For the second time in their history, it looks like an air disaster has claimed the life of a member of the Yankees.
New York pitcher Cory Lidle, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies this summer, was apparently killed today when the plane he was in crashed into a New York high-rise. Former catcher Thurman Munson was also killed in the crash of a plane he was flying in 1979.
In what is a chilling report from just last month in the New York Times, Lidle protested that his flying was anything to be concerned about.
“The whole plane has a parachute on it,” Lidle told the Times. “Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the 1 percent that do usually land it. But if you’re up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly.
Lidle also discussed his lack of fear with MLB.com's Ken Mandel in February:
"It almost feels like I'm 16 and getting my driver's license," he said. "You get this sense of freedom."
When Lidle wants to borrow the keys to dad's Cessna, he rents one from a nearby airport. It's the perfect way to travel from his home in Glendora, Calif., to his "second home" in Las Vegas, where he hosts an annual poker tournament. A 4 1/2-hour drive is reduced to a one-hour flight, with no traffic.
And he feels it's safer to fly, too.
"If you're 7,000 feet in the air and your engine stops, you can glide for 20 minutes," Lidle said. "As long as you're careful, everything should be fine."
Lidle, who plans to buy a four-seat plane next winter for golfing and gambling weekends, has wanted to learn to fly for years. A friend became a pilot last year and helped Lidle down the same airstrip.
The Phillies were understandably not thrilled with the idea of Lidle earning his pilot's license, and they reminded him that a plane-related injury is a violation of his contract.
"Guys are allowed to do whatever they want, but we just needed to inform him," said assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. "Guys have hobbies, and we understand this. A lot of guys have a whole ton of hobbies that people don't consider dangerous, but can be."
Baseball fans know about former Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, who died piloting a plane in 1979.
Contract language stipulates "flying a plane" as prohibited, but the list also including hunting, snowboarding and skiing, common activities among players do. It's fair for a team to protect itself against situations like Ron Gant's snowmobile accident in the winter of 1993 or Jeff Kent's "truck washing" accident a few years ago.
"You can walk across the street and get hurt," said Amaro. "We're not trying to discourage a player from anything. There are very specific items that are involved. [Flying a plane] is one of maybe 15 or 20 things."
"Flying a plane isn't dangerous," Lidle said. "The people up there flying know what they're doing."
According to the Associated Press, Lidle explained to reporters the process of getting a pilot's license last Sunday as he cleared out his Yankee Stadium locker following his team's loss to Detroit in the ALDS. He said he intended to fly back to California in several days and planned to make a few stops.
According to ESPN, Lidle had his license for just seven months. The FAA report confirms the plan in question was Lidle's. His passport was found on the street following the crash.
ESPN's Tim Kurkijan reports there are not yet plans to cancel tonight's LCS games, although weather in New York, where it is raining, may postpone Game 1 of the NLCS between the Cardinals in Mets in any case. Lidle played for both the A's and Mets in his career.
Oakland manager Ken Macha expressed his condolences this afternoon as his A's prepared to play the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS.
Yankees teammate Jason Giambi, also an Oakland and high school teammate of Lidle's released a statement this evening: "Right now, I am really in a state of shock, as I am sure the entire MLB family is, My thoughts are with Cory's relatives and the loved ones of the others who were injured or killed in this plane crash. I have known Cory and his wife, Melanie, for over 18 years and watched his son grow up. We played high school ball together and have remained close throughout our careers. We were excited to be reunited in New York this year and I am just devastated to hear this news."
Lidle was 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA with New York, 12-10 with a 4.85 ERA overall, in 2006. He was 82-72 for his career. Lidle was forced to overcome the stigma of being a replacement player during the spring of 1995 when players were still on strike. Following his trade to the Yankees in August, Phillies pitcher Arthur Rhodes let loose on his former teammate, referencing Lidle's passion for flying:
"He is a scab," Rhodes said. "When he started, he would go 51/3 innings and (the bullpen) would have to win the game for him. The only thing Cory Lidle wants to do is fly around in his airplane and gamble...He is a replacement player."
The righthanded pitcher came to New York in the Yankees' deadline deal that also netted outfielder Bobby Abreu. On Aug 21, Lidle beat the Red Sox by hurling six shutout innings at Fenway Park, finishing a five-game sweep of Boston that effectively put the Yankees in control of the AL East.
He pitched in just one game for New York in this month's playoffs, allowing four hits and three runs over 1 1/3 innings in relief of Jaret Wright in Detroit's 8-3 win of Game 4 of the ALDS. He was due to be a free agent this offseason.
"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. "I offer my deep condolences and prayers to his wife, Melanie, and son, Christopher, on their enormous loss."
Lidle was 34 years old. He leaves behind a wife and a six-year-old son.