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Gammons: Take heed the Edmead incident

Blossoming Dominican prospect died in on-field collision in 1974

This has been a season to celebrate youth, of Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton, Domonic Brown and Buster Posey. "I feel as if I'm watching the introduction of a Hall of Fame class," says one baseball executive.

One of the game's best scouts calls Posey "the second coming of Edgar Martinez -- and that's high praise for a guy who's also going to be one heckuva defensive catcher."

Over the years, it's been fun to ask great scouts to name the best prospect they ever saw. Not the player who turned out the best, but the player they thought -- at the time -- was the best pure prospect they'd ever seen.

The late, legendary Joe Stephenson once told me "Ken Brett was the best I saw in all my years in California. But not as a pitcher. As a center fielder. The Red Sox took him with the fourth pick of the 1966 Draft, but they were so desperate for pitching they put him on the mound. Now, he wasn't bad; he was the youngest pitcher to ever appear in the World Series when he pitched in the '67 series, but he should have been a great hitter. Better than his brother."

George and Bobby Brett will always agree.

Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, who drafted both Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter as high school right-handed pitchers, says Bo Jackson. J.P. Ricciardi says Manny Ramirez "at 14 -- a youth game I happened on in Massachusetts." George Digby once took me to a Tampa high school game to see "the best 18-year old prospect you'll ever see." Doc Gooden.

But my favorite story came from Howie Haak, Branch Rickey's man who was a legend scouting Latin America for the Pirates. He named Aldredo Edmead. "Best kid I ever saw," Haak told me. "Better than Clemente. What a tragedy."

It is a tragic story that serves as a reminder about how thin the line is that great athletes walk, how fleeting their fame. We should cringe every time there is a collision in the outfield; we should be disgusted when former players glorify headhunting of any sort. Think of Edmead and pray that Heyward, Stanton, Brown, Posey and this generation of talented young players never have happen to them what happened to Alfredo Edmead 36 years ago this month.

Alfredo Edmead died on the field in 1974. This is his story, written by Malcom Allen:

Diamond Death

Alfredo Edmead came to the United States from the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old in 1974 to play his first -- and only -- season of professional baseball. He left behind ten brothers and sisters to become almost an overnight success, then -- even more quickly -- the victim of a shocking tragedy.

Edmead turned pro when Pittsburgh Pirates scout Pablo Cruz signed him to a contract in 1973. Cruz, 27, also played second base for the class-A Salem Pirates, where Edmead debuted the following year. Cruz looked after Edmead and the club's other young Dominicans, who spoke little or no English.

"I was afraid I'd be withdrawn," Edmead admitted to a reporter early in the year. "But I started hitting, playing ball and having a good time."Edmead's English improved so quickly that Salem manager John Lipon described him as "so very smart", but it was Edmead's bat that spoke louder than anything. "I knew then that he had God-given talent," said Lipon, recalling Edmead's first swing in spring training. "He just hit the ball hard all spring, line drive after line drive."

Edmead played right-field and batted second, right behind centerfielder, leadoff man and future big leaguer Miguel Dilone. They shared a house, lockered side-by-side, and teamed up to wreak havoc on the Carolina League. They didn't compete with each other, but helped and pushed each other to be the best players they could be. That was just fine with Lipon. "They're definitely pushing our club," he said.

Edmead and Dilone helped Salem get off to a great start, leading to a writeup in the June 8 issue of The Sporting News headlined "Salem Swings With Its .400 Dominican Duo".

Thirty-four games into the season, Dilone was hitting .408 with 36 runs scored, while Edmead was right behind him at .396 with 30 runs and 26 RBI. Each man already had 24 stolen bases, while Edmead surprised even himself by hitting four home runs. "I never expected anything like this," he admitted.

"Edmead is a natural hitter," Lipon observed. "I've seen some guys come up and improve as the year goes on, but I haven't helped him a bit."

The batting averages of Edmead and Dilone dropped as the season wore on, but Salem continued to dominate, finishing first in both halves of league play en route to a franchise-best 87-50 record.

Edmead, a .318 hitter with 7 home runs, learned on August 20 that he'd been selected as a Carolina League All-Star. Though he was still only 18, many in the Pirates organization believed he could move all the way up the triple-A in 1975.

Three of his teammates also made the team, including Dilone who copped player-of-the-year honors. Lipon was recognized as the circuit's top manager, while Cruz was voted most popular Pirate by the fans. "The only bad thing that happened the whole year was the Edmead incident," said Lipon a few weeks later. "I guess I'll never forget it, and neither will the players."

The "Edmead incident" took place on August 22, in a home game at Municipal Field against Rocky Mount. Edmead scored the Pirates first run after swiping both second and third base to give him 61 steals for the season. Everything seemed fine, but an otherwise routine pop fly to short right in the top of the sixth changed everything.

Edmead raced in for the ball from right, while Cruz ran out from his second base position. Edmead dove in an effort to make the catch, but his head collided with Cruz' knee, and both men went down in a heap. Edmead had been knocked unconscious, and some of the first players on the scene reported that he wasn't breathing. The team trainer was able to revive him, but Edmead was rushed to Lewis-Gale hospital.

The game resumed, minus Cruz, who'd hurt his knee badly, but was too upset about Edmead to accept treatment. "My God. My brother, my little brother," Cruz lamented later that day. "He always tried so hard. I didn't see him."

Though the players on both teams weren't told until the game was finished, Salem's general manager called from the hospital just an hour after the impact with three sad words: "Alfredo is dead".

Edmead died from massive brain injuries, shocking his teammates, and nearly everyone who heard the news. "I never heard of anything like this before," said Pirates farm director Harding Peterson. "We lost not only one of the best young prospects in our organization. We lost a fine young gentleman. It's truly hard to believe."

Dilone was so stunned that he initially packed his fallen friend's gear for the next road trip, before setting it aside to be sent back to the Dominican with Edmead's body.

Alfredo Edmead (1956 - 1974) was honored with a plaque at Municipal Field, and a scholarship in his name presented to an outstanding Roanoke, Virginia area athlete.