“Given the fetish for statistics in baseball,” sighs Slate’s Jon Mooallem,” it was probably inevitable that someone would get around to recording the number of people baseball has rendered incapable of generating more statistics.” In the wake of the tragic death of Shannon Stone at last Thursday’s A’s/Rangers title, Mooallem takes a look back to the 2007 publication of ‘Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007 ‘, Robert M. Gorman and David Weeks’ exhaustive “compendium of the men, women, and children who have died or been fatally injured while playing, officiating, or watching baseball in the United States.” Sounds like awesome light reading on an airplane, right?
Gorman told me he was drawn into this morbid line of research after stumbling across the death of a minor leaguer named Herb Gorman. (“He had my last name. It kind of piqued my interest.”) Neither Gorman nor Weeks had ever really thought about baseball as a deadly activity before, and, Gorman told me, after publishing two preliminary articles—one on beaning fatalities and another on fan fatalities at major league stadiums—”we thought maybe we’d exhausted whatever was out there.” They were very wrong. They chronicled 850 baseball deaths in Death at the Ballpark, spanning professional, amateur, Little League, and even backyard pickup games. And though the book purports to be comprehensive, readers have already tipped them off to about 50 incidents they missed.
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.”