The Tragic Story of New York Giant / Brooklyn Dodger: Len Koenecke

Leonard George Koenecke was born January 18, 1904 in Baraboo, Wisconsin. He began his career playing in various semi pro ball clubs and working as a fireman on the Chicago Illinois Railroad.

In 1928 he hit .390 playing at various levels of AA & the minor leagues. By 1931 Koenecke was a hot prospect at Indianapolis, batting .353 with 24 HRs in the American Association making the All Star team. The New York Giants manager John McGraw watched Koenecke & that winter he was acquired by the New York Giants for four players. Koenecke wouldn’t stop hitting; he batted .355 with 18 HRs for the Jersey City Giants & got a call up to McGraws Giants.

But when he arrived in the majors he didn’t play as well as in the minors, in 137 at bats he did hit .255 with 4 HRs 14 RBIs . The next season he was at AA Buffalo where he hit .355 and was sent to the Brooklyn Dodgers organization.

He played the full 1934 season in Brooklyn, setting an NL record at the time with a .994 fielding %, making only two errors in 318 chances. He hated .320 with a .411 on base % (5th in the NL) with 14 HRs 31 doubles 70 walks (3rd in the NL) & 73 RBIs.
The next year he was drinking more acting wilder & his play became erratic. His average dropped off, although still a good .283, with just 4 HRs 13 doubles & 27 RBIs.Brooklyn manager Casey Stengel had enough by mid September & told Koenecke to go home for the rest of the season. He chartered a plane back home to his native Canada two days later.

As the story goes: On the flight he sat up front with the pilot, and seemed very distressed. He was drinking & started nudging pilot eventually tring to take control of the plane. Next, he started fighting with the co pilot & another on board companion. In order to control Koenecke, the pilot hit him on the head with a fire extinguisher as he was trying to steer the plane.

Koenecke was knocked out & soon died from a brain hemorrhage. It is one of the strangest deaths in baseball history. The pilot was charged with manslaughter in Ontario but eventually acquitted.

Koenecke left behind a wife a daughter as well as his mother, father & brother.

At 31 years old he batted.297 lifetime with 22 HRs 114 RBIs & .383 on base %. The Dodgers wore a black arm band on the sleeve of their uniform for the remainder of the season in his honor.


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