Letters of Intent
Hughes tragedy brings back memories for Wearne family
By Alexis Brudnicki
LAVERTON, Australia – “It certainly doesn’t seem like 33 years ago. It seems like last year.”
Tragedy had only struck in the same exact fashion once before, and what ran through Melbourne baseball veteran Mick Wearne’s mind when he learned of the untimely passing of young cricketer Phillip Hughes was an all-too-vivid recollection of an eerily similar incident that took place in 1981, claiming his brother Steve Wearne‘s then 22-year-old life.
“There are just bad memories,” Wearne said. “To be honest, I was more concerned for my family than I was for me. They took it a lot tougher than I did at the time, took a lot longer to get over it, so I knew that would be difficult for them to handle. That’s what went through my mind the most.
“I was thinking of all his teammates and family and friends as well. I’ve got a good idea about how it feels so I knew what they were going through so I was feeling for them. I probably even felt for them a bit more because [Hughes] was so much in the public eye.
“For us it was a big deal and there was a lot of media but nothing like there is here. They can’t avoid it, they can’t get away from it – every time they look at a paper or see the news, something is happening.”
Both Hughes and Steve Wearne succumbed to brain injuries suffered on the pitch after being struck by bowled balls. At just 23 years old, Mick very quickly lost his brother, his lifelong companion, and his best friend, making any reminder unnecessary and incredibly difficult.
“It’s with you forever,” Wearne said. “It’s just how you deal with it. It’s not something I think about every day. It’s a bit difficult because every year around the anniversary, which happened to be [just over] a week ago, we would go to the crematorium. So it was in the forefront of our minds a little bit when it happened.”
Many devastated by the recent death of the up-and-coming national team member have been at a loss. Words are difficult to find and actions are harder to come by. There is no precedent set for what to do or say.
Wearne recalls that his first course of action after that heartbreaking November evening more than three decades ago was to do what he believes Steve would have wanted.
“He died on a Saturday night and I remember I went and played on the Sunday,” he said. “That’s probably what he would have wanted, so it wasn’t that hard. I was doing it for the two of us. So it was like by me doing it, he was still there.”
Just under 33 years and a week after tragedy struck the Wearne family in Dandenong, Hughes became the second cricketer whose life ended the same way. Being one of very few people who can relate, however unfortunate, the latest incident has brought about a whole new set of questions for the director of player operations of the Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces to answer.
“People have asked, ‘How will people deal with it?’” Wearne said. “Time is the great healer. You take your time and you get on with your life. In my case, my brother was probably more into baseball than he was cricket. He was a great cricketer….although his passion was baseball.
“So I guess for the last 30 years I’ve almost felt like I’ve had to commit enough time and effort into baseball for two of us. That’s how I feel about it, so I put a lot of my energy into doing other things… and not worrying about what happened. I take solace in the fact that I’ve tried to do enough for two of us.”
Active within his local baseball club, around the Australian Baseball League, and occasionally assisting with various national teams, Wearne is certainly a mainstay in the baseball community and often puts in much more work and passion into the game than any two people would.
“Everybody deals with it in their own way,” Wearne said. “I’m sure the Hughes family and all of his friends are dealing with it in different ways, too. Different people are affected differently. They’ve got a bit to go through yet … before they can actually start living on the road to recovery.”
Though the subject is difficult for Wearne to articulate, he is incredibly empathetic to what those people closest to Hughes are going through.
“It’s a little bit hard,” he said. “It brings back bad memories. As much as I feel for his family and friends and teammates, I know exactly what they’re going through. I feel for them because I know what it’s about…I feel for them as much as I do for me or my family.”
With all of the coverage surrounding the death of Hughes, the quarter-century old memories have become even more vivid for Wearne.
“Well and truly,” he said. “It’s with you now. In the past you thought about it in passing now and then and you move on, but at the moment it’s hard to get it out of your mind. Whenever you stop and you’re not doing something you might think about it. It’s harder to block it out.”
One topic brought to the forefront because of the latest tragedy is the potential for changes within the sport to prevent future happenings, not far from the school of thought in baseball that alterations should be taken out of the game to prevent similar injuries.
“When I see a baseball injury, I’m probably just the same as everybody else,” Wearne said. “I’m concerned about the welfare of whoever got hit but there’s no assimilation between baseball injuries and the cricket injury. That’s what made this one a whole lot tougher because it was so similar – exactly the same type of ball, the same type of shot and exactly the same result.”
In technical terms, the condition that claimed the lives of the two cricketers is vertebral artery dissection leading to subarachnoid haemorrhaging. There have only ever been about 100 cases reported, and Hughes and Steve Wearne are the only two incidents suffered on the pitch.
“I never thought about the risks,” Mick Wearne said. “Still, even after what’s happened here, I don’t think too much about the risks. From a mathematical proposition there have been 500 million cricket balls bowled and two people have died. It’s not something you need to consider…
“There have been hundreds and hundreds of cricketers hit in the same circumstance, but the normal reaction is you run down, the guy gets up and he’s got a bit of a black eye, you laugh it off and he goes and hits the next ball for four.
“The freak part of what happened is not how it happened, it’s the end result. In his case it just hit in the right spot that he started bleeding. It could have hit an inch lower, an inch higher, and he would have had a big bruise and went on and played the game. The freak part of it is the end result, not what happened or how it happened.”
The presence and passion of both Hughes and Wearne within their sports have provided a legacy that will live on for years and generations of young players to come. Though tragic, Steve Wearne’s death did result in one good change.
“When my brother died, in those days people didn’t wear helmets,” Mick said. “That was the time people started to wear helmets and partially because of what happened, so something positive came out of it a little bit.
“Perhaps it would have happened more often had we not worn helmets over the years. That’s a good thing but wearing helmets or not wearing helmets, it’s just an accident. People have got to understand accidents happen.”
Though the bad memories are at the forefront at least for now, the latest reminder for Wearne of his brother’s passing has allowed him some fonder thoughts as well.
“We played cricket every passing moment,” Mick said. “We didn’t have computers, we didn’t have any electronic games – all we had to do was play football and cricket. In the winter time we played cricket around the backyard…every daylight hour we weren’t at school we played cricket.
“The yard was worn two feet deep where we used to run up and bowl, and the batting crease was just a big patch of dirt where the grass was worn away. We played cricket every minute of every day. That’s a good memory.”