It’s with a heavy heart that I return to the blogging scene this morning. For those of you who don’t follow me primarily on Facebook, let me fill you in on my recent hiatus. My son Justin passed away Valentine’s Day morning at the age of 23. Myself and my family are still reeling from the events of that horrific morning. Justin, I dedicate this article to you and the wonderful, yet short time you spent walking this earth.
I have spent well over a week trying to figure out how to dive back in to the business of discussing sports and this is what I came up with. Throughout my many years around the sports world, there were, and still are times of untimely tragedies. Today I look back on the news of athletes who left us in the prime of their careers.
Front page of the New York Daily News reporting the death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.
Perhaps my first recollection of a sudden death of a sports figure was on August 2, 1979. I’ll never forget the bulletin that came over the radio as my family was eating dinner. Yankees all-star Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash. At seventeen years old the news was hard to comprehend. Thurman Munson?? dead??? how???
I’ll never forget the following night when the Yankees returned home to face the Baltimore Orioles. The scene at the stadium was memorable. I still can remember all of the flags flying at half-staff over the legendary Yankee Stadium facade. The Yankees flew back to Munson’s home town of Canton, Ohio on August 6th for his funeral. Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella would deliver emotional eulogies that day.
Thurman Munson’s stall in the Yankees locker room remained untouched until the old stadium closed at the end of the 2008 season. His uniform number 15 is immortalized in the current Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Future Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pays homage to Darryl Kile who passed away suddenly on June 22, 2002.
Possibly my favorite time of the week as a baseball fan is Saturday afternoon. It was always a time to kick back and watch a nationally televised regular season game. Most times it was between two clubs that I don’t get to see on a day-to-day basis.
On Saturday afternoon June 22, 2002 FOX was going to air a tilt between two long time rivals. The St. Louis Cardinals were in Chicago for a weekend series against the Cubs. I turned on the TV to watch the game and I knew immediately something was wrong. The players weren’t playing catch, the broadcasters weren’t discussing the upcoming game. What was being discussed was a player missing from the Cardinals. Darryl Kile had not shown up at Wrigley Field. He was supposed to start the following day, and was supposed to be charting pitches. Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room, he died of a heart attack. Kile was 33 years old.
The Cardinals kept Kile’s jersey hanging in their dugout the remainder of the 2002 season. Although his number isn’t officially retired, the Cardinals, and Kile’s previous teams (Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros) have never reissued his number 57.
Miami Marlins remember Jose Fernandez, September 26, 2016.
On Sunday morning September 25, 2016, while my wife Robin and I were getting ready to attend the Miami Dolphins home opener, we received the tragic news. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were found dead off of Government Cut in Miami Beach overnight. Their boat had hit a jetty and overturned. This brought back the horrible news of that late afternoon in 1979 all over again. Jose Fernandez??? really??? can’t be!
I’ll never forget driving along the Florida Turnpike on the way to Hard Rock Stadium that day. We should have been listening to Dolphins pregame, but that morning that home opener took a very distant back burner. The Dolphins held a chilling moment of silence prior to their game with the Cleveland Browns. The Miami Heat would don warmup jerseys bearing Fernandez’ number 16 prior to a preseason tilt with the Brooklyn Nets a few days later. Robin and I were in the building at the BB&T Center for the Florida Panthers season opener a couple of weeks later, the Cats also warmed up wearing number 16.
The Marlins would return to action the following day to play the New York Mets at Marlins Park. The team would wear number 16 in Jose’s honor. I’ll never forget Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning. Gordon was bawling as he ran the bases and had to be consoled by his teammates as he crossed home plate. Following the game the team surrounded the pitcher’s mound where Fernandez brought the South Florida community so much joy.
I can go on about a few others, but we would need a volume of articles to do that. I still remember Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Pelle Lindbergh passing away in a horrific car crash. What hockey fan can ever forget the horrible news out of Russia when KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed killing the entire team (which included former NHL stars Brad McCrimmon and Pavel Demitra)? There was also a stormy afternoon growing up in the shadow of New York’s Kennedy Airport when I heard what I thought was a clap of thunder. The clap turned out to be a plane crash that took the life of New York Nets player Wendell Ladner. Ladner’s ABA championship ring was found in the wreckage.
They say that death is part of the circle of life, but life is meant to be full and long. Twenty-three years is way too short. Losing a child is just not natural. Rest in peace my son, I love you and miss you.
A gofundme account has been set up in Justin’s honor, the proceeds of which will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. To contribute, please go to http://www.gofundme.com and search “Justin Tyler Karpel.” If we can save even one life, it would prevent at least one other family from going though the same thing we are. Thank you.