Albert Pujols, mercenary

I’m a Royals fan living in St. Louis, so my perspective on Albert Pujols has always been that he’s the one who got away. He went to high school and college in Kansas City, but somehow Royals scouts overlooked him. The Cardinals signed him, and he became a once-in-a-generation player. Even if he never plays another game in the majors, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Fans loved him, because, well, who doesn’t like a guy who hits .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs in the worst year of his career? He’s always been detached and distant, but St. Louisans will forgive that for wins and numbers. He talked about being a Cardinal for life, but then St. Louis woke up on Thursday morning, drove to work, and found out on the rush-hour radio that he was gone, signed to the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim, the Tikki Tikki Tembo Nosa Rembo Chari Bari Ruchi Pip Pen Pembo of baseball.

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And this is why I don’t drink

Early in the morning of April 9, 2008, just hours after pitching six shutout innings, 22-year-old Nick Adenhart was killed when a repeat-offender drunk driver ran a red light and plowed his minivan into the Mitsubishi sports car Adenhart was riding in. He died in emergency surgery a while later. Two other passengers died at the scene.This kind of bullcrap happens all the time, pretty much every weekend, in at least one major city. Usually it doesn’t even merit more than a couple of paragraphs in the newspaper because we’re so used to it. It made national headlines this time because one of the victims happens to be one of the California Angels’ best pitching prospects.

It’s a symptom of a macho culture where the measure of a man is how many six-packs he can put away, and what he can manage to do afterward. I saw this in college all the time, where the role models we were supposed to emulate were the losers who would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning drinking, then sleep for two hours and get up, shower so they didn’t smell like a brewery, put on a suit, and go to the 7:45 church service.

At least my story doesn’t get any worse. Church was right next door, so they didn’t have to drive and put anyone else in danger. Of course, if they’re still playing the same game today and driving to church two hours later, that’s reprehensible.

But in some circles, driving 45 minutes to get home is part of the culture. Down a case of beer, make a lot of noise, then drive home without killing anyone, and somehow, that makes you a man.

Bull puckey.

Real men consider the potential consequences of their actions. Real men set out to do as little damage to the people around them as possible. Real men try to make the world around them better, not worse, as a result of their actions. There are even some men who manage to deal with high stress jobs with lots of responsibility, deal with that and with all of their other problems, and manage to deal with it all without ever turning to alcohol.

Now that’s a man.

I don’t care what the myths say. Supposedly if you weigh 400 pounds, you can drink about three times as much alcohol as I can, because you weigh almost three times as much as I do. And indeed, you may be able to drink larger quantities than me without passing out. But a beer or two still affects your judgment, whether you weigh 98 pounds or 400. I once saw a demonstration where a professional race car driver drove an obstacle course. He drove it effortlessly when he was completely sober. Then he drank a beer and got back behind the wheel. He still did fine. After two beers, he still did OK on the course, but he said he could feel a difference. After three beers, he could no longer drive the course.

So after three or four beers, you really don’t have any business behind the wheel. Your ability to react to emergencies is diminished enough that at that point, you’re putting yourself and others in danger.

I don’t know what the answer is. We can lock Adenhart’s killer up in jail, and that’ll keep him away from beer and out from behind the wheel of a car for a while, but eventually he’ll get out. Will he do it again? One thing I learned living with an alcoholic for 18 years is that alcoholics never really learn a lesson from their addiction, regardless of the consequences. At least not until it costs them something that they want more than the bottle, which is rare. I don’t know if he’s an alcoholic or not. If he is, you can make him go to treatment, but once again, if he’s not ready, it won’t take, and he’ll be drinking again shortly.

Taking his driver’s license away didn’t keep him from driving this time. Can you take his car away and prevent him from being able to purchase another one? That sounds good to me, but I don’t know if that’s legal.

Ultimately the solution is cultural, but I don’t know how you get rid of that. For some reason, a sizable portion of the United States is fascinated with people who can put away gutbusting quantities of alcohol. We don’t have the same admiration for people who can smoke a pack of cigarettes in one setting. We’re morbidly curious about people who can eat half their weight in hot dogs, but I’m not sure that we really look up to them.

And I don’t know why that is. Because frankly, all you have to do to be able to drink huge quantities of beer is to sit around and drink on Friday and Saturday nights. Do it long enough, and you get enough weight and tolerance to be able to drink a six pack or two without passing out. Some people see that as an achievement. I see it as someone desperately needing something better to do on Friday and Saturday nights.

Seriously. Get a hobby. It’s no cheaper than beer, but it doesn’t hurt anybody, and on Sunday morning you have something to show for it other than a bunch of empty cans or bottles and a headache.

Or in this case, a bunch of empty cans or bottles, a splitting headache, a wrecked minivan, and three dead victims. Not to mention a much-deserved new address, behind bars.

The death of Lyman Bostock

In September 1978, the death of Lyman Bostock rattled the California Angels’ heated division title race with the Kansas City Royals. The Angels’ star outfielder 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.

Another All-Star Flub

I remember when the All-Star Game actually mattered.
Well, it didn’t matter–it was still a game that didn’t count, but the guys who showed up, they showed up to play. There was a lot of pride at stake. My first All-Star memory was the 1983 game. The American League hadn’t won a game in years. Then the California Angels’ Fred Lynn came up with the bases loaded, smacked one out of the park for the first-ever All-Star grand slam, and carried the AL to victory.

These days, the only purpose the All-Star Game serves is to give Baseball Commissionerwannabe Bud Selig another opportunity to make a fool of himself. Read more

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 Read more

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.”

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