Souvenir 500-pound Extension Joint Night at Yankee Stadium was the inspiration for a lot of comedy bits, as well as renewed calls for another publicly financed, free-ride stadium. But late-night monologues and land grabs aside, the structural problems in the Bronx struck fear into the players: "The stadium is crumbling around us," was David Cone's assessment. He shouldn't worry. Every time a stadium has crumbled, the players have been unaffected. Every time there's been a mishap involving a team in transit, the players have escaped unharmed. Every time disaster has visited, baseball's been lucky.
It's a 128-season-long streak that nobody likes to talk about because, in this most statistically oriented of games, it's long been whispered that this is a statistical impossibility. "Hey, you fly a lot," George Costanza said to Keith Hernandez in a Seinfeld episode. "Ever wonder how a team hasn't crashed by now?" Air disasters have claimed entire college football and basketball team, the U.S. figure skating squad of the early 1960s and Britain's Manchester United soccer team of 1958. But when smoke filled the Braves' plane in 1995 and the tiles started dropping from the Kingdome in Seattle in '94 and the beams fell from Olympic Stadium in Montreal in '91, baseball players always lucked out.
The sport is prepared in case its luck runs out. The American and National leagues have plans—similar to an expansion draft—to restock a franchise decimated by accident. The American League's doomsday scenario is benignly entitled, "The Rehabilitation Plan to Assist a Disabled Club."
Baseball has been dodging stadium and transportation disasters since the parks were made of wood and the road trips were made on rails. A fire broke out in the Boston Beaneaters' park during a game in May 1894, eventually destroying 170 nearby homes and doing a million dollars' worth of damage. No players were hurt. Three months later the Chicago Colts' West Side Grounds caught fire, and only the heroism of players George Decker, Jimmy Ryan and Walt Wilmot saved hundreds of fans trapped behind a fence in the bleachers. The 1911 St. Louis Cardinals avoided disaster on a train ride from Philadelphia to Boston because manager Roger Bresnahan thought the team's sleeper car was too close to the engine and wouldn't be quiet enough for his players. After the cars were reordered and the train got under way again, it plunged down an 18-foot embankment near Bridgeport, Conn. Fourteen people were killed, 47 injured, and most of them were riding in the passenger coach that replaced the Cardinals' sleeper. In May '92 the Angels' team bus crashed into trees outside Philadelphia, but only manager Buck Rodgers was injured seriously enough to miss time.
While it may seem surprising that a team of major league players hasn't yet had a catastrophe at a ballpark or traveling to one, it is probably in line with statistical odds. There aren't that many group disasters every year. Taken as individuals—20,000 ballplayers spread over 128 years, with dozens, including Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson and Indians pitcher Steve Olin, killed in accidents—the players have statistically been no luckier than the rest of us.