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Baseball fans gather up the worst bounces ever

Two diehard baseball fans have taken “America's Pastime” to the graveyard.

Winthrop University librarians Bob Gorman and David Weeks have written a book about players, fans, batboys and umpires who have died at baseball games.

The book is more than a compilation of mortality charts. It's written for people who love baseball, particularly those fans who revel in the sport's quirky minutiae. Gorman spent weekends as a youngster watching his beloved Yankees and Weeks is a Phillies aficionado.

The idea for the book came several years ago during Gorman's internship with the Baseball Hall of Fame. He had come across a reference to a ball player named Gorman who died in a game. Intrigued, Gorman began to research other baseball-related deaths. That led to the writing of a magazine article with Weeks.“The amount of interest that the article generated made us think, ‘Hey, this could be a book,'” Gorman said.

Most of the stories are about the unlikely demises of little known players from the turn of the 19th century such as Grasshopper Jim Whitney of the Boston Red Caps and Omaha Buffaloes co-owner Michael “By Thunder Mike” Finn.

“Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007” documents more than 800 deaths, the bulk of which fall into four categories: struck by a baseball, lightning, collisions and “other” (such as the Kansas City Royals fan who attempted a handstand and broke his neck in 1989). The authors treated each death separately and sought verification with death certificates, obituaries and local newspaper accounts.

The authors also debunked some of the more infamous baseball myths like the “corpse who tagged home plate.”

The game supposedly took place July 14, 1903, in Willmar, Minn. It was the bottom of the ninth inning with the home team down by one, and an exhausted pitcher named Thielman on first.

O'Toole blasted one past the outfielders and as Thielman rounded third, he stumbled and collapsed. O'Toole picked him up – not knowing he was dead – and tagged Thielman's foot first and then his, thus, scoring the tying and winning runs.

Baseball Magazine gushed in its 1914 issue: “He (Thielman) had scored a run while dead, and thus made what … seems to be the most solemn, most dramatic, and greatest play that baseball has ever seen.”

“Rubbish, pure urban legend, it never happened,” said Gorman with a laugh from his baseball memorabilia-bedecked office at Winthrop's Dacus Library.

But the amazing thing about Death at the Ballpark (to be released in late summer by McFarland & Co.) is that some equally bizarre deaths did happen. Such as:

Oct. 25, 1902, Morristown, Ohio – A scorekeeper asked a companion for a knife to sharpen his pencil. As Stanton Walker passed the knife, a foul struck his hand and drove the blade into his heart and killed him.

Sept. 2, 1928, Utica, N.Y. – William Buerger attended a game to see his son, Carleton play. The son hit a foul ball, which killed his father.

July 31, 1945, Butler, Wis. – Two players and a manager were killed by a lightning strike during a game. Four years later, three infielders were struck and killed in Baker, Fla.

May 7, 1968, Portland, Ore. – On James Kimball's 10th birthday, he was hit in the chest and killed by a pop fly during a Little League game.

And there are hundreds of more tragedies on the baseball diamond – five batters have killed themselves with foul tips. “Yeah, most of the deaths are incredibly sad incidents because the people are completely innocent,” Weeks said.

Although ball park deaths still happen – a fan died April 14 at Shea Stadium after falling off an escalator – the authors say baseball is much safer because of innovations such as mandatory batting helmets. But a Knights Castle incident keeps Gorman on his toes.

Gorman was attempting to catch a foul ball.

“Everything was fine, it was an easy ball to catch but …” Gorman said.

The ball fell short, bounced off a railing and hit him squarely in the forehead. “I was prepared, but the unexpected happened,” he said. “And that's what I've learned about baseball. … all it takes is getting hit one time.”

He added: “Baseball is not dangerous per se, but like anything else, you need to be alert. I still have a good time at the ballpark but now I keep my eye on the ball most all of the time.”

Two diehard baseball fans have taken “America's Pastime” to the graveyard.

Winthrop University librarians Bob Gorman and David Weeks have written a book about players, fans, batboys and umpires who have died at baseball games.

The book is more than a compilation of mortality charts. It's written for people who love baseball, particularly those fans who revel in the sport's quirky minutiae. Gorman spent weekends as a youngster watching his beloved Yankees and Weeks is a Phillies aficionado.

The idea for the book came several years ago during Gorman's internship with the Baseball Hall of Fame. He had come across a reference to a ball player named Gorman who died in a game. Intrigued, Gorman began to research other baseball-related deaths. That led to the writing of a magazine article with Weeks.“The amount of interest that the article generated made us think, ‘Hey, this could be a book,'” Gorman said.

Most of the stories are about the unlikely demises of little known players from the turn of the 19th century such as Grasshopper Jim Whitney of the Boston Red Caps and Omaha Buffaloes co-owner Michael “By Thunder Mike” Finn.

“Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007” documents more than 800 deaths, the bulk of which fall into four categories: struck by a baseball, lightning, collisions and “other” (such as the Kansas City Royals fan who attempted a handstand and broke his neck in 1989). The authors treated each death separately and sought verification with death certificates, obituaries and local newspaper accounts.

The authors also debunked some of the more infamous baseball myths like the “corpse who tagged home plate.”

The game supposedly took place July 14, 1903, in Willmar, Minn. It was the bottom of the ninth inning with the home team down by one, and an exhausted pitcher named Thielman on first.

O'Toole blasted one past the outfielders and as Thielman rounded third, he stumbled and collapsed. O'Toole picked him up – not knowing he was dead – and tagged Thielman's foot first and then his, thus, scoring the tying and winning runs.

Baseball Magazine gushed in its 1914 issue: “He (Thielman) had scored a run while dead, and thus made what … seems to be the most solemn, most dramatic, and greatest play that baseball has ever seen.”

“Rubbish, pure urban legend, it never happened,” said Gorman with a laugh from his baseball memorabilia-bedecked office at Winthrop's Dacus Library.

But the amazing thing about Death at the Ballpark (to be released in late summer by McFarland & Co.) is that some equally bizarre deaths did happen. Such as:

Oct. 25, 1902, Morristown, Ohio – A scorekeeper asked a companion for a knife to sharpen his pencil. As Stanton Walker passed the knife, a foul struck his hand and drove the blade into his heart and killed him.

Sept. 2, 1928, Utica, N.Y. – William Buerger attended a game to see his son, Carleton play. The son hit a foul ball, which killed his father.

July 31, 1945, Butler, Wis. – Two players and a manager were killed by a lightning strike during a game. Four years later, three infielders were struck and killed in Baker, Fla.

May 7, 1968, Portland, Ore. – On James Kimball's 10th birthday, he was hit in the chest and killed by a pop fly during a Little League game.

And there are hundreds of more tragedies on the baseball diamond – five batters have killed themselves with foul tips. “Yeah, most of the deaths are incredibly sad incidents because the people are completely innocent,” Weeks said.

Although ball park deaths still happen – a fan died April 14 at Shea Stadium after falling off an escalator – the authors say baseball is much safer because of innovations such as mandatory batting helmets. But a Knights Castle incident keeps Gorman on his toes.

Gorman was attempting to catch a foul ball.

“Everything was fine, it was an easy ball to catch but …” Gorman said.

The ball fell short, bounced off a railing and hit him squarely in the forehead. “I was prepared, but the unexpected happened,” he said. “And that's what I've learned about baseball. … all it takes is getting hit one time.”

He added: “Baseball is not dangerous per se, but like anything else, you need to be alert. I still have a good time at the ballpark but now I keep my eye on the ball most all of the time.”

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