Most sports fans look up to athletes because
they amaze us. Professional athletes can run faster, jump
higher, and exhibit feats of strength that make them look like superheroes. But athletes are all human like the rest of
us, which means they’re mortal, too. Here are athletes we lost in 2019. Mel Stottlemyre was a reliable and vital member
of the New York Yankees pitching staff in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He amassed 164 wins, a 2.97 earned run average,
more than 1,200 strikeouts, three 20-win seasons, and five all-star appearances. Stottlemyre was also one of the better-hitting
pitchers. He once had five hits in one game, and of
his seven career home runs, one was an improbable inside-the-park grand slam. Stottlemyre didn’t win a World Series ring
as a player, but he did win five as a pitching coach. In the ’80s, he signed on with the New York
Mets and helped its legendary 1986 squad to a World Series championship. He later returned to the Yankees as a pitching
coach and won another four titles. He retired in 2008 after one last coaching
job with the Seattle Mariners. According to his wife, he fought blood cancer
for nearly two decades. He died at age 77. After debuting with a Rookie-of-the-Year season
in Major League Baseball in 1956, Frank Robinson spent nine more seasons with the Cincinnati
Reds. In 1961, he led the team to its first pennant
in more than 20 years. Robinson earned the NL MVP honors and a Gold
Glove. The Reds traded Robinson to Baltimore ahead
of the 1966 season, and he immediately delivered for the Orioles to a World Series-winning
season, hitting .316 with 49 home runs and 122 runs batted in. He led the league in all three categories,
earning Robinson the exceedingly rare “Triple Crown” of hitting. “Just be patient, see the ball, and hit it.” Robinson later wound up in Cleveland, where
in 1975 he was appointed player-manager, making him the first African-American boss in baseball
history. He retired from play to focus on managing
in 1976, and in 1989, he was named Manager of the Year. Robinson was a first-ballot Hall of Famer
in 1982. He was 83 when he died. Gordon Banks had a long and successful career
in English league soccer as a goaltender for Leicester City and Stoke City. He won a spot on England’s national team in
1963. He rose to the occasion of playing on the
world stage and will forever be a legend in his home country as part of the 1966 World
Cup-winning squad. England defended its title in the 1970 World
Cup final, this time facing the Brazilian team. While Brazil ultimately squeaked out a 1-0
win, the game is more memorable for a Banks deflection now known as the “save of the century.” Brazilian star Pele hit a textbook header
toward the lower corner of the net, but Banks somehow knocked it away. The International Federation of Football History
and Statistics ranked Banks the #2 all-time goalkeeper in international play. He died in his sleep at age 81. Don Newcombe was one of the last living players
who remembered taking the field in Brooklyn. Newcombe also played for the Cincinnati Reds
and Cleveland Indians, but he’ll forever be associated with Dodger blue. While playing semi-pro baseball as a teenager,
Newcombe got the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed him to pitch for the team. Newcombe was among the first African-Americans
to play in the MLB, entering the league in 1949, just two years after teammate Jackie
Robinson broke the color barrier. Newcombe is the only player in MLB history
to win Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Cy Young honors. In his rookie season, he had a 17-8 record
with five shutouts and 149 strikeouts, Newcombe got even better, winning 19 and 20 games in
the next two seasons. He then missed two seasons to serve in the
military during the Korean War, but he came back in a big way. In 1955, he won 20 games and led the Brooklyn
Dodgers to a World Series title. The following year, he was named both the
National League’s MVP and its Cy Young Award recipient. Newcombe died at age 92. “Terrible Ted” Lindsay was a standout in the
wild, hardscrabble National Hockey League of the mid-20th Century. Lindsay played more than 1,000 games and scored
379 goals over his 17-season career, almost all of them with the Detroit Red Wings. As part of the legendary “Production Line”
alongside center Sid Abel and right winger Gordie Howe, Lindsay ultimately won four Stanley
Cups in the 1950s. Relatively small at just 5’8″, Lindsay was
known for being scrappy and tenacious. “There was no friends on the ice. They were all enemies.” In 1950, Lindsay won the Art Ross Trophy,
the NHL’s award for its top scorer. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame
in 1966, and his number, 7, hangs in the rafters above Red Wings games. Lindsay earned a spot on the NHL’s list of
its 100 greatest players of all time, and in 2010, the NHL Players Association renamed
the league MVP prize the Ted Lindsay Award. Lindsay passed away at his home in Michigan. He was 93. Marilynn Smith was the definition of a Hall
of Fame golfer, with 21 tournament wins. But perhaps even more impressive is how she
changed the face of women’s sports by helping create the Ladies Professional Golf Association,
the world’s oldest women’s sports institution. As a child growing up in Kansas in the 1930s
and ’40s, Smith pitched on a boys’ baseball team. After her father promised her a new bike when
she could hit nine holes in under 40 strokes, she met the challenge. Before she graduated high school, she’d won
three state golf titles. At the University of Kansas she comprised
the entirety of the women’s golf squad and won the individual collegic national title
in 1949. Smith and a dozen other golfers created the
LPGA in 1950. Smith won her first pro championship four
years later, and eventually served as president of the group. “If we ever got publicity, it was on the back
page of the newspaper.” After retirement, ABC Sports hired her to
cover men’s golf tournaments, making her the first woman to ever do that, too. Smith died at age 89. Playing as both a guard and tackle, Forrest
Gregg was so committed and put in so much effort that legendary Green Bay Packers coach
Vince Lombardi called him “the best player I ever coached.” Gregg was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection over
the course of a 15-season career for the Dallas Cowboys as well as the Packers. He earned the nickname “Iron Man” after competing
in a then-record 188 straight games, suited up for six conference championship teams and
played in three Super Bowls, winning it all in 1967, 1978, and 1972. The 1977 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee
went on to coach for 11 seasons, leading the Green Bay Packers, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati
Bengals. Gregg died of complications from Parkinson’s
disease at 85. In his 16-year career with the Boston Celtics,
John Havlicek won an astounding eight championships, including four in his first four seasons. Only two NBA players have won more rings than
Havlicek: his teammates Bill Russell and Sam Jones. Havlicek scored a total of 26,395 points,
making him the top scorer in Celtics history. He also boasted 13 All-Star selections, 11
all-NBA team selections, a retired number, and enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial
Basketball Hall of Fame. Havlicek graduated to team leader by the mid-’70s
and was named the MVP of the 1974 NBA Finals. As a teenager in Ohio, Havlicek has a multi-sport
athlete. He went All-State in not just basketball,
but baseball and football, too. The Cleveland Browns drafted him, but Havlicek
ultimately chose basketball, tallying a 78-6 record with a 1960 NCAA title. The Celtics star died at age 79. “What more can I say? Thank you, Boston. I love you.” Leonard “Red” Kelly was a tough-but-fair defensive
powerhouse who came of age in the NHL’s storied “Original Six” era. Over a 21-season career, Kelly hoisted the
Stanley Cup a remarkable eight times, four times with the Detroit Red Wings and four
with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kelly was known primarily for his ability
to keep opponents out of the net, spending 13 years as a Red Wings defenseman. But he was pretty good at offense, too, amassing
281 goals and 542 assists. Kelly made the NHL All-Star list eight times,
won the Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanship four times, and was the inaugural recipient
of the Norris Trophy for the league’s top defensive player in 1954. In 1962 while still playing in the NHL Kelly
won a seat in Canada’s Parliament, representing an area of Toronto. In February 2019, Kelly saw the Red Wings
retire his jersey, number 4, making him just the eighth player to receive that honor. The Hall of Fame hockey star died at age 91. Austria-born Formula 1 racer Niki Lauda used
family money to buy his way into big races in 1971 and 1972. By 1973, he was a top-three finisher, and
soon, he was a superstar. In the 1975 F1 season, he won five of 14 races
and easily secured his first World Championship. The following year, Lauda again won five races
but was edged out in the final standings by his close friend and professional rival James
Hunt, a relationship dramatized in the 2013 film Rush. In that 1976 season, Lauda nearly died in
a crash at the German Grand Prix. In what was likely a suspension failure, his
Ferrari smashed into a wall, and as other cars hit him, the vehicle caught fire and
severely burned Lauda’s face. He was even given last rites, but he survived
and was racing again less than six weeks later. In 1977, Lauda reclaimed his championship,
and won another one in 1984 after coming out of retirement. Lauda passed away at the age of 70. Bart Starr led a dynasty in Green Bay. The University of Alabama quarterback kind
of snuck his way into the NFL, drafted in the 17th round in 1956. He wasn’t even a starting QB for awhile, but
when he finally got the job full-time, he exploded, helping the Green Bay Packers to
NFL titles in 1961, 1962, and 1965. When the NFL and rival AFL began pitting their
champions against one another in a “Super Bowl,” Starr’s teams won the first two. Starr played in the NFL for 16 seasons, all
of them with the Packers. He was selected for four Pro Bowls, was named
the NFL MVP in 1966, led the league in completion percentage four times, and racked up more
than 24,000 passing yards. In the 1967 NFL title game, nicknamed the
“Ice Bowl,” Starr executed a quarterback sneak to give the Packers a 21-17 win over the Dallas
Cowboys. Starr, inducted into the Pro Football Hall
of Fame in 1977, had reportedly been in poor health since suffering a heart attack and
two strokes in 2014, and he died in Birmingham, Alabama at age 85. Over a 22-year career, Bill Buckner was among
baseball’s most reliable players. His lifetime stats included a batting average
of .289 and 2,715 hits. Buckner peaked in the early ’80s during his
time with the Chicago Cubs. He was the 1980 National League batting champion
and made the All-Star team in 1981. Soon after, Buckner was traded to the Boston
Red Sox, where he’d be part of the 1986 World Series-bound squad. Despite all those achievements, it would be
a single moment in that Fall Classic that would mar Buckner’s career forever. The Red Sox nearly broke a 68-year championship
drought, up three games to two over the New York Mets with a lead in Game Six. In the tenth inning with the score tied, the
Mets’ Mookie Wilson hit a slow grounder to Buckner. He misjudged it, and it rolled through his
legs into the outfield. A Mets runner scored the game-winning run,
forcing a seventh game in which the Mets were victorious. Buckner single-handedly took the blame for
the Red Sox’ continuing misfortunes. After he retired in 1990, he moved to Idaho
and bought a ranch. Buckner died at age 69 after a battle with
Lewy body dementia. Jim Bouton was a phenom of a pitcher for the
New York Yankees in the early 1960s. In 1963, just his second full year in the
major leagues, Bouton racked up all-star numbers, winning 21 games with six shutouts. The next year, he pitched another 18 wins
with four shutouts, and in 1963 and 1964, the Yankees won the American League pennant. He was never quite the same after a 1965 injury. Not counting a brief comeback attempt in 1978,
his career finished up after 1970, following stints with the Seattle Pilots and Houston
Astros. But Bouton would have a huge second act. In 1970, Bouton turned his recollections of
his baseball days into Ball Four, a shocking expose of what baseball players really got
up to, the main takeaways being that Mickey Mantle liked to party and lots of players
ingested performance-enhancing stimulants. It also took stock of the economics of baseball. “Ball Four documented owner abuse and the
general managers’ abuse of the players. How they took advantage of them, treated them
unfairly.” In addition to working as a sportscaster in
the New York area, Bouton further added to the magic of baseball by co-inventing Big
League Chew. The baseball lifer was 80 when he died. In his junior year at Santa Monica High School
in southern California, Tyler Skaggs struck out 89 batters, walked just 22, pitched a
perfect game, and notched a ridiculously low 1.11 ERA on the way to being named conference
player of the year. The next year, the Los Angeles Angels drafted
the local standout, only to trade him to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who then traded Skaggs
back to the Angels, where he would spend the rest of his career. Skaggs’ best year came in 2018, with a 4.02
ERA and an 8-10 record. In 2019, he’d nearly matched his personal
wins record with seven by late June. Shortly after pitching in a home game against
Oakland, Skaggs and the rest of the team headed for Dallas for a four-game series against
the Texas Rangers. He was found unresponsive in his suburban
Dallas hotel room. Authorities were summoned, who pronounced
Skaggs dead. An autopsy report obtained by PEOPLE magazine
stated that Skaggs’ cause of death was the result of a mixture of “alcohol, fentanyl
and oxycodone intoxication with terminal aspiration of gastric contents.” – he choked to death on his own vomit – only
a few days shy of his 28th birthday. Greg Johnson was a hockey superstar while
still in college. At the University of North Dakota in the late
1980s, the Ontario-born forward scored 272 points in four seasons, making him the school’s
all-time top scorer. He finally hit the NHL ice in 1993 for the
Detroit Red Wings and bounced around the league for a while until 1998, when he became one
of the first-ever players for the expansion Nashville Predators. Johnson was named team captain, a position
of leadership he deeply enjoyed. According to his former agent, Johnson invited
criticism from the NHL Players Association because he refused to negotiate with the Predators
for a bigger contract, hoping not to alienate management. The players’ association stripped him of his
captain status. After a physical uncovered an irregular heartbeat,
Johnson retired after a 12-year pro career at the relatively young age of 35. Johnson died in his Detroit-area home at the
age of 48. Pernell Whitaker made his debut on the world
stage as part of Team USA, the 5’6″ southpaw from Norfolk, Virginia, took home a gold medal
at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Just a few months later, he made his professional
debut in the ring, showing off not only punches but some of the craftiest defense in boxing
history. Nicknamed “Sweet Pea,” Whitaker amassed a
remarkable record of 40 wins, four losses, and one draw over a 17-year career. Of those victories, 17 were knockouts and
21 were unanimous decisions. He was just that dominant in his weight classes,
of which he had several. Whitaker won titles in an unheard of four
weight classes: lightweight, junior welterweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Whitaker was named to the International Boxing
Hall of Fame in 2006. Police in Virginia Beach said he was struck
by a car while walking through an intersection. Sweet Pea Whitaker was 55. Since joining the professional boxing circuit
in 2016, Russian-born, California-based fighter Maxim Dadashev proved himself a formidable
competitor in the junior welterweight class. He won his first 13 fights, and an impressive
11 of those came via undisputed knockouts. On July 19, 2019, Dadashev squared off in
Oxon Hill, Maryland, against Puerto Rican boxer Subriel Matias, who came into the match
with a 13-0 record. Matias dominated the fight from the beginning,
landing numerous hard blows to Dadashev’s head. Dadashev’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, considered
ending the fight after the ninth round. But Dadashev kept fighting through the 11th
round, when McGirt finally put a stop to the bout. That gave Matias, ahead on the scorecards,
the win via TKO. The stoppage would sadly prove too late. Dadshev collapsed and vomited on the way to
his dressing room. Paramedics rushed the fighter to a local hospital
for emergency surgery to treat bleeding on the brain. Doctors placed him in a medically induced
coma, but Dadashev would ultimately succumb to his injuries. He was 28 years old. From 2001 to 2004, Texas Longhorns running
back Cedric Benson put up some of the most impressive stats in college football history. He rushed for well over 1,000 yards in each
of his four seasons, and his 5,540 total yards put him at ninth on the all-time list. His 64 touchdowns are the second-best ever
at Texas. In his senior year, Benson had 1,834 yards
and 19 touchdowns, winning him the Doak Walker Award, recognizing the nation’s top running
back. The Chicago Bears selected Benson with the
fourth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. In 2007, he led the team to its first Super
Bowl appearance in more than two decades. The running back played a total of eight seasons
for various teams in the pros, rushing for more than 1,000 yards three times, with career
totals of 6,107 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns. In August 2019, a minivan attempting to cross
through an intersection in Austin, Texas, struck Benson’s motorcycle. The 36-year-old Benson and a female passenger
were pronounced dead at the scene. Barry Bennett played for 11 seasons in the
NFL. A defensive tackle and defensive end, he was
a reliable member of the line, putting up a moderate number of sacks through his four
years with the New Orleans Saints and six seasons with the New York Jets. After playing in one regular-season game for
the Minnesota Vikings in 1988, Bennett settled in the small town of Long Prairie, Minnesota,
where he worked for years as a physical education teacher and coach. Bennett retired and remained in Long Prairie
with his wife, Carol, and together they were tragically discovered dead from gunshot wounds
in their home. Within a few days police had arrested a suspect
– Bennett’s son, Dylan John Bennett. Bennett was 63. Kelly Catlin was among the best track cyclists
in the world, always putting on an amazing display for spectators. After a running injury at age 17, Catlin took
up cycling, and remarkably, just four years later she was competing in the 2016 Summer
Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Catlin and her team won a silver medal there,
along with three straight world championships in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Catlin broke her arm in an October 2018 crash
and endured a concussion after slipping while riding on a road in December 2018. After a suicide attempt in January 2019, Catlin
accepted her coaches’ urging to take some time away from racing, and she pulled out
of the 2019 Track Cycling World Championships. On March 7, 2019 Catlin took her own life,
according to her family. The cyclist was 23 years old. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal
thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

2019 Athlete Deaths That Flew Under The Radar
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