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November 14, 2007

Why Don't Major League Players Die?

Despite the recent and high-profile deaths of Corey Lidle and Josh Hancock, being an active Major League Baseball player is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the reaper. You're around three times less likely to die than someone else your age. While the rest of the 20- to 35-year-old American population keels over at a rate of 0.09% per year, baseball players only die at a rate of 0.03% per year. In fact, only seven out of more than 20,000 active players have died since Yankees catcher Thurman Munson crashed his plane in 1979.

Certainly, there are few AIDS patients, TB sufferers, and morbidly obese men on the active rosters of the 30 major league teams (C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder are merely tubby)—and it's likely that a very sick player would be deactivated before he died. (Suggesting that ballplayers really are unusually healthy, one study found that they live on average four years longer than members of the general population.)

But the leading cause of death by far among people this age is "unintentional injury"—mainly from car accidents—and it's unlikely that major leaguers have less access to cars than the general population. In fact, they seem to be unlucky with a means of transportation that is generally safer—almost 30 percent of active players who died lost their lives in plane crashes.

So what gives? Why are major leaguers so safe? My guess is a lot of supervision, and maybe the occasional sober chauffeur.







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