Death of Cardinals’ Taveras reminiscent of loss of Mike Miley

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tavares_miley_splitThe tragic death of St. Louis Cardinals rookie outfielder Oscar Taveras from an automobile accident on October 26 in the Dominican Republic evokes memories of another star lost far too soon.

New Orleans area baseball and football star Mike Miley’s life and promising major league career was also cut short by an automobile crash on January 6, 1977.

While Taveras and Miley had distinctly different paths to the major leagues, their ultimate fates have similarities in that tragedies seem to follow their baseball franchises.

Taveras had been the Cardinals’ top prospect in their farm system for two years and was projected to become a fixture in the St. Louis outfield for years to come. He was originally signed in November 2008 as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic. By his fourth season in pro ball, he was the Texas League MVP in 2012.

An ankle injury curtailed Taveras’ 2013 season with Triple-A Memphis. Although he had a good showing in spring training this year, it was determined he needed a bit more seasoning. Thus, the 22-year-old Taveras started out the 2014 season in the minors. As expected, he jumped off to a hot start and was promoted to the big league Cardinals by the end of May.

St. Louis fans thought they had struck gold with Taveras when he hit a home run during his debut game on May 31. But he struggled at the plate during the rest of the regular season. Still, the Cardinals were still confident Taveras was a promising player, one who would become an integral part of a new, young core.

Mike Miley’s route to the big leagues was quite different. He was a two-sport star at East Jefferson High School in Metairie, Louisiana, and earned a scholarship to LSU. Tiger fans would most likely remember “Miracle Mike” Miley as the starting quarterback for a Charlie McClendon-coached football team, but it turned out baseball was his professional calling.

As a junior, Miley quarterbacked the Tigers to a 9-2 record in 1973, when they won nine consecutive games before losing to Alabama and Tulane. LSU earned an Orange Bowl appearance against Penn State, losing 16-9 and finished ranked 13th in the final AP Poll.

Individually, Miley ranked fifth in the Southeastern Conference for most total yards (passing and rushing), while compiling four rushing touchdowns and seven touchdown passes.

Meanwhile, Miley was also the starting shortstop for the LSU baseball team. He had been an All-SEC selection in his freshman year in 1972. In his junior season in 1974, he was named to The Sporting News All-American team, which led to his becoming the first round selection (10th overall pick) of the California Angels in the Major League Baseball amateur draft in June 1974. Understandably, he decided to forgo his senior year at LSU by signing with the Angels.

After only one and a half seasons in the minors, including a selection as a Texas League All-Star, Miley made his major league debut with the Angels on July 6, 1975. He didn’t play particularly well, hitting only .174 in 70 games. The switch-hitting shortstop was back in the minors in 1976, getting only a September call-up with the Angels for 14 games. However, he was still regarded as the Angels shortstop of the future.

In a memorial after Miley’s death, the 1977 California Angels Media Guide Media commented, “He was one of the most highly regarded young players in the Angels’ organization. Miley was an outstanding young man with exceptional talent.”

Miley is linked to a long-time myth in baseball that there was a “curse” or “jinx” associated with the Angels franchise because of the number of injuries and deaths that occurred over the years which supposedly hindered them from reaching the heights of a pennant-winning club. Along with Miley, Dick Wantz (1965), Bruce Heinbechner (1974), and Lyman Boston (1978) were other Angels’ players who lost their lives early in their careers.

In 1989, former Angles reliever Donnie Moore committed suicide, and he is often mentioned in the curse conversation because his suicide is usually traced to a fateful home run he gave up in a losing effort in the 1986 American League Championship Series.

Although one of baseball’s most successful franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals have had similar misfortunes with the tragic loss of players. Taveras is the third Cardinals player in fairly recent times to have died while an active player. Pitcher Darryl Kile died of a heart attack during the 2002 season, and pitcher Josh Hancock perished in a car crash during the 2007 season.

The heartbreaking loss of Taveras was felt by the baseball community just as Game 5 of the World Series was set to be played and thus garnered national attention immediately.

Miley is one of many players from the New Orleans area who reached the major leagues. For more information about New Orleans area baseball players who went on to play college and professional baseball, check out this link.

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Richard Cuicchi

Richard Cuicchi

Founder, Metro New Orleans Area Baseball Player Database

A New Orleans area baseball historian, Richard maintains TheTenthInning.com website. He also authored the book, Famly Ties: A Comprehensive Collection of Facts and Trivia About Baseball’s Relatives.

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