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.

Katelyn’s out of ICU!

There is lots of news on Katelyn, and almost all of it is good. Katelyn got out of ICU today. They removed all the tubes from her, except her feeding tube, which she has always had. She’s in a private room, and the doctors say she ought to be able to go home in 2-5 days!
Her lungs still have not cleared completely, but with everything else going well, the doctors are less worried about it now. She still will not eat on her own, which is why the food tube is still there, but she has never eaten on her own so that is probably understandable.

Not just a haircut…

I got my hair cut yesterday. I’m pretty stoked about that.
Someone seeing me today will notice I got it cut, but they probably won’t make any comment. It pretty much looks like I usually get it cut. Maybe there’s more gray in it (and I think when it’s shorter the gray is more noticeable because it glistens more), but that’s not due to the cut. That’s due to me getting old. It’s a haircut. There’s nothing on the surface to get excited about.

The fact is, my head doesn’t tell the story.

Emily cut my hair last night. Some of you may remember her. I met her about three months ago, and within a couple of weeks, she had a car accident and spent some time in the ICU. She wasn’t able to work for a long time for fear of aggravating her internal injuries, but on top of that, she wasn’t regaining much use of her left arm. She was getting physical therapy but wasn’t really improving. She went in for an MRI, fearing a torn rotator cuff, and instead they found a shoulder fracture.

But that was good news. A rotator cuff usually requires surgery and takes a couple months to heal, even when you’re 20. A mild shoulder fracture doesn’t. The doctor was pretty distressed she’d been receiving physical therapy though. That would have made the shoulder a lot worse, and he was surprised to see it was healing. But one of our seminarians put it best: Emily’s made of rubber right now. God’s really looking out for her.

At some point I told myself I wouldn’t get my hair cut until Emily was able to cut it. If that meant I ran around looking like Samson for a while, so be it. I didn’t want anyone else touching my hair, and I was pretty adamant about it.

We hung out last Tuesday and she seemed fairly normal–her left arm pretty much hung there and didn’t do much. But when I saw her again Friday, she was holding her glass with her left hand and even drinking with it. I commented about that. She got a twinkle in her eye and said yeah, she was moving around better, and she gave three haircuts that day. Then she smiled really gleefully, like a kid in a candy store with $100 to spend.

I asked her if I could have an appointment. She told me to call her.

It feels weird to be excited about a haircut. But it’s not the haircut. The haircut’s immaterial. What’s important is what the haircut represents. It represents the livelihood of a friend who nearly died, and has had to work really hard to get back to the point of being able to give a haircut again.

I’ll never have another one quite like it.

Recovery, Day 5.

I didn’t go see Emily on Wednesday night. Instead I went to see From Hell with my friends Jeanne and Tom. The theory it presented was interesting, but anyone who knows anything about Jack the Ripper knows it played awfully fast and loose with the facts. I can’t say much more without spoiling it. I’d have gone to see it just because of my fascination with Film Noir, but From Hell seemed to me like an excuse to show a bunch of closeups of Johnny Depp and shots of Heather Graham dressed up like people imagine turn-of-the-century prostitutes looking. In other words, too much oogle and not enough plot. I think the directors realized this wasn’t enough, so they added a sex scene and a few female-female French kisses. And of course lots of blood. I’d have preferred a less-predictable storyline and a little more intrigue.
Sleepy Hollow played way fast and loose with the story it was based on, but somehow it seemed more compelling to me.

But I didn’t come here to be Gene Siskel.

Last night, Emily was out of ICU. She looked really good. Her color was back, she’d had a chance to wash the blood out of her hair, and a lot of the cuts on her face had healed. To me, it looked very possible that she’d escape this without any noticeable scars on her face. The tubes and wires were gone, and she was sitting up on her own, moving around, and talking. Man, was she talking. She’s been eating solid foods. Someone slipped her some Taco Bell after lunch Thursday, and she had McDonald’s on Wednesday. Apparently they’re having a festival in Millstadt this weekend and she’s a bit bummed she won’t be able to go to it. “Chili and snoots. That really sounds good. Especially snoots. That’s my favorite.”

She turned to me. “You like snoots?” she asked.

“I’m gonna feel real stupid for saying this, but I don’t know what snoots are,” I said.

“Pig snouts,” she said.

I think she enjoyed the look on my face. “They’re good,” she said unconvincingly. “You ought to try some.”

I think I’d rather take up vegetarianism again.

Then her uncle and Norm, one of my congregation-mates, started talking about other–ahem–delicacies. They asked Emily what she thought of pig’s feet, liver, tongue, brain, blood sausage, and head cheese. She turned her nose up at most of them. When she didn’t turn her nose up, she gave commentary instead: That’s just gross.

Then they started talking about their experiences with Rocky Mountain Oysters. “I’ll bet he doesn’t know what those are either,” one of them said, nodding in my direction.

Emily turned and looked straight at me. “Bull balls,” she said nonchalantly. I shuddered and made a face. She seemed to enjoy that.

What can I say? I’ve lived a sheltered life.

I’m mostly glad to have seen her looking and acting like her old self. That’s worth a lot of laughs and gross-outs at my expense.

She gets to go home today.

Recovery, Day 3.

I saw Emily again last night. My heart sank a little when they said at the front desk she was still in ICU, but Emily was a lot better yesterday. She was much more alert, and I saw her give a couple of people dirty looks, including me. She talked about the people who came to see her. She remembered me coming to see her, but she thought it was during the day rather than Monday night. Narcotics do that, and she’s still on strong stuff. I’m surprised how much she remembers from yesterday, but I doubt she’ll remember a whole lot a week from now. I know when I’ve messed myself up seriously, codeine seriously killed the flashbulb effect, and she’s on stronger stuff than codeine.
She was still in ICU, but it had nothing to do with her. They had a busy evening in the ER, so they didn’t have adequate available staff to move her. I heard some rumblings she may get to go home Thursday.

Hmm. There’s more to say but it’s late and I’m tired after having just spent all night on the phone. But I think I can sum most of it up in this. On Monday, I saw someone who was vulnerable. On Tuesday, I saw a fighter.

Recovery.

I went and saw Emily last night. She was beat up, but not as badly as you’d expect someone who’d been thrown from a car to be. She was still in ICU because they’re worried about her spleen. She was in pretty good spirits considering everything she’d been through in the past 36 hours.
I mentioned to one of my coworkers that I was going to the hospital after work to see a friend in ICU. She said those kinds of visits were hard. I guess they are, but I’ll take an ICU visit over a funeral visitation any day. Maybe it’s hard to know what to say, but I guess I’ve found it doesn’t matter too much. Look at Job. Job lost everything, then was struck with leprosy, so then he went out to the town dump and sat there. His three friends went out there to be with him and spent a week there with him, without a word. Then when they finally did speak, they said, “You idiot!”

During those times, I think it’s good to remember the words of Mark Twain. If God had wanted us to talk more than we listen, he’d have given us one ear and two mouths.

I looked into her eyes and saw someone who’s fighting, but she’s tired, frustrated, and impatient. What I didn’t see was someone at the end of her rope. I could tell she looked into my eyes and saw someone who cared. I didn’t really have to say much else.

When bad things happen to good people…

When bad things happen to good people. A couple of weeks ago, I got e-mail from a friend I’ll just call by her nickname, Hammer. Hammer moved to upstate New York this summer, after having lived in a small Illinois town outside of St. Louis her whole life. Hammer e-mails her friends a lot, and she’s probably the wordiest and most vocal person I know, myself included. Hammer told me (and others) about a longime friend who’d been going to our church for the past six months, who wanted to join our small group, but didn’t know any of us.
Her story was that of a fairly typical twentysomething Lutheran growing up in the 90s: Didn’t catch every break, made some good decisions and some bad decisions. She was successful, especially considering her age, but maybe a bit lonely. She didn’t have very many Christian friends.

I took it hard. Hammer described this girl, and I was about 99.8% certain I knew who she was talking about. Six months and no one close to her age had talked to her? That’s just wrong. So that night, after Wednesday service, I walked up to her. I didn’t care how uncomfortable it felt. I held out my hand and hoped I wouldn’t sound like a bumbling idiot.

“I’ve seen you around but I’ve never met you,” I said. “I’m Dave.”

She smiled. “I’m Emily,” she said.

My hunch had been right.

I had no idea how to invite her to Bible study, but that was fine. Hammer’s mom was right there. “Emily’s interested in your Bible study,” she said. I waved over to some of my cohorts, who came over. We made some quick introductions. My friend Brenna offered to meet Emily at church and drive with her to our next session, since it was in a part of town she wasn’t familiar with.

The next Friday, she was there. She fit right in. Like I said, her story–at least what I know of it–is virtually interchangeable with mine and with most Christians my age.

I flagged her down the following Sunday. She thanked me for inviting her, and said she’d been a bit nervous at first. She didn’t know what to expect–would she find a Lutheran monestary, or would she find people like her?

“You found people like you, right?” I asked.

She smiled. “I think so.”

“Good,” I said.

I saw her again Wednesday. She mentioned her back had been bothering her that day, and she asked if we were meeting Friday. I said yes. I asked for her e-mail address so I could e-mail her directions.

“Good,” she said. “What’s your phone number?”

I know I gave her a shocked look. She chuckled. “In case I have any questions about the directions,” she said.

I smiled and gave up the digits.

On Friday, my phone rang. No, it wasn’t the Charter cable guy I talked about yesterday. That was later. It was Emily. She told me she’d spent the day on the couch, her back had been acting up, and she wouldn’t be able to make it.

I told her we’d make sure we said a prayer for her.

“I was just about to ask if you would do that for me,” she said. I didn’t get the impression she was used to people volunteering to pray for her. Then I asked if she’d gone to see her doctor. No, she said, because a doctor would just give her pain pills, but she’d been to see a chiropractor. Good answer. She said he took x-rays, and he didn’t do anything else but shock her. She said that helped for a little while but she didn’t know what that was for.

“That’s to stimulate the nerves,” I said. “Once he gets the x-rays, he’ll probably pop you with this springy thing to move some bones back in place.” Those are technical terms, by the way. Well, the only technical terms my simple mind can understand.

“So you’ve been to a chiropractor before?” she asked.

“Oh yeah,” I said. I described the procedures a little more. It’s uncomfortable sometimes but helps. Hopefully I put her mind at ease a little.

“Would you do me another favor?” she asked timidly at the end of the conversation. I thought she was going to ask me to build an addition to her house or something.

“Sure,” I said. (What can I say? I’m a sucker.)

“Would you say a prayer for my brother too? He’s moving, and left today, and I just want him to be safe.”

“Absolutely,” I said. “We’ll do that for you.”

I’ve heard thank-yous that sincere before, but they’re rare.

I prayed for both of them that night. I prayed for her and for her brother right when I hung up the phone, then later during the Bible study. That night, before I went to bed, I prayed again. I asked for her to be up and around on Saturday.

Sunday morning, I heard the answer to that prayer. We got to the point in the service when we pray, and one of our Seminary students led the prayers. He included Emily. “That’s nice,” I thought. Then I heard the rest–“Emily, who was in a car accident early this morning.”

Details were sketchy. My phone rang later yesterday afternoon with more details. She’d seen her chiropractor Saturday and had been feeling much better, so she went out. “Early” meant much closer to midnight than 8. She rolled her car and spent some time in ICU.

But she was alive. That was the important thing.

The answers did nothing but raise more questions. Why this? Why now? What did I accomplish by praying for her?

I don’t have any answers. At least not any good ones.

Obviously, the evil one sees her as a threat. Seeing as he’s seen 12 billion different people and has a long memory, something in her rang a little too familiar, he saw an opportunity to take her out, and he tried.

God could have prevented it by keeping her on the couch one more day. I don’t know why He didn’t. He didn’t have to say yes to our requests as quickly as He did.

I could spend all day second-guessing Him like I second-guess Joe Torre and Bob Brenly. It wouldn’t accomplish anything productive. It’s better to look to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 28 instead. It reads: “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

Including car crashes.

What good can come from this? She’s about to find out what she’s made of. She’s likely to reach deep down and find something she never knew she had.

Why do bad things happen to good people? For the same reason bad things happen to bad people–bad things happen to everyone. They usually seem to make bad people worse, and good people better.

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