Recent Minor League tragedies

Erik Walker's death provides harrowing reminder

(Roberto Borea/AP)

October 26, 2006 12:58 PM

Erik Walker's untimely death serves as a harrowing reminder of other Minor League tragedies that have occurred in recent years.

While by no means a comprehensive list, here are some other aspiring Major Leaguers whose promising careers were cut short as a result of a sudden calamitous event:

Gerik Baxter: The San Diego Padres' first-round draft pick in 1999, Baxter was killed in a car accident on July 30, 2001. The 21-year-old, a member of the Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore Storm, was on his way to Lake Elsinore when the rear right tire of his Ford F-350 pick-up blew out, causing him to careen into another vehicle and roll several times. Also killed in the crash was Baxter's good friend and former high school teammate Mark Hilde. The 18-year-old had been selected by the Oakland A's in the 32nd round of the 2001 draft, which had taken place the month before.

Steve Bechler: A 23-year-old Baltimore Orioles prospect attempting to make the club out of Spring Training, Bechler died of heatstroke on Feb. 17, 2003. The promising right-hander had collapsed the day before, after a workout session caused his body temperature to increase to 108 degrees. Medical examiners determined that Bechler's death was at least partly attributable to his use of an over-the-counter supplement that contained ephedrine. Use of the stimulant is now banned throughout the Minor Leagues.

Randy Burden: After completing his first professional campaign with the Rookie League Provo Angels in 2002, Burden returned to his hometown of Suffolk, Va., for the offseason. The 23-year-old hurler passed away in his sleep on Dec. 6, as a result of an apparent heart attack. Burden had signed with the Angels organization after a stellar four years at North Carolina's Chowan College, where he set several school records in addition to making a name for himself as a talented artist.

Brian Cole: One of the top prospects in the New York Mets organization, Cole was driving home from Spring Training on March 31, 2001, when he was killed in a car crash. The 22-year-old outfielder had been slated to begin the 2001 season as a member of the Double-A Binghamton Mets. Cole hit .307 with 42 home runs and 134 stolen bases over three Minor League seasons in the Mets' farm system.

Jeff Hoffman: Hoffman, a 24-year-old pitcher for the New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate in Albany, N.Y., was found dead in his hotel room on Aug. 30, 1992. The cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrhythmia, in which an inflammation of the heart wall leads to an irregular heartbeat. Hoffman had never been diagnosed with such a condition, and there was no history of heart disease in his family.

Doug Million: A former first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies, Million died of an asthma attack on Sept. 23, 1997. The 21-year-old, who had suffered from severe asthma his entire life, was participating in the Rockies' instructional league program in Mesa, Ariz., at the time of his death. Million had split the 1997 season between Double-A New Haven and Class A Salem.

Mike Sharperson: A veteran of eight Major League seasons, Sharperson was playing for the Triple-A Las Vegas Stars when he was killed in a car accident on May 26, 1996. The 34-year-old utility man, who was named to the National League All-Star team in 1992, was said to have been in line for a call-up to the San Diego Padres at the time of the accident.

Dernell Stenson: A 25-year-old prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization, Stenson was playing for the Arizona Fall League's Scottsdale Scorpions when he was shot and run over on Nov. 5, 2003. Four men were eventually arrested for the crime; police said robbery was the motive. The AFL suspended play for two days in honor of Stenson, who had made his Major League debut with the Reds on Aug. 13 and went on to play 37 games with the club.

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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