Tag Archives: lyman bostock

The best baseball player you never heard of

Thirty years ago next week, during a heated division title race with the Kansas City Royals, star California Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock was murdered in Gary, Indiana at the age of 27.

ESPN has a tribute.

He’s the best baseball player you’ve never heard of, and quite possibly also the greatest human being you never heard of.My favorite quote from the ESPN tribute comes near the end. “I am parked outside his building, waiting, thinking, if I am a righteous, hard-nosed journalist, or whether — as my wife insists — I have taken this Lyman Bostock thing too far.

Lyman Bostock has that effect on the handful of people who know about him, even from the grave. Perhaps especially from the grave.

My pastor talked a few Sundays ago about heroes, and how athletes are often described as heroes, but they’re really just celebrities doing their job. Curt Schilling’s efforts to pitch the Boston Red Sox to a World Series on a crudely stitched together tendon in 2006 is often described as heroic, but it’s nothing like the people who put their very lives on the line every day to save other people’s lives–sometimes while injured just as badly as Schilling was.

I might actually be able to argue successfully that Bostock was a hero. He was one of baseball’s first big money free agents, signing a $2.5 million deal with the California Angels in 1978. His job: Play Hall of Fame-caliber defense in right field and hit .300. But in his first month, he went all Andruw Jones on the Angels and hit only .147. While lots of players will happily collect big paychecks while hitting like pitchers, Bostock went to the owner and tried to return his paycheck. The owner refused, so he gave the money to charity instead. Thousands of charities wrote asking for the money, and he read every letter, trying to determine where the money would do the most good.

The year before, he made $20,000 and had been living in an apartment. So this really was his first really big paycheck.

Bostock wasn’t used to hitting like Tony Pena Jr. He was used to challenging the likes of George Brett and Rod Carew (now both Hall of Famers) for batting titles. He worked hard to pull his batting average back up to .300. On September 23, while playing the Chicago White Sox, he went 2 for 4 and raised his batting average to .296 but grounded into the final out of a 5-4 loss.

He never played another major league game.

That night, he visited his uncle, Tom Turner, and other relatives in nearby Gary, Indiana. While eating dinner, he asked about Joan Hawkins, a girl he used to read to as a child. They drove over for a brief visit. She and her sister Barbara asked if they could have a ride to a neighbor’s. Turner agreed, so they piled into the car.

Little did anyone know that Barbara’s estranged husband, Leonard Smith, was sitting outside Hawkins’ house in his car. And he had a gun. Smith saw Barbara get into the back seat of the car with Bostock, concluded the two were having an affair, and followed them.

At the corner of Fifth and Jackson, Smith pulled up next to Turner’s car. He rolled down the window, looked into the car, smirked, and fired a .410 bore shotgun blast into the back window. Bostock slumped over onto Barbara’s shoulder. It was 10:44 PM.

Bostock died a few hours later in the ICU at St. Mary’s Mercy hospital.

The police found Smith later that same day. Barbara recognized him when he fired the shot, and when police knocked on his door, he was even wearing the same clothes. They had their man, and everyone knew it.

No one contested he fired the shot that killed Lyman Bostock. But in June 1980, he was released from Logansport State Hospital after less than a year. He’s been a free man ever since.

Smith had a good lawyer who knew Indiana law at the time had a loophole so big he could fly a 747 through it. He argued that Smith was temporarily insane when he murdered Lyman Bostock. Then he turned around and won his client’s release by arguing that he was no longer insane.

The Bostock murder caused that law to change. But no law could bring back Lyman Bostock, the ballplayer with the bat of Rod Carew and the heart of Mother Theresa. And he did it against the odds. His father, a former Negro Leagues first baseman, walked out on his mother when he was two years old, and like a plotline from a Tyler Perry movie, never made any attempt to be in his son’s life until he made it big as a professional ballplayer.

I was three years old when Bostock died. If I ever saw him play, I don’t remember it. I first read about him in 1984, in a book titled The Image of their Greatness. I still have the book and I never forgot its brief, haunting paragraph on Bostock, who even then was less well known than Ken Landreaux, the reserve outfielder who took his spot in the lineup the day Bostock died.

Lyman Bostock, 27 years of age, fleet hard-hitting Angels outfielder, was accidentally shot and killed on September 23, 1978. Bostock hit .323 in 1976 and .336 in 1977. One of the highest-paid players in baseball, he started slowly in 1978 and offered to return his April salary because he felt he didn’t deserve it. When the Angels declined his offer, he proved it was no empty gesture by donating the money to charity. The good, it has often been said, die young.

Had it not been for that day, Bostock probably still would have been playing baseball in 1984. Former teammate and Hall of Famer Rod Carew says Bostock was his equal with the bat. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said Bostock would win 5-6 batting titles before his career ended. It’s easy to imagine Bostock playing well into the 1990s, probably spending most of those years with his adopted hometown Angels, and being inducted into the Hall of Fame sometime around 2005 or 2006.

In some ways, Bostock reminds me of Bo Jackson: enough potential to be a Hall of Famer, but his career cut tragically short long before he could pile up the credentials to warrant induction into Cooperstown.

The difference is that senseless murder trumps a hip injury every day of the week.

I wish someone would make a movie about Lyman Bostock. I’d really like to take my son to see it. Of course I’d be delighted if my son can someday hit a baseball like Lyman Bostock, but more than that, I want him to be the kind of person he was.

There are precious few professional athletes I can say that about.

My baseball heroes

Joe Posnanski just did an entry on his childhood baseball idols, and lots of people chimed in about their unlikely heroes. So I got to thinking about mine. When it comes to likely heroes, of course George Brett and Ryne Sandberg were on my list, but that makes me no different from about 10 million other people. Bo Jackson is more of an underdog because his career was so short, but he’s a pretty obvious choice too. There’s an old joke in Kansas City that nobody can name a current Royals player except for George Brett. I mean Bo Jackson. I mean Bret Saberhagen.

If you followed the Royals through the 1990s, it’s funny. I’m sure the overwhelming majority of people who come across this page will have to take my word for it.

Anyway, here’s my list.3. Calvin Schiraldi.

I have no connection to Boston except for a little bit of personal baggage that isn’t Boston’s fault, but in October 1986 I was a Red Sox fan. Why? They were playing the New York Mets in the World Series, and if the Mets were playing the Cuban Nationals, I’d probably root for the Cubans. The only time I root for the Mets is when they play the Yankees.

In 1986, Boston’s closer was a young fireballer named Calvin Schiraldi. Schiraldi pitched well early in the series, but not so well later on. In the fateful Game 6, an exhausted Schiraldi was the pitcher who gave up a single to Ray Knight, setting up the infamous Mookie Wilson ground ball between Bill Buckner’s legs that forced Game 7 and cost Boston the World Series. Schiraldi didn’t throw that pitch; he watched helplessly from the dugout while Bob Stanley tried to pitch out of the jam.

I still remember the images of Schiraldi sitting in the dugout afterward, his face buried in a towel.

Schiraldi took the ball again in Game 7 and took the loss in that game too.

For me, Schiraldi came to symbolize the guy who takes the ball when his team needs him, whether he has his best stuff or not, and no matter how tired he is.

I had the chance to meet him a couple of years later, but I had no idea what to say to him. I wish we’d talked baseball a little, but I don’t know what I would say if I had the opportunity again tomorrow either.

2. Ron Hassey.

I think I told this story before. Ron Hassey was a left-handed hitting catcher who worked well with pitchers and had some pop in his bat. In 1984, the Indians packaged Hassey up along with relief pitcher George Frazier and starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe for outfielders Mel Hall and Joe Carter. Yes, Joe Carter as in the hero of the 1993 World Series.

Rick and I are related, but it’s not like he looks me up when he’s in St. Louis or anything. I’ve met him twice. Once the day after his 200th major-league win, and once at his grandmother’s funeral. (His grandmother was my great aunt.) But I digress.

The Cubs didn’t really know what to do with Ron Hassey. Jody Davis was the Cubs’ catcher, and he made the All-Star team every year as Gary Carter’s backup and he was a fan favorite. One night that summer, Hassey got a rare start at first base, which wasn’t his usual position. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but Hassey hurt himself on a play at first base. It was either his leg or his knee. Writhing in pain, he hit the ground, but he had the ball. He had the presence of mind to literally roll over to first base and tag the bag to get the out.

I’m not sure that the team doctor approved, but I always thought that was the way baseball was supposed to be played. Play hurt and play hard.

So, for all those times I played softball trying to disguise a sore hamstring so the opposing team wouldn’t get the wrong idea… I guess you could day I got the idea from Ron Hassey.

At the end of the year, the Cubs packaged him up in a deal with the Yankees for a couple of forgotten names, Brian Dayett and Ray Fontenot. Trades involving Hassey then became something of an annual offseason tradition for the Yankees for a few years, kind of like firing Billy Martin. Eventually the Oakland Athletics got their hands on him, and he became Dennis Eckersley’s personal catcher.

1. Lyman Bostock.

There’s a lot I can say about Lyman Bostock, but I’ll start with this: Lyman Bostock is the greatest baseball player of all time that you’ve never heard of. He only played two complete seasons, but he was a contender for the batting title both years. He was kind of like Tony Gwynn, only with better speed and range.

But his final season is the reason he’s on my list. He signed with a new team and stunk up the place his first month, so he went to the owner and tried to return his salary. He refused, so Bostock announced he’d give the money to charity instead. He received thousands of requests, and personally went through all of them to see who really needed the money the most.

These days, when a free agent signs a fat contract and promptly tanks, he laughs all the way to the bank.

There’s a good reason why Bostock isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and it’s the same reason you’ve never heard of him. Toward the end of the 1978 season, he was visiting his uncle in Gary, Indiana. Bostock’s uncle pulled up to a stoplight with his goddaughter in the front seat of his car and Bostock in the back. The goddaughter’s estranged husband walked up to the car and fired a shotgun blast into the car. The shot hit Bostock in the head and he died two hours later.

I never actually saw Bostock play, seeing as he died when I was 3, but he posthumously became one of my heroes. He wasn’t just the kind of guy a father can point to and tell his son, "Play baseball like him." He was the kind of guy a father should point to and tell his son, "Live your life like him."

Will Firefox be Netscape’s revenge?

John C. Dvorak says the browser wars are still raging. He cites figures from his blog as evidence that IE only has 50% market share.Well, my logs have always indicated that IE accounts for somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of hits to my blog. The reason for that is pretty simple. This blog appeared in its first form about five years ago. Two months later, I published a computer book that, among other things, advocated using any browser but Internet Explorer and contained detailed instructions for removing Internet Explorer from Windows 95, 95B, and 98.

It’s pretty safe to say a large percentage of my early readership found out about my blog from my book, and the people who read my blog most likely read it because they read my book and liked it, and if they liked my book, they probably agreed with it and were therefore very highly likely to be running Netscape.

For a while I switched to IE, primarily because IE had better keyboard navigation than Netscape and I had repetitive stress injury. I said so. Around that time I saw IE usage increase. I don’t think it had much to do with me. Netscape’s market share was headed for single digits.

By the time Mozilla was approaching version 1.0, I was squarely back in the Mozilla camp and advocating it. Again, IE traffic started to drop. Did it have much to do with me? Something, surely. People who agree with me are more likely to visit again than people who disagree with me.

I think John C. Dvorak’s logs are more likely to reflect PC enthusiasts than mine, simply because he’s a PC Magazine columnist and I’m the author of a now obscure computer book who happens to enjoy blogging, and who blogs about baseball, Christianity and Lionel trains as often as computers these days. That’s opposed to a year ago, when I had a reputation for writing about baseball and Christianity as often as computers. So hey, my horizons are broadening.

Since more of my traffic comes from Google and other search engines than anywhere else, and often it’s people looking for ways to hook up DVD players to old TVs, ways to disable websense, or information on Lyman Bostock, I probably get a decent portion of the non-computer enthusiast crowd.

I think IE’s market share is somwhere between 60 and 75 percent.

I also think it’s going to drop. The last person I told about Firefox wasn’t so confident about it when I told him it was at version 0.93. Now that the magic 1.0 is near, it’s going to jump as early adopters who are nervous about beta software jump. When it hits version 1.1, it’s going to jump even more when people who have been sensitized by Microsoft dot-oh releases start switching.

So while I think Dvorak is wrong about IE’s market share, I think he’s right that it’s dropping and that the browser wars aren’t over.

Some baseball players entertain; Dave Dravecky changed my life

This evening I looked at the list of short biographies I’ve written. Some were requests. A number of them were people I found fascinating. And in the case of Lyman Bostock and George Brett, they were men who changed the way I lived life.
I asked myself who was missing. And I came up with some names.

Dave Dravecky.

Dave Dravecky. Man, what can I tell you about Dave Dravecky? He happened to be pitching on one of the worst days of my life. I won’t go into details–it wasn’t his fault. The day would have been a little bit better if he hadn’t pitched those two shutout innings, but not much.

Three years later, my dad scored tickets to Game 2 of the 1987 National League Playoffs at Busch Stadium. Dad and I made a career of living in eastern Missouri and hating the Cardinals; we donned our Royals gear and watched Dravecky pitch the best baseball game I ever saw in person, tossing a sparkling two-hitter. Amazing. I remember thinking that must have been what it was like to watch Lefty Grove or Sandy Koufax pitch.

The next season, Dravecky started feeling sick. Doctors found cancer in his pitching arm. They took half his deltoid muscle and froze the humerus bone. The doctors’ goal was to kill the cancer and leave enough arm for him to be able to do things like tie his shoes. Dravecky’s goal was to pitch in the majors again.

You can probably guess what’s next, since the story’s not over yet. He pitched two games for the San Francisco Giants in August 1989. The first game was a drama. Not a masterpiece like the game I saw at Busch, but a solid 8-inning performance that he won 4-3. The second game, he felt his arm start to tingle in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, it broke as he threw a fastball to Tim Raines. The Giants were headed to the World Series that year and everybody knew it, and Dravecky wasn’t going to be able to contribute any further. It was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking because he’d been through so much. And it was heartbreaking because the Giants lost that World Series, and Dravecky’s left arm probably could have won it for them, and what a story that would have been.

Dravecky’s arm broke in a second place during the celebration as the Giants won the last game of the playoffs. Dravecky was asking God some questions after that. Not “Why me?” but rather, “Why was I so stupid?”

Well, some good came of it. A doctor was examining the x-rays to make sure the two breaks were lining up. The good news was, they were. The bad news wasn’t that he’d never pitch again. The bad news was what else he saw.

The lump was back.

Two surgeries later, the cancer was gone, but Dravecky’s once strong arm was a dead limb. He had no range of motion and he was in pain and it was constantly infected. Two years after his aborted comeback, he had to have the arm amputated. Now he really wasn’t going to pitch again.

So now Dravecky is a former baseball player, as well as an author and evangelist. His 1992 book, When You Can’t Come Back, is inspiring. I read it in high school. Flipping through it to find details for his bio, I decided I really need to read it again.

There are other names that came to mind. Ron Hassey. I’ll never forget a game in 1984, after he’d been traded to the Chicago Cubs. He went from the starting catcher for the cellar-dwelling Indians to a little-used backup for a contender. One day, out of the blue, he was playing first base. Not his usual position. And at one point in the game, he stretched to make a catch, and pulled a muscle. He made the catch, then he collapsed, grimacing in pain. Players surrounded him. And you know what Hassey did? He rolled, squirmed, stretched, somehow made his way over to first base, tagged the base, and made the out. Then they carried him off the field on a stretcher and it was two months before you saw him again.

How he noticed that he could take advantage of the situation and get a cheap out, I have no earthly idea. I admire people like that.

I like people like that. People who give 100%. Even when their 100% is a mere 1% of what it would be on any other day, people who still give whatever it is they’ve got. I don’t know how many people remember Ron Hassey, but I’ll never forget him.

And I know I’ll never forget Dave Dravecky. Dravecky lost everything. For as long as he could remember, his left arm was the reason people were interested in him. Then, one day, it was gone. He learned what he could do with what he had left. He could give people courage. Hope. It took him some time. But he’s afffected thousands of people in a powerful way. Not bad for a guy who wondered what he had left.

There are people who give momentary thrills, and there are people who change your life.

I know which one I’d rather be.

Crime’s downward spiral

I used to waffle on the death penalty. But if the kidnapping, rape, and apparent planned murder of Tamara Brooks and Jacqueline Marris this week doesn’t illustrate why the death penalty is sometimes necessary, I don’t know what will.
More details of Roy Ratliff’s sorry excuse for a life will undoubtedly surface in the days and weeks to come. He committed his first crime before his final two victims were even born. He jumped parole last year, was accused of raping his stepdaugher, then went on one final spree, stealing cars at gunpoint, threatening the drivers with death, and finally, kidnapping and raping two teenaged girls young enough to be his daughters. The girls’ rescuers were convinced he was looking for a place to kill and bury them when they shot him dead.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m glad the two deputies shot Ratliff dead. It saved a messy trial, saved the girls undue pain (they’ve been through enough), and it eliminated the chances he’d get off on a technicality, or that he’d play the same game that Leonard Smith played. Smith killed baseball star Lyman Bostock with a shotgun blast in Gary, Indiana in 1978. He pleaded insanity. Twenty-one months after Lyman Bostock died, Smith was a free man again, on grounds that he was no longer insane.

Crime is addictive. I saw it as a teenager. I knew people who started off with little crimes. It started off with pirating cheap computer games. Then they started stealing long distance so they could pirate more cheap computer games. Before long they were stealing credit cards to get more computer equipment. I know of one person who got caught in this mess and started selling drugs so he could pay for all the long distance calls he’d made illegally.

Not everyone gets to that stage. I pirated some computer games as a teenager. As a matter of fact, I don’t know anyone who had a computer when I was a teenager who didn’t pirate software. But for some, the allure of getting away with something was just too much. I never got far beyond casual copying. I figured out how to crack a manual keyword-based protection scheme with a sector editor (I just changed all the words to the same word, then changed the screen to tell you to type that word), but I just passed copies of the game to a few friends. I wasn’t willing to upload seven disks’ worth of stuff at 1200 bps. I had better things to do. I found ways to justify pirating software to myself–for a time–but stealing long distance or stealing credit cards was wrong.

But not everyone thought so.

I’m not saying all those guys I know about are destined to become serial kidnappers or worse. But a tangle of crimes can easily become just like a tangle of lies. You get caught, and you have to commit a bigger crime to get yourself out of the mess the last one got you into. Just like Bill Clinton and his lies.

And that seems to be what happened to Ratliff. You can certainly see the pattern of behavior. He stole a car. The car developed a flat tire. So he stole a truck and attempted to torch the car he’d stolen before, to cover up the evidence. And that seems to be what he planned to do with the two girls he kidnapped–once he’d gotten what he wanted from them, keep them from testifying by putting them in the ground.

Maybe I’m wrong to assert that Ratliff was beyond help, beyond rehabilitation. But when it comes to serial rapists, I’m not interested in finding out. When someone rapes more than one woman or murders a child, I think the best thing to do is send him to God and let Him figure out what to do with him. Maybe God will show him what it’s like to be intimidated and destroyed by someone who makes him look powerless by comparison. Maybe He won’t. At that point it’s His business.

We’ll never know what drove Ratliff to his final deeds. Maybe he thought he could get away with this just like he’d gotten away with previous crimes. Maybe he just needed a bigger sick thrill. Maybe he sensed his end was near, and he was going on one final binge of his addiction before going down in a blaze of glory. That phenomenon was well documented in World War I airmen, whose life expectancy on the front was literally measured in weeks. They drank and slept around like there was no tomorrow, because in many cases there wasn’t.

There’s no sure-fire way to predict which guys who traffic in speed will ultimately end up harmless and which ones will end up like Ratliff. Knowing more about their history, you can profile them, but no one can predict the future.

And you can’t tell a crook just by looking at him. Yeah, Ratliff looked like an unsavory character. But so did one of the interviewees in the first video project I ever participated in. But Joe cleaned up. And now Joe dedicates an awful lot of his spare time helping other people clean up.

I don’t know if the recent rash of kidnappings is really a change in reality or just a change in the way news is reported. Face it, kidnapping is a big story right now. Murder was a big story a century ago, and many newspapers operated under the mantra, “if it bleeds, it leads.” This might just be the 21st century’s answer to that.

I’m not a big fan of teaching your kids not to talk to strangers. I was taught that, and I never got over it. I still have the hardest time talking to people I don’t know. But considering the alternative, it’s an easy choice. Tell your kids not to talk to strangers. Prevention’s a whole lot less painful than rehabilitation.

And while you can’t spot the dangerous criminals of today by looking at them, you stand a chance of being able to predict the dangerous criminals of tomorrow. Kids who steal at a very early age without any remorse and who torture and kill small animals are at very high risk for developing far worse antisocial tendencies when they get older. But when a kid’s age is still measured in single digits, there’s still hope for them. Exert some positive peer pressure on the parent(s) to get the kid straightened out.

You owe it to your grandchildren.

They don’t make ’em like Lyman Bostock anymore

Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly:
Wouldn’t you love to see, just once, before you die… a major league player call a press conference to demand the club negotiate his contract — downward? “I’m barely hittin’ my weight,” he’ll say, his agent nodding by his side. “Either start paying me a whole lot less or I’m leaving for Pawtucket right now!”

That almost did happen. In 1978, a young, hard-hitting outfielder named Lyman Bostock became one of baseball’s first big-money free agents Continue reading They don’t make ’em like Lyman Bostock anymore

A flair for the dramatic

Writing about baseball two days in a row? Hey, it’s my site.
We played a doubleheader last night and won both games. I caught the first game; the second game the manager shooed me over to first base. I haven’t played first since one inning in high school, which was a disaster. I last played semi-regularly when I was 12, and that was mostly as a joke. I could make the catches but I was just over five feet tall so I sure couldn’t stretch to get the ball a split second sooner.

I did decent; I made 3, maybe four putouts. There were two bad throws, one I would have nabbed if I’d been six feet tall; the other I got the glove on but really awkwardly and I couldn’t keep control of it. I was pretty mad about that one. I’m a whole lot more comfortable in right or left field these days.

Enough about my reliving the glory days I never had. What about that All-Star game? Ripken has a great flair for the dramatic. First, A-Rod, elected to play short, shooed Ripken over to his old position and moved to third. And Ripken homered in his first at-bat.

That’s the story of Ripken’s career. Ripken had no business playing short at age 40. Ripken really had no business starting the game. But Ripken spent 14 years doing what he had no business doing. He was always too big and too immobile to play short, but he played it and played it well. Shortstops have no business playing uninterrupted for 14 years. Ripken did that.

And really, that’s what defines an All-Star. Yes, the numbers are a big, big part of it, but Ripken’s a star, whether he’s hitting .320 or .220, and Ripken’s a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer whether he hits his way into winning his old job back (Ripken’s not even a regular on his own team anymore) or whether he goes hitless for the rest of the season.

And Commissioner Bud Selig made a total ass of himself, not knowing the difference between home runs and RBIs when talking about Cal Ripken’s achievements, and mispronouncing Honus Wagner’s name when talking about Tony Gwynn one-upping his impressive career batting stats.

It was tonight’s All-Star game that reminded me of what makes baseball such a great game. Baseball is full of great moments like that–great players, sometimes running on fumes, coming back and showing us one last time what made them great in the first place.

So what’s wrong with baseball? I honestly think baseball needs another Lyman Bostock. Lyman Bostock wasn’t a great player. He didn’t have time to become one, because he only played four seasons. But after making runs for the AL batting title in 1976 and 1977, Bostock signed with the California Angels, becaming one of the first of the high-priced free agents, and he immediately fell into a slump. He didn’t even hit his weight his first month, so he went to the owner of the team and tried to give back his salary, saying he hadn’t earned it. When the owner turned it down, he announced he was giving the money to charity instead. Thousands of requests came in, and Bostock went through them himself, wanting to determine who needed the money the most. Tragically, Bostock was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana, near the end of that season. He worked his tail off trying to get his batting average up over .300 by the end of the year. He was batting .296 when he died.

We’ve had tons of great stories since 1978. Ripken, of course. McGwire and Sosa’s friendly rivalry as they chased Roger Maris’ home run record. Orel Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless innings. The emergence of Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux when it appeared the era of truly, truly great pitchers was over.

But without another Lyman Bostock, they just look like a billionaire boys’ club. Emphasis on “boys.”