In 1932 a 28-year-old Len Koenecke made his debut in center field for the New York Giants. Two years later with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was among the best hitters in baseball. Two years after that, Koenecke was dead. Somehow, Len Koenecke’s story is not that well known in the world of baseball but it definitely should be. The combination of talent, alcohol, a plane, and a fire extinguisher makes for one of the wildest stories in baseball history.
Koenecke’s Playing Career
Koenecke was a late bloomer, making his debut at 28 and breaking out at age 30. In that 1934 season, Koenecke hit .320 with 14 homers and a 150 OPS+. The following year, his numbers declined a bit, but Koenecke was still a slightly above-average hitter for Brooklyn. Unfortunately, trouble with alcohol during the ’35 season led to Koenecke being cut by the Dodgers during a road series in Chicago on September 16.
The Rest of His Life
Some players go on to have lucrative post-baseball careers in movies, television, or business. Len Koenecke was not one of those players. The day after being cut, Koenecke caught a plane out of Chicago, headed for NYC. After getting extremely intoxicated, Koenecke became violent and needed to be tied down to his seat. He was dropped off in Detroit where he boarded a flight to Toronto. Koenecke then decided to try and hijack the plane. So, the pilot and a passenger beat him to death with a fire extinguisher.
When I first heard about this story I couldn’t believe it. This is likened to following their 2020 seasons, Fernando Tatis Jr. (155 OPS+) or Mookie Betts (149 OPS+) got themselves killed by hijacking a plane… and getting beat to death with a fire extinguisher, to boot. The men who killed Koenecke were initially charged with manslaughter but were found not liable, as they were trying to save the plane from crashing, which they did achieve. Ballplayers’ deaths are usually tragic and saddening, but at some point, you just have to be able to laugh at the absurdity of Len Koenecke’s brief post-baseball career.
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