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Baseball's Most Bizarre Fatalities

Ray Chapman, the first pro baseball player killed by a pitch

With such a long and colorful history, the game of baseball certainly has no shortage of stories steeped in myth, legend, and tragedy. Though millions of baseball fans around the world like to think of major league ballplayers as invincible heroes, this article proves that even professional athletes aren't safe from the Grim Reaper. Below are five baseball players who have met their demise in unusual (and sometimes downright bizarre) ways.

Chick Stahl (1873-1907). Known as a "ladies man", Stahl was known to have love interests all over the country. Boston's star outfielder, adored by women from coast to coast, mysteriously chose to end his life in 1907 by swallowing four ounces of carbolic acid- a popular embalming fluid of the day. Stahl's widow died of suspicious causes one year later, and the details surrounding both deaths remain a mystery.

Geremi Gonzales (1975-2008). As a rookie pitcher in 1997, Gonzales led the Cubs in wins and seemed poised to become a future All-Star. Unfortunately, after a string of lackluster seasons with Tampa Bay, Boston, and Milwaukee, it seemed highly unlikely that lightning would strike twice. However, on May 25, 2008 (nearly 11 years from the exact day of his MLB debut) lightning did strike, this time killing Gonzales. According to, the odds of becoming a pro athlete are 24,550 to 1. The odds of being struck and killed by lightning are 2,290,000 to 1. The odds of being a pro athlete struck and killed by lightning? If my math is correct, that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 56,219,000,000 to 1. (By the way, the odds of becoming President of the United States are a mere 10,000,000 to 1).

Ray Chapman (1891-1920). Chapman is best-known as being the first baseball player to die as a result of being hit by a pitch. However, it's what happened in the moments after the Cleveland shortstop was beaned that makes the story so strange. According to witnesses, the sound produced by the beaning sounded just like a bat making contact with the ball. The opposing pitcher, Carl Mays, thinking that Chapman had hit the pitch, fielded the ball and threw it to first baseman Wally Pipp. Pipp noticed that something was wrong when Chapman took a few steps and then collapsed, with blood pouring from his ear. He died twelve hours later.

Ed Delahanty (1867-1903). While "Big Ed" easily made it into the Hall of Fame with a .346 career batting average and 2,596 hits, the superstar slugger for the Phillies and Senators was also an ornery fellow who liked to get drunk. In 1903, he was accused of threatening passengers on a train with a straight razor near Buffalo. Tossed from the train by the conductor, he was last seen walking across International Bridge and his body was recovered after being swept over Niagara Falls. To this day, Delahanty's death remains shrouded in mystery. Some believe he jumped from the bridge, while others insist it was a drunken accident. Still others insist that Delahanty was being followed by a mysterious man, who had planned to rob and murder the baseball star.

Len Koenecke (1904-1935). A heavy drinker, the Dodgers outfielder was sent home after being cut by the team in the middle of a road trip. Koenecke, on the flight back to Brooklyn, drank a quart of whiskey and struck a stewardess. He was shackled to his seat and removed from the plane in Detroit, where he chartered another plane to Buffalo. During this flight he got into another altercation and attempted to take the controls of the airplane from the pilot. The pilot and co-pilot, in order to prevent the plane from crashing, bashed Koenecke over the head with a fire extinguisher, thus extinguishing the beleaguered baseballer's life. The two pilots were charged with manslaughter, though they were eventually found not guilty.

These five stories represent some of the strangest fatalities in baseball. While these players are no longer among the living, their bizarre deaths live on forever in the Twilight Zone of American sports history.

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