Friday, September 23, 2005

TATB Hall of Fame inductee Lyman Bostock

Twenty-seven years ago tonight, in the backseat of a car trapped between a shotgun-toting madman and a red stoplight in Gary, Indiana, a brilliant young baseball player took a final, terrified breath. Maybe you are familiar with the tragic tale of Lyman Bostock, a gifted, charismatic outfielder who batted .311 in three seasons with the Minnesota Twins and one with the California Angels, a player on the cusp of superstardom before he was so senselessly murdered at the age of 27.

Or maybe you are not familiar with him. Of the 500 or so the columns I pecked out during my nine years at the Concord Monitor, none generated a greater response than did this one, which I wrote about Bostock during the historically star-crossed Angels' journey to the 2002 World Series championship.

From the day it was published until now, I'd estimate I've received well over 100 emails and letters regarding the piece. Some readers shared personal tales. One, identified only as Dan, recalled bugging Bostock for an autograph after a night game during the '78 season. When Bostock learned that Dan, 11 years old at the time, was waiting for a ride home that was late to arrive, he took him across the street, bought him a slice of pizza, and waited with him until his dad showed up. "Honest to god, Lyman died later that week, on the beginning of their road trip in Chicago," wrote Dan. "I've never cried so much in my life."

Another came from Patrick Reusse, the Twins beat writer at the time for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and now a well-known columnist. He said Bostock was warm and gregarious and the likable kind of cocky, an athlete who actually enjoyed the give and take with the media. "He'd yell, 'Here comes Poison Pen!, whenever I'd come into the locker room," said Reusse in an email. "Then he'd spend the next hour happily jabbering my ears off . . . What happened was just so horribly unfair. I still think about him now and then, when I run into Larry Hisle or Rod Carew or some of the Twins that played with him. I don't know how anyone who knew him could ever fully come to grips with it."

But much of the correspondence has a common theme: Sounds like Bostock was great player and a hell of a guy. So why haven't I heard more about him? It's a question I can't completely answer, though I suspect that if he'd played for the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers, he'd occupy a far more prominent place in our sports consciousness, perhaps on par with Thurman Munson.

At the very least Bostock ought to have his own "SportsCentury" episode by now. So far, ESPN hasn't delivered, which comes as something less than a shock in this corner. Leading up to the 25th anniversary of his death, I pitched a revised edition of my column to ESPN.com's Page 2. After shuttling the piece between editors and an occasionally zapping me an email letting me know where it stood, I was politely informed that they wished they had a place for the piece, but it so happened that Page 2 on that particular date already had a full slate of articles focusing on a specific topic, and, well, the Bostock story didn't really fit the theme. They weren't lying. The special topic was "Metrosexuals in Sports," which included this ridiculous piece by ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg on his metrosexual pride. Worldwide Leader? Sure. Pass the hand cream, Stu. Boo-yeah.

Maybe someday ESPN will give Bostock his due, even if it comes only in the form of a half-hour biography on ESPN Classic. Maybe someone will write that long-overdue book about him, maybe he'll be remembered as much for how he lived as how he died, and maybe his legacy will be something more than just a tragic footnote. Maybe.

But on this sad anniversary, we're satisfied with any fond memory of Lyman Bostock, no matter how small or faded it may seem. As long as it's not forgotten, then the man won't be, either.

* * *

Update: Sorry we've been slacking with the posts lately. Sometimes real life interferes with my little blogging world, but be sure to keep checking in the next few days. I've got lots of groovy New England Revolution posts planned, as well as a 3,000 word recap of the Suns/Monarchs showdown in the WNBA Finals! (All right, and maybe something on the impending Sox-Yanks Armageddon as well. But only because you asked.)

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