Monday, June 2, 2014

1950 vs. 1990: 24 Years Later

In my last post, I shared a list of deceased players from the 1990 season. Once again, here it is:

Giants (4): Dan Quisenberry, Russ Swan, Jose Uribe, Gary Carter
Astros (3): Andujar Cedeno, Ken Caminiti, Dave Smith
Blue Jays (3): John Cerutti, Mike Flanagan, Frank Wills
Dodgers (3): Tim Crews, Mike Sharperson, Brian Traxler
Phillies (2): Ron Jones, Darrel Akerfelds
Reds (2): Tim Layana, Rick Mahler
White Sox (2): Ivan Calderon, Carlos Martinez
Yankees (2): Oscar Azocar, Pascual Perez
Angels (1): Cliff Young
Brewers (1): Gus Polidor
Cardinals (1): Howard Hilton
Indians (1): Steve Olin
Mariners (1): Russ Swan
Orioles (1): Kevin Hickey
Padres (1): Eric Show
Red Sox (1): John Marzano
Twins (1): Kirby Puckett
Athletics (0)
Braves (0)
Cubs (0)
Expos (0)
Mets (0)
Pirates (0)
Rangers (0)
Royals (0)
Tigers (0)

I thought it would be interesting to compile the same information for another season and see if it told us anything interesting. The year I chose was 1950, since it's another year ending with zero, and it makes for simple comparison. Today is June 2, 2014, and no new deaths from 1990 have been reported since then. On June 2, 1974, how many players from the 1950 season had died? Here's how that list looks:

Braves (4): Vern Bickford, Bob Elliott, Murray Wall, Bob Chipman
Reds (4): Howie Fox, Willie Ramsdell, Ron Northey, Herm Wehmeier
Senators (4): Joe Haynes, Sherry Robertson, Mickey Harris, Roberto Ortiz
Tigers (4): Fred Hutchinson, Aaron Robinson, Bob Swift, Dizzy Trout
Athletics (3): Paul Lehner, Roberto Ortiz, Dick Fowler
Dodgers (3): Willie Ramsdell, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson
Indians (3): Herb Conyers, Sam Zoldak, Al Benton
Browns (2): Snuffy Stirnweiss, Cliff Fannin
Cubs (2): Monk Dubiel, Ron Northey
Giants (2): Tookie Gilbert, Hank Thompson
Pirates (2): Frank Papish, Danny O'Connell
Red Sox (2): Ellis Kinder, Vern Stephens
Cardinals (1): Al Brazle
Phillies (1): Eddie Waitkus
White Sox (1): Bill Salkeld
Yankees (1): Snuffy Stirnweiss

What a striking difference! Every single 1950 team had at least one deceased player 24 years later (or about 23 and a half, if you want to get technical), whereas a third of the 1990 teams didn't have any. The Giants were the only 1990 team with as many as four deceased players, whereas four 1990 teams had that many. 1990 had 29 total deceased players, whereas 1950 had 35, and that's with ten fewer teams using fewer players on average.

It might be more interesting to look at it in terms of percentages:

As we can see, 24 years later, 6.6% of the players from 1950 were dead, but 24 years after 1990, only 2.82% are dead. Only three 1990 teams had a higher percentage of deceased players than all of 1950 MLB did. I know that life expectancy has increased over the years, but seeing it laid out like this is quite fascinating. It'd be interesting to compare all this with an even earlier season, but I don't have that data compiled right now.

I'm reminded of the 1951 movie Angels in the Outfield. In the movie, there's a washed-up veteran pitcher named Saul Hellman who receives some heavenly help to get the Pirates into the pennant race. At one point in the movie, the angel who speaks to manager Guffy McGovern reveals that Saul is going to be called home next year, and that this season is his last hurrah. It seemed unusual to me to suppose that an active major leaguer was going to die so shortly after the end of his career, but at the time the movie was made, such a thing wasn't uncommon, and most viewers would've remembered an era when such things were even less uncommon. It seems that we've taken life more for granted the more advanced the methods of preserving it have become.

I think I'll continue to compile information like this. Perhaps I should do 1910 next, so that the backward progression is consistent.

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