If you were tuned into sports media on Monday, you may have briefly heard that St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras was killed in a Sunday-night car accident, along with his girlfriend, in his native Dominican Republic. The news probably came to you via an onscreen ticker, beneath a highlight reel of Madison Bumgarner’s dominant complete-game shutout, or in a tweet sandwiched between reactions to JJ Watt’s “selfie celebration” and Tom Brady’s resurgent performance against the Bears.
With the baseball season reaching its crescendo at the same time that everyone was caught up in a midseason edition of Monday Morning Quarterback, the 22-year-old’s passing was treated like an early-round French Open match, or that Winter X Games event no one cares about (the Winter X Games).
If nothing else, the lack of attention to Taveras’ death saved us from having to read a bunch of rehashed “life is short” human-interest columns. But it’s crazy to consider the fact that, if just a couple of NLCS games had turned out differently two weeks ago, Taveras would’ve been thousands of miles away from the scene at which his life was taken, probably playing in a different Game 5 at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium. Instead, we’re hearing the same well-intentioned but trite lines that have been used to describe others who, like Taveras, have left us too soon. “A wonderful young man… who lived every day to the fullest.” That may be true, but it doesn’t give us much of a sense of who Taveras really was.
If his life and career had gone according to plan, it seemed we were going to have plenty of time to get to know him. Prior to this season, he was rated as the #3 prospect in Major League Baseball. Scouting reports predicted a star-quality future at the plate, and Taveras backed that up with a career batting average of nearly .320 at the AA and AAA levels. He made his MLB debut on May 31 of this year, and while his results this season were mediocre, a rocky start is pretty much a given for a player of his age and inexperience, especially one who was called up prematurely due to injuries.
Before Taveras, the last active MLB player to die was Greg Halman, a Seattle outfielder who lived most of his life in The Netherlands (seriously) and passed away on November 21, 2011. When it comes to MLB players current and former, it’s pretty hard to get anything past me, but my first thought upon reading his name in reports on Taveras’ death was, “who the hell was Greg Halman?” He was stabbed to death in his native country by his brother, who was acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity due to marijuana use (again, seriously). If that story couldn’t divert our attention from football and basketball and baseball long enough to grab some headlines, it’s hard to foresee a day when guys like Oscar Taveras will get their due.