Today Oscar Taveras, the best St. Louis Cardinals hitting prospect since Albert Pujols, died at age 22. Taveras and his girlfriend Edilio Arvelo, just 18 years of age, were both killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. USA Today reports that it was raining where Oscar’s car was found, and the rain may have contributed to the accident. Details are still sketchy at this point, but the how seems much less important than the why for many of Oscar’s teammates and fans who are in shock. GM John Mozeliak summed it up by saying, “I simply can’t believe it.”
The loss of Taveras is just the recent in long string of tragedies for the Cardinals organization since 2002. It began when legendary broadcaster Jack Buck, who many fans grew up with on their radio listening to Cardinal games, died on June 18, 2002. Then soon after starting pitcher Daryl Kile, who was found dead in his hotel room before a game against the Chicago Cubs on June 22, 2002. Then on April 29, 2007 relief pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in car crash. Then on January 19, 2013 the team’s greatest player of all time, Stan Musial died at the age of 92. Cardinal fans have had their share of joys over the last few decades, David Freese Game 5 home run perhaps being the highlight, but they have also have their share of suffering. It is perhaps this mix of joy and sadness which makes complete strangers instant friends when they say they discover they are both Cardinal fans.
All the recent deaths were tragic of course, and there should be no “ranking” of these kind of losses. However, there does seem to be something especially wrong with the loss of a 22-year-old life that, by all accounts, had so much promise.
Many of us never really knew Oscar Taveras, and that is really the heart of why his death is so tragic. We saw a glimpse in his second at bat with a majestic home run and picturesque follow through. We had a small taste of Taveras ability to come through in the clutch with his pinch hit home run in the NLCS. We got a flash of his smile, and his infectious joy when the television camera would focus on him in the dugout.
But we could have seen so much more. Oscar Taveras might have won batting titles. He might have delivered more memorable home runs in the postseason. He might have made it to Cooperstown and eventually had a statute next to that of Musial. Now, we will never know.
More importantly, we will never get to know Taveras better as a person the way we have grown to know other Cardinal stars like Wainwright, Carpenter, and Holliday through countless interviews. And most importantly, Taveras’ son will be missing his father as he grows up. Taveras parents will live beyond their gifted child. That is the real tragedy in all this.
Taveras greatness was all a projection, and many sure fire prospects end up amounting to little on the Major League level. But for those who saw Taveras play in person over an extended amount of time there was something special about him which made the projection something more certain. It was very clear that God had gifted Oscar Taveras with a special ability to hit a round ball with round bat with authority in a way that no one else could. He was made to play this game.
Taveras personality was also projection, but there was something about his smile that told you he loved life and loved others in his life. There was something about that expression that told you he spread joy to everyone around him. Just like the baseball player, you had a sense that there was something good and special about Oscar Taveras the person.
Instead, we are all left to try and reconcile why a 22 year-old man and his 18 year-old love died before their lives ever really began. There is no explaining it, not in baseball and certainly not in life. Oscar Taveras will be missed for what he was and for what he could have been. His death is a reminder that here on Earth we have to deal with sadness without having all the answers. I hope we find them out in heaven, and I hope I get to see Oscar’s swing if I get there. Here is to Oscar’s unwritten legacy.