St. Louis Cardinals: A New Perspective on Baseball Tragedy

Apr 13, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals teammates watch a tribute video to memorialize former Cardinal Oscar Taveras before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals teammates watch a tribute video to memorialize former Cardinal Oscar Taveras before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The tragic and sudden loss of baseball stars is a feeling all too familiar to St. Louis Cardinals fans.  Often lost on fans and the media is the interplay between baseball tragedy and the law.  The legal gauntlet faced by the surviving loved ones of baseball’s fallen stars offer a new perspective on baseball tragedy.

One phone call.  In one phone call, a family can be decimated with tragedy, a mother must make plans to bury her child, and a father loses his son.  Receiving that phone call informing you of the tragic loss of a loved one is both terrifying and disarming.  The St. Louis Cardinals know these feelings well.

I know them too.  I will never forget the day my sister tragically died in a car accident.  I received that call from my mom.  The St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, and Cleveland Indians are all recent recipients of that phone call.

With the recent deaths of Jose Fernandez, Yordano Ventura, and Andy Marte, I immediately thought of the losses of Oscar Taveras, Josh Hancock, and Darryl Kile.  The loss of our beloved stars is difficult to comprehend, as fans, but the most recent iteration of “bad news baseball” brings a different perspective to mind.

Reports of baseball tragedy prominently feature the fallen star, but few highlight the other victims of these tragedies.  You probably forgot about Edilia Arvelo, Eduardo Rivero, and Emilio Macias.

I raise the names of the other Taveras and Fernandez victims not to challenge the moral prerogative of highlighting the baseball star over the other victims, but to discuss a rarely-covered topic.

Both the victims and families are quickly hurled into the intersection of tragedy and law.  The aforementioned baseball stars died before their thirty-fifth birthdays, but many of them accumulated substantial assets in their short lives.  Their families must make quick and difficult decisions concerning the estates of the victims and those accumulated assets.

Wrongful Death, Contracts, and Benefits

In some cases, the other victims’ families will sue the major league star in what is known as a wrongful death case – essentially saying that the star wrongfully caused the other victims to die through irresponsible actions.

Recent reports show that the families of Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Macias are each seeking over $2 million in damages from Fernandez’ estate.

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Additionally, there are contractual and insurance issues.  Teams often insure big player contracts.  Further, a player may be owed more money on his current deal. Yordano Ventura, for example, is still owed approximately $20 million from the Royals.  There are reports about the terms of the contract purporting that the contract could be void or breached for failure to perform the contract due to injury or death resulting from intoxicated driving.

MLB and its member teams must decide which benefits to pay the families of fallen stars.  For example, players typically have life insurance and accidental death benefits from union membership.

The Union must decide whether and to whom to pay those benefits, and teams like the Royals now, and the Cardinals before them, must decide to pay, or to void, the remainder of the player’s contract based on the circumstances surrounding the player’s death.

Typically, any assets are paid to an administrator of the player’s estate.  Since many of the players may not have legal wills, governing laws apply to determine the distribution of estate assets. Families are forced to deal with these legal aspects of death, while we fans are permitted to mourn without making those decisions.

Consider the Added Difficulty on the Families

The emotional vulnerability of losing a loved one is inexplicably difficult.  The accumulation of wealth combined with the tragic circumstances surrounding the deaths of baseball stars – particularly those involving illicit substances – forces families into the legal system to finally put these tragedies to rest.

The law, in these situations, serves as a cold reminder of the loss these families experience.  Unfortunately, the Cardinals have tackled these issues three times. Three times.

Next: Some Early Predictions for 2017

Nobody knows what to do when tragedy takes our loved ones.  There is nothing that makes you feel better when you get the news.  But Cardinals fans, I implore you to think about the complexities of what happens after these tragedies.  Remember, when mourning for fallen stars, that the families are dealing with constant reminders of that loss – and they need your thoughts and prayers too.