Former Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson, one of the most promising young talents in the game just five years ago, is dead at age 29 from a possible overdose.
Hanson died late Monday after suffering catastrophic organ failure at Piedmont Hospital. An initial incident report cites a possible crime as “overdose” without listing what Hanson may have taken. The GBI crime lab was conducting an autopsy Tuesday, the Coweta County coroner said, but toxicology results could take several weeks.
Hanson had been hospitalized since Sunday morning after being found unconscious at a friend’s Newnan-area home. The friend, Brandon Bond, had called 911 to report Hanson was not breathing.
“I’m at a loss for words,” former Braves teammate Freddie Freeman said of Hanson’s death. “He was a great teammate and an even better friend. You just always wanted to be around him because he had such a positive personality. He had a smile that would light up the room. Can’t fully grasp that he’s gone. I’m going to miss him a lot.”
Royals pitcher Kris Medlen, a former Braves teammate, was broken up over the death of his friend and fellow Californian, calling it “the worst day of my life.” Later in the day Tuesday, Medlen expressed his feelings in a text message.
“Anyone who knows me knows how much Thomas J. Hanson Jr. meant to me,” he said. “I also feel bad for anyone who didn’t get a chance to know the man. He was the kindest, most loyal person I’ve ever met. He loved his family more than anything in the world, and his friends felt like family when around them. He was not ‘like’ a brother to me, he was my brother and I’m going to miss him so much.”
WSB-TV sports director Zach Klein was the first to report Monday night that Hanson was in a coma and had been transferred to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
Rumors of Hanson’s condition had begun to spread Monday afternoon, and a friend of his told the Journal-Constitution at 7:50 p.m. Monday that the situation was grave. Another former Braves teammate, Jordan Schafer, posted on his Twitter account at 11:06 p.m.: “This breaks my heart. RIP TH.”
Hanson had a 49-35 record and 3.80 ERA in 123 games (121 starts) over five major league seasons, the first four of those with the Braves. Shoulder problems and a concussion stalled his career, and he last pitched in the majors in 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels after being traded by the Braves in December 2012.
“My condolences go out to his family and loved ones,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “I will always remember him as a great competitor and he will always be a Brave.”
The 6-foot-6 redhead was known for his affable personality, and was one of the most popular Braves among teammates and fans durings his years with the team. “Big Red” was 45-32 with a 3.61 ERA in 108 starts for the Braves, with at least 10 wins in each of his four seasons with them.
After being traded by the Braves, Hanson had a career-worst 5.42 ERA in 15 games for the Angels in 2013 and spent several weeks away from the team in two different stretches while dealing with the sudden death of his stepbrother.
Braves president John Schuerholz said in a statement released by the team Tuesday: “We are incredibly saddened to learn of Tommy’s tragic passing. He was a favorite in the clubhouse and with our staff and he will truly be missed by everyone in Braves Country. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, family, former teammates and friends.”
Shortstop Andrelton Simmons, a rookie in Hanson’s final season with the Braves, tweeted just before 1 a.m. Tuesday: “Very sad to hear about Tommy Hanson. Wish his family and close friends a lot of strength. He was a really nice dude.”
Legendary Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, whose last four seasons overlapped with Hanson’s four seasons in Atlanta, said on Twitter: “My heart is broken today. Tommy Hanson was a great teammate, friend and pitcher. We all loved and pulled for him. We ALL will miss him.”
Hanson finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2009, but Hanson’s finest stretch of pitching came during the first half of the 2011 season, when he was 10-4 with a 2.44 ERA in 17 starts. He had 109 strikeouts in 103 1/3 innings in that first half, including 14 strikeouts in seven innings at Houston on June 12, 2011.
Shoulder problems and a back strain plagued him after the All-Star break and Hanson was 1-3 with a 8.10 ERA in only five starts the rest of the season. After going 31-19 with a 2.99 ERA in 72 career starts through the 2011 All-Star break, Hanson was 18-16 with a 5.09 ERA in 51 games the rest of his major league career.
He pitched in Triple-A during parts of the past two seasons, in the White Sox organization in 2014 and the Giants organization in 2015.
Born in Tulsa, Okla., Hanson was raised in California and graduated from Redlands East Valley High School in 2004. He was a 22nd-round draft pick by the Braves in 2005 out of Riverside (Calif.) Community College.
He threw a 14-strikeout no-hitter for the Braves’ Double-A Mississippi affiliate in 2008, and dominated the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League later that year, posting a 0.63 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings to become the first pitcher to win the league’s MVP award.
In the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year balloting, Hanson finished behind Chris Coghlan and J.A. Happ and ahead of Andrew McCutchen. He was 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA in 21 starts that season, earning a June callup after producing a 1.49 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings during 11 starts at Triple-A Gwinnett.