By Will Martin
Before talking about the week that was lets go back to a sad and tragic day in baseball. It was 12 years ago on June 22 we lost a good man and a great pitcher found dead in his hotel room hours before a game between the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. Two arteries near his heart were blocked 90%. Joe Girardi was the one to address the suddenly silent crowd at Wrigley Field.
“I thank you for your patience,” Girardi said, his voice breaking. “We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinals family, the Commissioner has cancelled the game today.”
Darryl Kile wore jersey number 57. Earlier that week Jack Buck had passed away and he was laid to rest not even 24 hours prior to Kile’s passing. A double blow of bad news in the city with the winningest team in the National League. Kile was to play the Chicago Cubs the next night before a national audience on ESPN with Joe Morgan and Jon Miller. Now that wasn’t going to happen.
This video tribute poignantly describes what the good people of Colorado, Texas, and Missouri felt that week in 2002 with two fallen heroes, two great examples to the game of baseball…
There is a Houston tie into Darryl Kile’s passing. One decade prior he had spent time toiling and working his craft within the Houston Astros organization. In 1993 Darryl Kile’s father passed away at the age of 44. That death affected Darryl deeply and it also toughened him to advance toward a 15 win season with the Astros.
A year that included tossing a no-hitter, making the All-Star Game, and earning the respect of his teammates as a worker, a hoss, and an old school leader when the ball was placed in his hands. Darryl would talk about dealing with the loss of his father.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, because my father was my best friend, ” Kile said. “But in order to be a man, you’ve got to separate your personal life from your work life. It may sound cold, but I’ve got work to do. I’ll never forget my father, but I’m sure he’d want me to keep on working and try to do the best I can do.”
In a crazy twist of irony the Cardinals went on to win exactly 57 games to make the playoffs before the Giants ended their season in the playoffs. Darryl Kile had forged and created some wonderful bonds in baseball and with one player in particular-Jeff Bagwell.
Former teammate Moises Alou was the one to inform Bagwell who was at home with his kids.
“I said ‘Mo, why are you calling? You’ve got a game to play,'” Bagwell said. “He told me that the game was cancelled, that D.K. died. I said ‘What are you talking about?’ He said ‘D.K. died.'” I didn’t know what to do. It’s something that comes as a disbelief. Unfortunately, it was true.”
In light of the tragic passing of Richard Durrett, Kile also left behind a wife and three children (including twins aged 5). Kile never missed a start and for him to not be with the team 12 years ago this weekend was a scary omen for a person who lived to compete and preferred to let his actions speak.
“I think for me the toughest thing is imagining someone having to call your wife and your kids and to tell them, ‘Daddy’s not coming home,'” Cubs catcher Joe Girardi said, choking back tears.
“It was complete shock,” Cubs catcher Todd Hundley said. “Just total, utter shock. A guy this young — it just goes to show we’re not invincible. We think we are and we’re not. This is tragic.
Chicago Cubs manager Don Baylor was also a part of the Cubs team. He also experienced first hand the terrible feeling of loss on the other side of town 24 summers prior.
“I know across town, 1978, at Comiskey Park, there was a player who made the last at-bat in a ballgame in the ninth inning, Lyman Bostock,” Baylor said. “There was a tying run on first or second, he grounded out in disgust. He had a lot of family members there from Gary, Ind. He showered in five minutes and I asked him, ‘Did you shower?’ He was still dripping wet.
“I know how difficult that is because we played the game the next Sunday,” Baylor said. “It was the toughest thing I ever had to do.
“My heart goes out to the guys on the other side,” he said. “Your locker’s next to him, you had lunch with him, or he touched you in a different way. It’s a difficult thing to do.”
Don Baylor also was very familiar with Darryl Kile while in Colorado.
“I remember how I strong-armed him to pitch in Colorado,” Baylor said. “I convinced (Rockies owner) Jerry McMorris to pay whatever it was that Kile wanted to keep him there in Colorado. It was a great experience to have him on my team.”
Later that June 22nd night Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus, and Craig Biggio would not start in a game against the Mariners as they were too stunned by the passing of their former teammate. When that game with Seattle went to extra innings all three players made themselves available to pinch hit. In a fitting finish to an emotional day Jeff Bagwell would get a game winning hit in the 12th frame to score Julio Lugo for a 3-2 Astros victory.
With the Yankees having their Old Timers Game in New York this past weekend I am also reminded that come August 2, it will have been 35 years since Thurman Munson-the original King of Akron pre LeBron-would die in a plane crash at age 32.
Time can certainly help to heal the wound. The scars always remain close to the heart and mind. In what was undoubtedly the worst week in the history of St. Louis sports the connection to a band of teammates in Houston was equally felt.
Darryl Kile’s last game starting placed St. Louis in 1st place in a 7-2 win against the Angels. Little did we know that Jack Buck would succumb to illness to join those winged protectors along with #57 four days later.