The Tragedy of Ken McMullen

When Dodgers third baseman Ken McMullen suited up for the 1974 season, he carried the weight of widowerhood on his 6’3″ frame—McMullen’s wife, Bobbie, died of cancer on April 6th, the day after the Dodgers opened the ’74 season.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in May, 1974, Bobbie McMullen had surgery, but her pregnancy with a third child posed a highly significant problem—cobalt treatments would necessitate an abortion, which the McMullens didn’t want.  She waited until after the birth for the cobalt treatments.  Additionally, Bobbie McMullen had chemotherapy and a dialysis machine when her kidneys weakened from the medication.  She passed five months after giving birth.

Chicago Tribune sportswriter John Husar interviewed Ken McMullen about his wife’s death for an article published on October 1, 1974, as the Dodgers headed into the post-season, eventually facing the Oakland A’s in the World Series; the boys from Chavez Ravine lost in five games.  McMullen clarified his openness about his wife’s death.  “I do get perturbed at people who think I just want sympathy or to have my name in print,” McMullen said.  “I don’t know why I talk about it.  I guess I just want people to know I had a wife who was the bravest and strongest person I’ve ever known—or ever will know.”

He also acknowledged the Dodgers’ success as a key point in confronting the tragedy.  “It was important to me to be on a team, winning, struggling and getting here to the World Series,” McMullen revealed in an article for the Associated Press.  “It helps to take your mind off things.”

Indeed, work can be a powerful antidote to emotional devastation caused by losing a loved one.  Although McMullen wanted to stay with his wife as spring training approached for the 1974 season, his wife urged him to go to the Dodgers’ facilities in Vero Beach, Florida.  In the Husar article, McMullen said, “I don’t know why.  I really didn’t ask her.  What she said was, ‘I would like you to stay but I know you can’t.’  If she would have said anything other than that, I would have stayed.  But now I think she was saying it was better to keep playing and not sit around and wait.”

Road trips, too, provided an escape.  In an October 8, 1974 article for the New York Post, Maury Allen highlighted McMullen’s emotion-filled odyssey.  “I had to get away,” McMullen said.  “That was the only place I could really relax.  For a while, the guys wouldn’t ask me to go out.  They didn’t want to do or say anything that would upset me. Then they realized things had to be as they were before.”

Though a formidable pinch hitter—McMullen had four game-winning hits in 1973—Ron Cey emerged as the Dodgers’ regular third baseman.  Tragedy diminished the importance of baseball to McMullen, who benefited from a support system including his sister, brother-in-law, and parents—they shared care taking duties concerning the McMullen children.  “After everything I’ve been through, worrying about playing regularly hardly seems important,” said McMullen.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 3, 2016.

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