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Boating accidents and baseball: tragic endings to young lives

The tragic news that Toronto Blue Jays coach Mark Budzinski’s daughter Julia was killed in a boating accident over the weekend leads us to look at baseball’s untimely deaths

The tragic news that Toronto Blue Jays coach Mark Budzinski’s daughter Julia was killed in a boating accident over the weekend leads us to look at baseball’s untimely deaths
Cole BurstonAFP

Over the Fourth of July weekend, we received the tragic news of the death of Julia Budzinski, the 17-year-old daughter of Toronto Blue Jays coach Mark Budzinski, in a boating accident in Virginia.

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife and Resources, two girls fell off of a tube that was being pulled behind a boat in the James River, near Richmond, on Saturday, July 2. The boat was lifted by a wave over Julia as it was turning to retrieve the girls, with the propellor striking her. She was immediately rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Her mother and sister were with her on the boat throughout the day and her mother said later that it “was a very happy, fun last day on earth for her, sadly, obviously, until till the end. She was happy, laughing having a good time and that’s the way I’m going to remember her. That’s the way everybody needs to remember her. She just loved life. She loved being outside, sports, everything,”

This September will mark the fifth anniversary of another baseball boating tragedy, when 24-year-old Miami Marlins pitching sensation José Fernández was killed when his speedboat hit a jetty at the entrance to Miami Harbor.

The story of this Cuban refugee, who was jailed on the island after one of his four failed attempts to flee, who then saved his mother from drowning on the final attempt by jumping in the sea after her, is a true-life Horatio Alger story, where the protagonist went from selling vegetables to the top of baseball.

After winning National League Rookie of the Year in 2013 and appearing in two All-Star games, the future looked to be bright for the boy from Santa Clara, Cuba. Tragically, the end came all too soon for José, who was a passenger in the boat that reportedly rammed at full throttle into the rocks on that fateful evening, killing all three occupants.

Next year’s spring training will mark the 30th anniversary of another dark day in baseball history, when the Cleveland Indians, as they were at the time, now the Cleveland Guardians, saw two of their fabulous pitching staff killed in a boating accident in Florida.

On an off-day in their training, team mates Tim Crews, Steve Olin, and Bob Ojeda decided to relax by doing a little fishing in Little Lake Nellie, where Crews had a house. The three men, along with team strength coach Fernando Montes and a neighbor of Crews, had spent the day barbecuing and riding horses, before heading out onto the lake for some night fishing.

Crews, who had been drinking, drove the boat into an unlit dock at high speed, killing Olin instantly and severely wounding Ojeda. The next day, Crews would succumb to his injuries while Ojeda would eventually recover, but would never be the same again.

Boating accidents in baseball are, in fact, quite rare, with notable instances such as Al Thake, left fielder for the defunct Brooklyn Atlantics, who drowned while fishing in the Verrazano Narrows back in 1872, or more recently when, in 1970, St Louis Cardinals outfielder Herman Hill drowned while swimming near Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, where he played his winter ball. A most bizarre story is that of Ed Delahanty, renowned as one of baseball’s first power hitters, who drowned in 1903 when he was swept over Niagra Falls.

As causes of death go, automobile accidents and plane crashes far outstrip boats as the prime category, with none more tragic than the death of Roberto Clemente. The Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder was a true superstar in every sense of the word. He was Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout all rolled into one.

After an earthquake shook Nicaragua, the Puerto Rican Hall of Famer boarded a small plane in San Juan to bring relief packages to the Central American country. Shortly after take-off, the plane went down into the Caribbean Sea, killing everyone on board. His body was never recovered.

Clemente had 18 seasons in the big leagues, during which he was a four-time batting champ, winner of a dozen Golden Gloves, and an equal number of All-Star appearances. He was National League MVP in 1966 and MVP of the 1971 World Series.


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