DAILY DIRT: Unfortunately, Hamlin’s near-tragedy was not the first such event in sports


Damar Hamlin just before his collision with Tee Higgins during Monday night's NFL contest. (ESPN)

Daily Dirt for Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023

I find it incredible that following the death of MLB player Ray Chapman in 1920 it took more than 50 years to make batting helmets mandatory. More on that in a couple of paragraphs … Welcome to today’s three thoughts that make up Vol. 494 of The Daily Dirt.

1. I would guess just about every American — not just sports fans — has been watching and listening for updates concerning the health of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin, whose in-game cardiac arrest stunned millions Monday night who viewed the emergency play out live on ESPN.

Thankfully, the 24-year-old’s health appears to be improving. He was even able to speak to teammates late this week. Hopefully, a happy ending to this near-tragedy is within sight.

I’ve been thinking in recent days of other near-tragedies and outright disasters connected with the sports world that also shocked us.

In no particular order, these were five events I will always remember seeing, hearing or reading about:

On New Year’s Eve 1972, Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente was scheduled to travel on a small plane from Puerto Rico to help survivors during the aftermath of an earthquake in Nicaragua. The plane crashed and the 38-year-old’s body was never found. I had a good friend at the time back in Ohio who was a huge Clemente fan. I’ll never forget how the news of Clemente’s death affected him.

On Nov, 14, 1970, a plane carrying 75 passengers and crew crashed on a hillside in West Virginia. Included on that flight were the entire Marshall University football team and coaching staff. The story of that team and its tragic ending was later made into a movie, “We Are Marshall,” starring Matthew McConaughey. Incredibly, only a few weeks earlier a plane crash killed 29 members of the Wichita State football team, an incident that is hardly ever mentioned. 

Cleveland Indians player Ray Chapman is the only player to die resulting from an injury in an MLB game. In the fifth inning of an Aug. 16 game against the New York Yankees, Chapman got hit in the head by a pitch from Yankees starter Carl Mays. At that time, batters did not wear helmets or any other protective covering for their head. Chapman fell unconscious, came to, and tried to walk off the field. He collapsed shortly after and was carried to a hospital where he died the following day. Although he wasn’t around to see it, the Indians went on to win their first World Series that fall. Because of Chapman’s death, MLB decided to ban the spitball – the kind of pitch that killed him. Batting helmets, however, did not become mandatory until 1971.

NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt’s death on Feb. 18, 2001, was seen live by 17 million viewers who had tuned in for the Daytona 500. Earnhardt was the fourth NASCAR driver killed in an eighth-month span and his death resulted in a variety of safety improvements in NASCAR.

And finally, what was not mentioned until just recently, was the on-field death of NFL wide receiver Chuck Hughes more than 50 years ago. On Oct. 24, 1971, Hughes, 28, a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, took the place of an injured teammate in the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears. With the Lions down 28-23, Hughes caught a 32-yard pass — his first catch that season — and was tackled. Several plays later, with 62 seconds left in the game, he fell facedown to the ground, clutching his chest. He had suffered a fatal heart attack. Frantic attempts to revive him, including medical personnel pounding on his chest, were unsuccessful. People in the stadium watched in shocked silence as a stretcher wheeled him away. Hughes is the only player to die during an NFL game.

2. My favorite songs with days of the week in their titles:

“Friday On My Mind,” by the Easybeats: The Easybeats were considered the “Beatles of Australia” in the late 1960s. One of the guitarists, George Young, was the older brother of Angus and Malcolm Young, who both found later fame with AC/DC.

“Monday Monday,” by the Mamas and the Papas: For those who do not know or may have forgotten, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas went on to even greater fame as a cast member of the CBS hit show “Knots Landing.”

“Ruby Tuesday,” by the Rolling Stones: One of my top 10 favorite efforts from the Stones. My favorite Stones song changes from time to time, but right now it’s “Mixed Emotions.”

Honorable mention: “Saturday Night,” by the Bay City Rollers: 

3. The best teams in the NBA right now are:

  • 1. Boston: Sure, they gave up 150 points the other night. That won’t happen come playoff time.
  • 2. Brooklyn: Jacque Vaughn early favorite for coach of the year?
  • 3. Denver: Does Nikola Jokic ever have an off night?
  • 4. Cleveland: Donovan Mitchell early favorite for MVP?
  • 5. Memphis: Ja Morant is must-see TV every game.

Steve Thought O’ The Day — As a teen-ager, I was often thought to be a member of the aforementioned Bay City Rollers.

Steve Eighinger writes daily for Muddy River News. Bay City Pizza Rollers, maybe…

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