This Day in Baseball History: April 1st, 1996

Rough way to start the season.

On April 1, 1996:

Umpire John McSherry dies of a heart attack suffered during an Opening Day game between the Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos.

What an April Fool’s Day story, but unfortunately, it was and is not a joke. A veteran of 25 years, John McSherry was one of the game’s most respected umpires, but he had a problem — his weight. In 1972, he was listed as 225 pounds, but by 1996, he had gained over 100 pounds, adding stress to his 6′ 2″ body. During the 1987 World Series, late-night TV personalities frequently made fun of McSherry and the other umpires (all over 280 pounds) for their weight, bringing the issue to light, but nothing was done. McSherry had previous problems during games. In 1991, he collapsed from dehydration during a St. Louis-Atlanta game. A year later, he had to leave an NLCS game early because of dizziness. One year later, he became ill during a game played in 87-degree weather.

But no one saw this coming. Cincinnati catcher Eddie Taubensee remembered McSherry joking with him before the game, quipping that the catcher could call the first two innings. Then, Pete Schourek took the mound and mowed down the first two hitters. One pitch in to the next hitter, McSherry backed away from the plate and motioned for the other umpires. While walking toward the umpires’ locker room, he collapsed. He was revived for a short while until he reached the hospital, where he died. The entire stadium was stunned, and the teams were too emotional to continue. The game would be delayed. Adding to Marge Schott’s reputation, she supposedly was angry that she had to issue rainchecks, and even worse, she supposedly sent second-hand flowers to the umpire’s funeral (I can’t get confirmation on that, but it fits).

After this, the game had to take action. McSherry was the first to die from game action since 1920 when Ray Chapman was beaned in the head, killing him a day later. Umpires’ weight had been a serious issue for years, but the union claimed they all took physicals. Starting in 1997, the MLB enforced stricter weight regulations that forced umpires to concern themselves more with their weight.


2 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: April 1st, 1996”

  1. Josh Says:

    Wow, that’s terrible. Never knew that.


  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I didn’t either. Sometimes, I wonder if I should put sad stories, but I figure they’re part of baseball and shouldn’t be ignored. Bad events still teach us valuable lessons.

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