FanPost

Cubs who died young

I began to follow baseball regularly in 1961, attracted by the race between teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees to break Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a season.

I vividly recall where I was when I heard that Maris had hit his 61st in his first at bat of the final game of the year.

The following summer, I paid close attention to quests to shatter records.

One was by Maury Wills of the Dodgers, who eventually stole 104 bases, surpassing the high of 96 that had been set by Ty Cobb way back in 1915.

The other, closer to home, was by Ken Hubbs of the Cubs.

...........

MONTHS OF NO ERRORS

Hubbs was a 20-year-old rookie, who had played 10 games for the Cubs the previous September.

He was their starting second baseman on Opening Day of 1962 and wound up playing 159 games there, all from start to finish.

He made an error in his seventh game, on April 17, and made his eighth in his 58th. Both of those came at home, against the Pirates.

Then he did not make another until his 137th, on Sept. 5 at Cincinnati.

His 78 consecutive games without an error and his 418 errorless chances both were the most ever by a second baseman. He capped his season by catching a line drive in the eighth inning of the Cubs' final game and starting a triple play.

Hubbs became the first rookie to win a Golden Glove and was an overwhelming choice as the National League's Rookie of the Year, receiving 19 of 20 first-place votes.

While he led the league strikeouts (129) and grounding into double plays (20), Hubbs batted a respectable .265, with 172 hits.

In the April game in which he made his first error, he also went 5 for 5, prompting Pirates Manager Danny Murtaugh to say, "Better learn how to pitch to this boy. He'll be around a long time."

Sadly, it was not be.

..........

KILLED IN CRASH

Hubbs batted only .235 in 1963, but starred in the field again and helped the Cubs to finish 82-80, above .500 for the first time since 1946.

That winter, he sought to overcome a fear of flying by learning to pilot an airplane. In January, he earned his license.

On Feb. 12, he flew a Cessna 172, with a friend on board, from California to Utah and played in a charity basketball. The next morning, with a snow storm developing, Hubbs and his friend took off for California, trying to beat the storm.

When they failed to arrive by the next, a search began along his possible flight path. The wreckage of the plane was found in Utah Lake, a quarter mile south of Bird Island.

Hubbs and his friend both died in the crash. Hubbs was 22 years and 52 days old, having turned 22 on Dec. 23.

One of the oldest items in my collection of newspapers about memorable events is the Chicago Tribune's sports section with its front-page account of Hubbs' death.

..........

MANY DIED YOUNG

In my extensive research into the long history of the Cubs, I have repeatedly come across players who died too young.

So I recently exported data from baseball-reference.com and created a spreadsheet that shows the year of birth for all 2,151 players who worn a Cubs uniform since 1876, the first season of the National League.

I created another containing the death years, then removed from the birth-year list those who were alive, resulting in 1,126 Cubs who have died.

I calculated the difference in years between their deaths and births.

Then I checked the actual ages at death of the players with the fewest years of difference.

..........

SECOND-YOUNGEST

Hubbs is the youngest player ever to die after playing for the Cubs.

The next-youngest was Tom Lee, who pitched in 5 games for the team in 1884, when it was known as the White Stockings. He was 23 years, 269 days old when he died in 1886, which is 582 days, or about 19 months older than Hubbs was

Thirteen more Cubs have died before turning 30.

The birth date of 1 in unknown: Charlie Guth, a Chicago native, who pitched a complete game in his Major League debut on Sept. 30, 1880. He gave up 8 runs, 5 earned, on 12 hits and a walk, but struck out 7 and got the win, 10-8 over visiting Buffalo, as the champion "Whites" completed a 67-17-2 season.

Guth was 24 years old that day. He was 26 or 27 when he died on July 5, 1883.

.........

6 BEFORE 1901

He is among 6 Cubs who did not live to be 30 and played for the team in the 19th Century. Other than Guth, they appeared in between 3 and 15 games.

The highest number belonged to Joe Brown, a 25-year-old pitcher, first baseman and outfielder, in the final 2 months of 1884.

A native of Canada, he possessed an extraordinary wide mustache, the tips of which extended beyond the edges of his face.

Brown was 4-2 on the mound in 7 games, starting 6 and completing 5. As a batter, he hit .213/.213/.230, the latter number thanks to 1 double among his 13 hits in 61 at bats. He never walked and struck out 15 times.

He played 5 more games the next year for Baltimore of the American Association.

He was 25 years, 134 days old when he made his debut with the Cubs on Aug. 16, 1884.

He was 29 years, 85 days old when he died less than 4 years later, on June 28, 1888.

..........

BOB, NOT JIM

Among Cubs in the Modern Era, the next-youngest death was that of Bob Thorpe, at age 24 years, 279 days in 1960.

He was the second player of that name. The first was an outfielder who played 110 games for the Braves in 1951-53.

The Cubs' Thorpe, a righthanded pitcher, was just 19 years, 309 days old when he retired all 3 batters he faced in the eighth inning of a game at St. Louis on April 17, 1955. That was quite a contrast to starter Harry Perkowski, who faced 6 batters and did not get an out, giving up 5 hits and walking 1. All of the runners scored, as the Cardinals tallied 10 runs before the inning ended. They won the game, 14-1.

Three days later, at home against the Braves, Thorpe took over in the eighth inning, with the Cubs behind, 7-2. He gave up a 2-out single, then got former Cubs star Hank Sauer to fly out.

But after an error to begin the ninth, Thorpe surrendered an RBI double, then a 2-out single that scored a second run. Braves pitcher Lew Burdette made the last out, grounding to second.

That proved to be the last big league batter than Thorpe ever saw. He was sent to the Cubs' farm club in Des Moines, where he went 10-10, with a 3.65 earned run average, while completing 22 of 29 starts among 37 games.

The pitched for Los Angeles and Portland of the Pacific Coast League the next 2 years, going 14-22 in 64 games, 49 of them starts.

He sat out 1958, nursing a sore arm, then retired 3 appearances for Columbus/Gastonia of the South Atlantic League in 1959.

He soon found work as an electrician and was electrocuted on March 17, 1960, while working on power lines.

..........

'EDEMA OF THE LUNGS'

Second and third baseman Walter Edward "Jiggs" Parrott was 26 years and 274 days old when he died on April 14, 1898.

He had played his first game for the Cubs, then known as the Colts, on July 11, 1892, just 2 days before his 21st birthday. He was the first Major Leaguer born in Oregon.

Parrott was not much of a hitter, slashing .234/.258/331, with only 6 home runs, but 1 of them, in 1893, was among the 24 grand slams that the Cubs hit before the Modern Era.

He was a regular through his first 3 seasons, then rode for the bench for all but 3 games of 1895 before being handed his release.

He played briefly for several minor league teams but was troubled by poor health. He eventually moved to Phoenix, hoping its hot, dry weather would help, but it did not. His death was recorded as "edema of the lungs" or "consumption," which subsequently became known as tuberculosis.

Parrott had an older brother, Tom, who joined Jiggs on the Colts in 1893. After suffering losses in 3 of his 4 games, Tom was traded to the Reds. He eventually pitched in the majors for 4 years, the last with the Cardinals, going 39-48 in 115 games, including 89 starts, of which he completed 23. He led the NL in saves in 1895, with 3.

Tom was just 28 when he played his last game i8n 1896. He lived to be 63, dying on New Year's Day of 1932.

Parrott played 320 games for the Cubs, just 4 fewer than Hubbs did.

Only 2 other Cubs who died before age 30 played more than 100.

..........

TRAGIC DIVE

Howard Freigau played every infield position except first base. He was 20 when he made hit debut for the Cardinals in September of 1922 and 22 when he was traded to the Cubs after just 9 games in 1925.

Freigau batted .307/.349/.445 the rest of that season, then slumped to .270/.327/.368 the next year and was at .233/.313/.291 through 30 games of 1927, after which the Cubs dealt him to the Robins, today's Dodgers.

In 287 games at a Cub, he batted .283/.335/.396, with 11 home runs.

He played just 17 games for Brooklyn, then was traded again, to Boston, where the played in 52 more.

That marked the end of Freigau's big league career. He played 363 games for 4 minor league teams through 1931, then 90 more, for Knoxville, Tenn., in 1932. On July 18, during a road trip to Chattanooga, he dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool, broke his neck and drowned.

He would have turned 30 just 13 days later.

..........

1 LAUDABLE SEASON

Jim Doyle was the Ken Hubbs of the Dead Ball Era, a player with a bright future who died suddenly.

Doyle was just 23 when began his big league career on May 4, 1910, as a member of the Reds. The third baseman went 0 for 2 that day, then played in only 6 more games, the last on June 9. He started only 2, on June 6-7, and went 2 for 13 at the plate. Both hits were doubles.

On June 10, the Reds sent him to Louisville.

On Aug. 18, Louisville sold Doyle to the Cubs.

He made the roster in spring training of 1911, but appeared in just 3 of the team's first 20 games, all as a pinch hitter.

He got a start at third base on May 6 and stayed in the lineup for 94 consecutive games, through the end of August.

He missed 9 in early September with an injury, then returned to play each of the final 31, for a total of 130 games.

In those games, Doyle batted .282/.340/.413, for an OPS of .754 and an OPS+ of 110. He was expected to anchor third base again in 1912.

But on Feb. 1, at his off-season home in Syracuse, N.Y., his appendix burst and he died. He was age 25 years, 42 days.

..........

ALL CUBS WHO DIED BEFORE TURNING 30

Here, by age of death, beginning with the youngest, are all of the 14 Cubs for whom both birth and death dates are known, and who died before their 30th birthdays:

22 years, 52 days: Ken Hubbs, second baseman, died 1964, Cub in 1961-62 (324 games)

23 years, 269 days: Tom Lee, pitcher, died 1886, Cub in 1884 (6 games)

24 years, 279 days: Bob Thorpe, pitcher, died 1960, Cub in 1955 (2 games)

25 years, 42 days: Jim Doyle, third baseman, died 1912, Cub in 1911 (130 games)

25 years, 84 days: Kid Camp, pitcher, died in 1895, Cub in 1894 (3 games)

25 years, 142 days: Jim Korwan, pitcher, died 1899, Cub in 1897 (5 games)

26 years, 274 days: Jiggs Parrott, second and third baseman, died in 1898, Cub in 1892-95 (320 games)

27 years, 70 days: Steve Macko, infielder, died in 1981, Cub in 1979-80 (25 games)

27 years, 295 days: Wayland Dean, pitcher, died in 1930, Cub in 1927 (2 games)

28 years, 133 days: Pickles Dillhoefer, catcher, died in 1922, Cub in 1917 (42 games)

29 years, 85 days: Joe Brown, pitcher-first baseman-outfielder, died in 1888, Cub in 1884 (15 games)

29 years, 152 days: Bill Hanlon, first baseman, died in 1905, Cub in 1903 (8 games)

29 years, 266 days: King Cole, pitcher, died in 1916, Cub in 1909-12 (75 games)

29 years, 352 days: Howard Freigau, infielder, died 1932, Cub in 1925-27 (287 games)

..........

FIRST TO DIE YOUNG

The first player in franchise history to die young was Jimmy Hallinan. A middle infielder and outfielder, he was 22 when he began his career in the National Association, forerunner of the National League, in 1871.

He played for 4 teams before joining the White Stockings, for whom he played 19 games in 1877 and 16 in 1878. He played 3 games for Indianapolis later in 1878, then died a year later, from inflammation of the bowels, in Chicago, on Oct. 28, 1879, at age 30 years, 154 days.

...

DEATH OVERSEAS

The most recent early death of a Cub at 30 or younger was that of Mario Encarnacion.

A left fielder, he played 20 games for the Rockies in 2001. They placed him on waivers on April 4, 2012, just after Opening Day, and he was claimed by the Cubs.

He entered a game against the Mets at Wrigley Field on April 11 in the eighth inning and made an out in his only at bat.

The next day, at Pittsburgh, he went 0 for 4, with 3 strikeouts.

Two days later, he went 0 for 2 and walked twice against the Pirates.

Then Encarnacion was optioned to the Iowa Cubs. He became a free agent after the season and over the next 3 years played for farm teams of the Expos and Cardinals, and for clubs in Korea, Mexico and Taiwan.

...

He was an All-Star for his Taiwanese team in 2005 and helped it to win the first-half championship.

But he died in Taiwan on Oct. 3, 2005, just 9 days after turning 30. Teammates found his body in his hotel room after he missed a practice.

There was a sad and contentious aftermath to his death. You can read about it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Encarnacion

..........

DEATH IN SOUTH AMERICA

Luis Valbuena, who played 347 games for the Cubs, was just 6 days past his 33rd birthday when died in his native Venezuela on Dec. 6, 2018.

Primarily a third baseman, he played 4 seasons for Seattle and Cleveland, 2008-11. Then he was purchased by the Blue Jays, who waived him in early April of 2012 before he played a single game for them. He was 26 when he was picked up by the Cubs, for whom he batted .232/.330/.394, with 32 home runs, over 3 seasons. One of the homers put the Cubs ahead in the top of the 13th innings.

On Jan. 19, 2015, the Cubs traded Valbuena to the Astros, along with Dan Straily, for Dexter Fowler, who would become a linchpin of their 2016 World Series team.

Valbuena spent 2 seasons with the Astros and 2 more with the Angels, who released him in August of 2018.

He was playing for a team in the Venezuelan winter league when he and teammates Jose Castillo and Carlos Rivero were being driven to their residence after a game. Robbers tried to ambush their vehicle.

The driver tried to avoid them, but the car he was driving hit a rock and turned over, killing Valbuena and Castillo.

..........

DEATHS IN THEIR 30S

According to my research, 57 former Cubs died in years that were 30-39 more than their birth dates. (I elected not to check the actual death dates of these and other players, so some of them may have been a year younger than the difference between their birth and death dates -- 30 instead of 31, 31 instead of 32, etc.)

Among those 57: Larry Corcoran, who pitched in 298 games in 1880-85, at age 32, in 1891; Tim Donahue, a catcher in 459 games, 1895-1900, at 32 in 1902; pitcher Donnie Moore, 141 games in 1975-79, at age 35 in 1986; and pitcher Hi Bithorn, 103 games in 1942-246, at age 35 in 1951.

Three of the Cubs' 19th Century stars all died in the year 37 after the year of their birth: King Kelly, 681 games, 1880-86; Ned Williamson, 1,065 games, 1879-89; and Silver Flint, 680 games, 1879-89.

Death came in the 39th year after their birth year for Harry Steinfeldt, 733 games in 1906-10 at third base alongside Tinker, Evers and Chance; pitcher Rod Beck, 108 games in 1998-99; and pitcher Kevin Foster, 96 games in 1994-98. Steinfeldt died in 1914; Beck, in 2007; and Foster, in 2008.

.........

DEATHS IN THEIR 40S AND LATER

Eighty-one Cubs died in their 40s, including Cliff Heathcote (856 games in 1922-30) at 41, Charlie Hollocher (760 in 1918-24) at 44 and Tom Burns (1,239 in 1880-91 and manager for 304 games in 1898-99) at 47.

Frank Demaree (701 games in 1932-38) died in his 48th year. So did a pair of Hall of Famers, Hack Wilson (850 in 1926-31) and Frank Chance (1,275 IN 1898-1912).

A total of 153 Cubs died before the 50th year after their birth. That is 13.6 percent of all 1,126 who had died as of Nov. 24, or more than 1 of every 7.

Here is the breakdown of how many Cubs died in each range of years:

20-29: 15

30-39: 57

40-49: 81

50-59: 135

60-69: 207

70-79: 304

80-89: 257

90-99: 69

102: 1

Note that 70 reached at least their 90th year, just 2 fewer than those who did not reach their 40th.

..........

TOMORROW: Cubs who lived the longest, beginning with the only centenarian in franchise history

FanPosts are written by readers of Bleed Cubbie Blue, and as such do not reflect the views of SB Nation or Vox Media, nor is the content endorsed by SB Nation, Vox Media or Al Yellon, managing editor of Bleed Cubbie Blue or reviewed prior to posting.