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David Brown

Fallen ballplayers: Fans also grieve the loss of a major leaguer

Big League Stew

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For baseball fans, an additional layer of shock accompanies the sorrowful news of a player's death, such as that of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart.

If we didn't know of Adenhart before, we knew of the Angels. He was among 25 young men who played for them. What must his teammates be feeling?

It's almost like Adenhart is an extended-extended part of our own family. He played baseball. We love baseball. Even 2,000 miles away, and otherwise disconnected, it's a loss.

The list of ballplayers whose lives ended while their careers were active has grown, sadly, by one:

• Lou Gehrig: The demise of the Iron Horse is probably the saddest story of them all. The awful nature alone of ALS, which slowly and wickedly took Gehrig's life, is sad enough to contemplate. Try watching "Pride of the Yankees," or the documentary footage of Gehrig's "Luckiest Man" farewell at Yankee Stadium without getting choked up. Impossible. Final game came at age 33 35 on April 30, 1939. He died two years later.

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• Roberto Clemente: After finishing the 1972 season with 3,000 career hits, the perennial All-Star went on a mission to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua but never made it. His plane crashed at sea. He was 38, batting .312/.356/.479 in his final season with the Pirates.

• Thurman Munson: The Yankees captain, in some ways the club's most revered player since Gehrig, died after the plane he was piloting crashed in August 1979. Munson, the 1976 AL MVP, was 32.

• Darryl Kile: He threw a no-hitter for the Astros and later won 20 games for the Cardinals just 1 1/2 seasons before he died, in 2002, at age 33. Kile had a heart attack in a Chicago hotel room during a series against the Cubs. The sense of foreboding in the Cards clubhouse the morning Kile didn't show up must have been awful enough. He finished with 133 career victories.

Josh Hancock: Just two seasons ago, the Cardinals lost Hancock after he crashed his car. That Hancock was legally drunk and talking on his mobile phone at the moment of the crash adds a tragic layer to the mix. Hancock, who was 29, was just establishing himself as a relief pitcher.

Cory Lidle: On a foggy October day in 2006 after the Yankees season ended in the first round of the playoffs, he accidentally flew his small plane into a New York City high rise. Lidle, who had career 82 victories, was 34.

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• Lyman Bostock: A possible case of mistaken identity — or maybe it was just madness — led a man to shoot Bostock to death as he rode in a stopped car in a northwest Indiana suburb of Chicago. The Angels' Bostock, one of the AL's top hitters at age 27, was in town for a late-season series against the White Sox in 1978.

• Steve Bechler: An Orioles pitching prospect in 2002 who died at age 23 during spring training. Many believe that the use of the drug ephedra — which is currently banned in the U.S. — contributed to his death.

• Steve Olin and Tim Crews: Listed together because they died in the same boating accident on Little Lake Nellie, Fla. that also injured Bob Ojeda during Indians spring training in 1993. Olin, 27, was an up-and-coming submariner. Crews, almost 32, had a 3.44 ERA and 15 career saves, mostly with the Dodgers before coming over in the off-season.

• Ken Hubbs: The '62 NL Rookie of the Year had 310 career hits for the Cubs before turning 22. He was killed in a plane crash just before spring training in 1964.

• Bob Moose: Had 76 career wins, and sure had the right kind of last name for Pittsburgh. The Pirates' right-hander was killed in a car accident on the way to a 29th birthday party in his honor in the fall of 1976.

• Addie Joss: Tubercular meningitis quickly killed him in 1911 at age 30. Finished with 160 victories, all for the Indians (including a perfect game) and was elected to the Hall of Fame probably because of what might have been.

Shortened Seasons, a book published within the past two years, has a closer-to-complete index of fallen players.

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