The tragic death of Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart early Thursday morning after he had blanked the Oakland Athletics for six innings in his first and last start of the year conjured memories of other big-league players who have died during the season and how they finished their careers, often long before they were ready to.
One of the most notable incidences also involved an Angels player. On Sept. 9, 1978, outfielder Lyman Bostock was killed by a shotgun blast as he sat in the back seat of a car at a stoplight in Gary, Ind., by a man who intended to shoot the woman in the car rather than him. Bostock had gone two for four against the Chicago White Sox that day at Comiskey Park, but his final at-bat was a groundout to end the game, lost by the Angels 5-4.
Thurman Munson, the great New York Yankees catcher, was playing first base in what turned out to be his final major-league game on Aug. 2, 1979. His final at-bat was a strikeout, also at Comiskey Park, and then he died the next day on an off-day when his private plane crashed while he was praticing takeoffs and landings at an airport in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Harry Agganis was a promising, 26-year-old first baseman for the Boston Red Sox in 1955. On May 16, a day after he had gone six for 10 in a doubleheader in Boston, Agganis was hospitalized with chest pains. Six weeks later he was dead of a massive pulmonary embolism, although he had returned to play two more games, again at Comiskey Park. Agganis went two for four in his final game, June 2, but in his final at-bat, he flied out into a double play as baserunner Ted Williams was caught off first base. Fans here, of course, recall the Cardinals’ two losses of life in this decade.
Both Darryl Kile, who died of a heart attack on June 22, 2002, and Josh Hancock, who was killed in a car crash on April 29, 2007, closed their playing careers on a positive note, as it turned out. Kile beat the Angels 7-2 at Busch Stadium on June 18, giving up a hit to Garret Anderson, the last hitter he faced, before being relieved by Gene Stechschulte. Kile pitched the Cardinals into first place that night, and they would go on to win the division title. Hancock, working the last three innings of a blowout game five days before he died, pitched scoreless ball, giving up just two hits and retiring Ken Griffey Jr. for his final out.
Perhaps the most legendary player to die before his career was over came after the 1972 season, on Dec. 31, in fact, when Pittsburgh Pirates great Roberto Clemente, 38, was killed in a small plane crash as he flew to Nicaragua to help victims of an earthquake.
What turned out to be Clemente’s last regular-season game came on Sept. 30, 1972, when he doubled off New York Mets lefthander Jon Matlack. The hit was No. 3,000 for Clemente, who was pinch-hit for on his next at-bat by fellow future Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski.
Clemente played in the National League Championship Series with the Pirates and was walked intentionally in the eighth inning of Game 5 in the last plate appearance of his career. The irony of this was that the free-swinging Clemente hardly ever walked, drawing just 621 passes in nearly 2,500 games.
The defending World Series champion Pirates were three outs away from going to the Series again, but Cincinnati scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the deciding game, with the winning run wild-pitched home by Bob Moose, who himself was killed in an auto accident after the 1976 season.
For the record, the last batter Nick Adenhart would face was Oakland’s Rajai Davis. Davis grounded to third base to end the Oakland sixth inning in a game that Adenhart and the Angels seemed destined to win as they held a 3-0 lead.
The Angels lost the game to an Oakland flurry in the eighth and ninth innings.
Then, early the next morning, they lost much more.