With the news we received yesterday about the death of former Major League reliever Todd Frohwirth, most of us probably paused to lament the loss of such a young man. What most people probably didn’t stop to notice was that Frohwirth’s death was the continuation of an unfortunate trend. That trend? Members of the 1991 Baltimore Orioles dying.
In total, 42 players cracked the box score for the Orioles that final season at Memorial Stadium. Only 26 years later, seven of them have already passed on. One out of every six. That rate is staggering by modern-day standards. You’d have to go back to the Deadball Era, when lifespans were shorter, to see anything comparable.
It didn’t start out this way. At the end of 2010, all 42 of them were still with us. Nothing out of the ordinary. A team with all its players living nineteen years later is hardly unusual. The coaching staff, however, had already been hit hard by then. Johnny Oates, who began the season as bench coach and replaced Frank Robinson as manager, had been lost to cancer six years earlier. Three other coaches, Elrod Hendricks, Curt Motton, and Cal Ripken, Sr., had gone to the great beyond by that point too.
Not long into 2011 though, the players started joining them. The first to go was Francisco de la Rosa on January 6. His death didn’t get much attention here in the United States, as he was a relief pitcher whose entire career consisted of two late-season games for a non-contending team and a total of four innings.
The next one came later that year, and hit home with a lot more fans. Beloved pitcher, executive, and broadcaster Mike Flanagan committed suicide on August 24. The former Cy Young Award winner and franchise icon’s unexpected death was the sad end of an era, just before the long-struggling franchise turned the corner and began to contend again.
After that, another former lefty reliever, Kevin Hickey, died after a diabetes-related coma on May 16, 2012. Better known for his time with the White Sox, he spent three years with the Orioles, of which 1991 was the last.
This bunch managed to escape 2013 without losing anyone, but in 2014, it happened again. Once again it was a pitcher, this time right-hander Jeff Robinson. The journeyman hurler died on October 26 from “undisclosed health issues.”
Early in 2015, the ’91 O’s lost their first position player, and their second guy named Jeff, when utilityman Jeff McKnight lost his battle with leukemia on March 1.
As it had been in 2011, August 24 proved to be a fateful day in 2016, as infielder Juan Bell died from kidney disease in his native Dominican Republic.
And now in 2017, we have another to add to the list: Todd Frohwirth on March 26.
Does this amount to anything more than a statistical anomaly? My guess would be no. However, if I were in some way associated with the 1991 Orioles, I’d start living my life to the fullest. You never know who the grim reaper will claim next.