers, 38, weak hitter, but brainy catcher for Philadelphia A’s. In his 11th season, caught first game of 1909 season in dedication of Shibe Park on April 12. Became ill after game with intestinal trouble. Was taken to Philadelphia hospital where, after three operations, he died on April 28, 1909.
Ray Chapman, 29, capable Cleveland shortstop, stole 52 bases in 1917 and led the league in runs and walks in 1918. Was playing in his 9th year and batting .303 in 1920. Was hit in the head by pitched ball thrown by submarine hurler Carl Mays of the Yankees. Died in a New York hospital the next day, August 17, 1920.
Jake Daubert, 39, veteran first sacker and captain of the Reds, who had played 15 years and was the NL batting champ in 1913 and 1914. Was suffering from exhaustion in 1924. Against doctor’s orders, played last game of season in Cincy September 27. Had operation for removal of appendix on October 2. Complications set in and he died in a Cincinnati hospital on October 9, 1925.
Urban Shocker, 38, reliable right-hand pitcher for Yankees and Browns for 13 years. Was 20-game winner four times for Browns, including 27 in 1921. Had crack 18-6 season for super Yankee team of 1927, but was ailing from tuberculosis in 1928. Pitched in only one game; went to Colorado for his health and died in Denver of pneumonia on September 9, 1928.
Hal Carlson, 36, veteran pitcher for Pirates, Phils., and Cubs for 14 years. Frequently pitched for second division clubs and never won more than 17, but was a leader in shutouts in 1925. Suffered from stomach ulcers. Five days after pitching game for Cubs, suffered an attack and died in his hotel room in Chicago May 28, 1930.
Ernie Bonham, 36, won 21 games for Yankees in 1942 after Winning World Series game over Dodgers previous fall. Sold to Pirates in 1947 and was in his 10th year in majors in 1949. Had record of 7-4 when he went to Pittsburgh hospital for an appendectomy and other abdominal surgery. He died of complications September 15, 1949.