Even now, over a decade after his death, Mike Sharperson seems to be more famous as a utility player Dodgers All-Star in 1992 than the minor leaguer who died in an early-morning single-car crash on I-15 in Las Vegas on May 26, 1996. After his death, Time said:
“Our lasting image of Mike Sharperson came from his first and only All-Star Game appearance, in 1992 at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. Sharperson, who hit 10 home runs in eight major league seasons, sat in the National League clubhouse and gleefully told of the time he won a minor league home run-hitting contest, beating a star-studded lineup that included Cecil Fielder. “How come I’m not in this one?” he said, referring to the All-Star home run-hitting contest that was scheduled for later that day. Surrounded by sluggers, he laughed and said, “I’d beat all of these guys.”
At the game, Sharperson said: “I first walked in [to the N.L. clubhouse] and saw all the superstars, and I’m not even close to being considered a superstar. But here I am, and I’m going to play with them. I definitely feel like a kid in a candy store. I can’t wait to take my bats around to be autographed. For me to do what I’ve done, to be selected, is going to stop a lot of critics from doubting me.”
Time summarized the accident: “Early Sunday, Sharperson, 34, lost control of his car and crashed on a rain-slickened Las Vegas highway. Sharperson, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected through the sun roof. He died about two hours later.
Later that day Sharperson, an infielder for the Padres’ Triple A affiliate in Las Vegas, was to have boarded a flight to Montreal to join the parent team. San Diego officials said there was no guarantee that Sharperson would have been promoted once he arrived in Montreal, but the Padres wanted him around in case they decided to put Gold Glove third baseman Ken Caminiti on the disabled list. Caminiti had been sidelined since May 21 with a groin injury.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette–Telegraph said: “Sharperson was one of the most popular members of the team, respected both for his commitment to hard work and the warmth of his personality. His death, as he was on the verge of returning to the big leagues, seemed like some cruel joke. Unthinkable. Devastating.
No one knew the appropriate response to take. Play? Don’t play? How do you honor a lost friend – by stopping to mourn him or by pushing on?”
It’s the same sort of problem the Indians had in 1993 after Steve Olin and Tim Crews died and the Angels have this year with the death of Nick Adenhart. Las Vegas Stars manager Jerry Royster said of a makeup doubleheader with Edmonton played on Memorial Day: “The outcome didn’t matter at all. We could have won a doubleheader, we could have lost a doubleheader – it just didn’t matter. Just to get dressed and go out there and face people under what these guys have been under. . . . I’m really proud of those guys.”
The Colorado Springs Gazette–Telegraph added: “Outfielder Rob Deer was crying so hard before the game he couldn’t get out to the field after pregame introductions and Paul Russo, who assumed Sharperson’s spot at third base, was seen weeping into a towel in the dugout between innings.
“I don’t look it as replacing him,” Russo said, “it just happens to be my position also. You’re not going to replace Mike Sharperson – not as a player and not as a human being. You don’t miss the ballplayer, you miss the person. And we’re going to miss Mike Sharperson.”
At a Cincinnati Reds game on May 27, Reds players Lenny Harris, Eric Davis, Thomas Howard, Vince Coleman, Eric Anthony and Johnny Ruffin inscribed their caps with “SHARPE 27” to commemorate the dead player. Harris said: “He was like a brother to me. He and I always motivated and pulled for each other. I’m going to miss him. I’ll wear 27 on my hat to represent him, especially on today, Memorial Day. It’s a good day to say a prayer for him.”
The same day, there were two outs in the seventh inning and the Colorado Rockies were leading the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2. The Colorado Springs Gazette–Telegraph said: [Eric] Young was batting with Rockies runners on first and third and he was facing Todd Stottlemyre.
At that moment, Young’s grief over the death of his friend and former teammate, Mike Sharperson, reached its release point.
“During that particular at-bat, I got emotional,” Young said. “I thought about Sharpy at that particular moment. It just hit me all at once. No particular reason.”
Sharperson, who played with Young a few years back in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization, was killed in a traffic accident early Sunday morning in Las Vegas, where he was playing for the Class AAA Las Vegas Stars.
After Young got down in the count, 1-and-2, he was able to channel those emotions. He laced a base hit to center, driving in an insurance run. For the game, Young was 3 for 4 with a walk, run scored, RBI and stolen base.
“Without EY’s contribution today . . . I mean he got a big, two-out hit,” said Rockies manager Don Baylor. “He’s a catalyst. He’s still feeling the effects of Mike Sharperson. At chapel (services Sunday) and on the bench, I know he’s still hurting deep down. He lost a close, personal friend.”
Young said: “I just remember that Sharpy was one guy in particular who took me under his wing when I first came to the big-league camp. That was in 1992 and we were good friends from that point on. He was a great friend, who I’m going to miss. We talked almost every day this past winter.
“I talked to (Sharperson) about a week and a half ago. He said things were just coming around for him and he wanted to get up here by the all-star break. He was looking forward to getting back to the major leagues.”
Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said: “I was sick all day. I loved him and his family very dearly. He was a great guy to have on the team.”
Atlanta’s Dwight Smith said: “I just talked with him the other day. That’s some sad stuff, man. It makes you see how valuable life is. You got more important things than an 0-for-4.”
Padres general manager Kevin Towers said: “We went out and got Sharpy because he had been there before. We thought he’d be a guy who would certainly stabilize this Triple-A club. And as much as Caminiti hits the ground and as hard as he plays, we (figured) at some point in the season that he would miss some time. We knew that Sharpy was the kind of guy who could come up and contribute right away.
“He was a big-leaguer in every sense of the word, on and off the field. He was quite a guy.”
Sharperson was survived by a 9-month-old daughter, his mother and father, and a brother and sister.
In 2003, Jerry Royster came back to Las Vegas and recalled Sharperson again. He said of the game the night before the accident: “He came off the field, I told him he was going up and he cried. It was a tearful reunion for him to be going back up there, and all the guys sat around him after the game. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
The Las Vegas Sun added: “Sharperson hung out a bit and then joined some teammates for a celebration at the Hard Rock Hotel, according to longtime Las Vegas general manager Don Logan.
After 2 a.m., with a light rain falling, Sharperson left to see his fiancee and young daughter at the condo they were renting in Green Valley, pack some clothes and head back to McCarran International Airport to join the Padres in Montreal.
Around 2:30 a.m., he drove his sports-utility vehicle around the new transition from I-15 south to the eastbound I-215, when he apparently misjudged the curve and two tires swerved off the concrete edge of the highway into an embankment.
According to police, Sharperson was not wearing his seat belt and was thrown out of the sun roof, which had jarred open when the vehicle flipped.
Royster recalled: “He took care of everyone. He made sure they were where they were supposed to be. He was just a leader, a natural leader. He was in charge of the Dodgers’ clubhouse and the Stars’ clubhouse. He sure made my job easy.
“It’s just amazing how God works. You don’t even wonder why anymore.”