Darrell Porter is still worthy of respect

The Jackson County medical examiner announced Monday that Darrell Porter died of side effects from the recreational use of cocaine.
I should have recognized the tell-tale signs. I didn’t. I didn’t want to.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think any less of Darrell Porter now that it’s public knowledge that he had a lapse more than 22 years after he was released from rehab. He was one of my heroes because of the way he played baseball, the way he conducted himself off the field, and the way he confronted his problems head-on and never backed down. Recent events only serve to prove Darrell Porter was a human being after all.

Darrell Porter left home late last Monday afternoon with an odd story. He wanted to go get a newspaper and go to a park and read it. He went to a park 30 minutes away from home–a place he liked to go to fish.

He told his wife he was going to get a newspaper. Whitey Herzog said it looked like he wanted to go fishing. But why would Darrell Porter lie about going fishing?

I don’t know anything about the psychology behind that kind of behavior. What I do know is my dad used to exhibit the same kind of behavior. He’d disappear for hours at a time, and often the story wasn’t straight. He’d tell Mom one thing and tell me another. Sometimes he really was doing what he said he was doing. Sometimes he was drinking.

My dad was an alcoholic. He gained his ultimate victory over his addiction Nov. 6, 1994. That was the day he died.

Likewise, Darrell Porter gained the ultimate victory over his addiction Aug. 5, 2002.

His own words are telling. “God humbled me. I fear Him and I know He loves me, and I’m trying to get where He wants me. I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome anything yet, but I’m on the right track.”

Those words are vague enough to give room to hide in–words that reluctantly admit something less than total victory. But he was right. He was on the right track. In the late 1970s, his drug habit exhibited itself in fits of rage and paranoia, fits that often hurt others, not only emotionally but sometimes physically.

In 2002, it manifested itself as something of a double life–a moment of weakness, isolated from family and home and other people. Irresponsible? Yes. He shouldn’t have been operating a motor vehicle on cocaine. But he knew enough to go off somewhere to indulge his desire where he couldn’t harm anyone but himself.

Why not reach out for help again? Wouldn’t that have made him look even stronger? Those are easy questions for me to ask. I’m not living what he lived. But the hardest words for any human being to utter are, “I’m sorry.” I think the second hardest to utter are, “Help me.” It was easier to count the costs, figure out how to minimize the possible damage, indulge the moment of weakness, and when it was over, it was over. Go back to daily life. Yes, there was guilt to live with. But at least it was the guilt of harming himself, rather than the double guilt of harming himself and harming his family.

Do I think this was a regular occurrence? Frankly it’s none of my business. And I’ll never know. The case is closed. There will be no investigation into how Darrell Porter got his cocaine, or how frequently he used it, or what else he might have used.

Do I think any less of God, seeing that Darrell Porter was a strong and outspoken Christian and yet lived with and ultimately died from this struggle? No. God forgives us and He strengthens us, as we can see from Darrell Porter’s actions. In his moment of weakness in 2002, he still showed more strength than in 1979. There were no brawls. No one else was hurt. Is God capable of completely curing us from our addictions? Yes. Does He always? No. Why? I don’t know.

I don’t believe Darrell Porter was a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is something Christians are frequently accused of, and sometimes rightly so. But our problems don’t all completely go away when we convert. Sometimes they get worse. Let’s face it: Darrell Porter was a big target. If I’m the devil and my goal is to thwart God and His people, who am I going to pay more attention to? A hard-drinking, pill-popping, cocaine-sniffing catcher who’s batting .208? No. I’ve already got him where I want him. What about a community pillar who spends most of his time talking to people about addiction and overcoming it and the role God should play in your life, whether you’re addicted or not? That second guy is going to get a whole lot more of my time and resources. Of course the temptation never went away. He lived with it every single day. And I think that as time rolled on, further and futher from 1980, the intensity probably only grew worse. Cocaine has zero appeal to me, but I’m sure at times it meant the world to him. And whether that lapse happened once in his lifetime or once every couple of weeks, it doesn’t make much difference in my mind.

What’s important isn’t that Darrell Porter relapsed at least once. What’s important was that he faced his problem and he got it under control. Not perfect control. But control nonetheless.

There are too many stories about people who shook their addictions and somehow turned into Superman and never touched the stuff again. Those kinds of stories are encouraging when you’re first trying to overcome. But when you slip and fall, eventually you get tired of hearing about it. Somehow, since that person reached a goal that you can’t, it makes you less of a person in your own mind.

In his book Snap Me Perfect, Darrell Porter recounted a lapse he had in the early 1980s–probably 1981 or 1982–with beer. He picked himself back up again and tried to carry on.

That’s why I looked up to him for 22 years. And that’s why that won’t change now.

5 thoughts on “Darrell Porter is still worthy of respect

  • August 13, 2002 at 4:20 pm
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    It must be hard, if you’re addicted. I think I can understand how good cocaine makes you feel. I needed emergency dental treatment one day, and went to a dental hospital. They injected an artificial cocaine derivative – xylocaine, from memory. Anyway, I think they must have mainlined me – got some of it into a vein. As I came out after a tooth extraction, I felt just MARVELLOUS! I had blood and spittle drooling down my chin, and I was singing “Zipetty-doo-da, zippety-ay”. Oh, I felt GOOD.

    That sort of feeling must be hard to resist.

  • August 13, 2002 at 6:07 pm
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    I think former Royals pitcher Paul Splittorff summed it up really well:

    “If this drug can kill someone as tough as Darrell Porter, it’s too powerful to mess around with.

    “Let’s hope that is how people remember the circumstances of his death, because you don’t want kids questioning what he was trying to tell them. You don’t want that lost just because it was too powerful for even Darrell to resist. That should be the message: Don’t even start.”

    They were teammates for four or five years. Split was always one of the Royals’ top 3 pitchers, and Darrell Porter was the Royals’ regular catcher, so they worked together a lot.

    Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski wrote a really nice piece too. Here’s the last two paragraphs:

    They all wanted so much to believe in Darrell Porter. Not just the ballplayer. They wanted to believe in a tough Missouri man who stared down his demons and turned around his life.

    Monday’s news took that away. Darrell Porter did not beat cocaine. Cocaine beat him. Cocaine usually wins. Darrell Porter, in the end, was human. That’s all. It’s just that we wanted him to be so much more than that.

  • August 14, 2002 at 10:39 pm
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    I think in the end, if you look at his life and realize he tried to beat his adiction, he didn’t loose. If he had never tried to beat it and heal himself, than he would have lost, but he tried, and tried hard. In the end, maybe some people will walk away from this and keep their hands off of cocain. If that happens, then Darrell will truly win in the end.

  • August 15, 2002 at 3:48 pm
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    That’s the problem with having heroes—eventually you find out that they are indeed fallible. I worshipped the strength and dignity my mother had and thought that she’d live forever, despite the many illnesses ravishing her body. The joke in the family was that she’d die from getting hit by a bus. (Okay, that was my joke, but it made her happy too.) That nothing else would be able to destroy her. Not the strokes. Not the kidney failure. Not the polio she suffered as a child.

    In the end, she quietly died of a heart attack watching bad TV and napping. While it would be nice for all of us to go in such a way, I can’t help but feel selfish and want a more dramatic end for her so I would have been able to say goodbye. Heroes give you much needed inspiration, but they also cause you more pain for the exact same reasons.

  • February 16, 2003 at 9:43 pm
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    I had a distant relationship with Darrell. I helped his younger brother Denny coach little league baseball. My son, Josh, is a catcher. We started playing for Denny when Josh was 11. Like his brother, Denny was a catcher and in the 3 years he played for him, my son came to adore him. I got to know Denny’s and thus Darrell’s parents. According to his Dad, the two were just alike and not just in appearance.

    I am a man of small means. My own battle with drugs and alcohol have left me living from paycheck to paycheck because of the opportunities I squandered away years ago. But because of the Porters, my son Josh has a real chance at a future through baseball. This year he will start at shortstop for his high school team and next year as a senior will move back to the position Denny taught him so well, catcher.

    The death of Darrell Porter saddens me because of my feelings for the Porter family. Fate is sometimes a cruel thing that is hard to understand. But sometimes I ponder about what would have happened had Darrel not had the problems he had. Would Denny have been there for Josh when he was? I can tell you the influence he had on my son is impossible to fathom. And so, in a way, was Darrells. Denny gave Josh Darrells book to read and his resolve to not get caught up in that life is strong. Further, news of Darrells death and the causes have strenghthened it more. God Bless

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