Sunday, October 1, 2017

Len Koenecke: The Ultimate Bender


Drinking and cavorting have long been associated with professional baseball starting with the Babe Ruth era spanning to the Wade Boggs era.  But none reached the harrowing tale of Baraboo, Wisconsin native Len Koenecke, who was killed after being konked on the head during a flight to Buffalo, New York.

Koenecke, who was a rising star with the New York Giants in 1931, wound up with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1934 where his career started to take off.  Unfortunately, his heavy drinking had begun to affect his performance and by 1935 he was dismissed by the Dodgers in the middle of a road trip.

After being sent home from the road trip, he caught a commercial flight for New York City. During the flight, he drank a quart of whiskey and became very drunk. After harassing other passengers and striking a stewardess, the pilot had to sit on him to restrain him as he was shackled to his seat. He was removed unconscious from the flight in Detroit. After sleeping on a chair in the airport, he eventually awakened and chartered a flight to Buffalo.

According to the Ludington Daily News, pilot William J. Mulqueeny, whose flying career had been “packed with thrills and close escapes with death,” was a former World War I pilot who had to subdue Koenecke.  “Koenecke, allegedly crazed by drink, had hired the plane for a trip to New York across Canada.”

While flying over Canada, Koenecke had a disagreement with the pilot and a passenger (Irwin Davis, a noted parachute jumper), and attempted to take control of the aircraft.  In order to avoid a crash, Mulqueeny, who had left his controls, hit Koenecke over the head with a fire extinguisher “while the ship ran wild in the sky.” After an emergency landing at Long Branch Racetrack in Toronto, it was found that Koenecke had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The two pilots were charged with manslaughter but were found not guilty in a trial soon after. “It was three lives or one,” Mulqueeny said.  Koenecke was buried in Repose Cemetery at Friendship, Wisconsin.

Full newspaper article can be found here.


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