June 24, 2002
The Daily Prospectus
I was eight years old, sitting on a stoop with my friend Arthur, when some older kids came by and told us that Thurman Munson had died. We didn't believe them.
Then another kid came by and said the exact same thing. And what were the chances of two kids telling you the same lie on the same muggy August afternoon? I ran home, burst in the door, and told my mother what I'd heard.
It was true, it was horribly, horribly true. Munson wasn't my favorite Yankee, but he was a hero in New York, back when you could call a baseball player a hero and not cringe just a little.
Thurman Munson was the first person I ever mourned.
This is worse. This is so much worse.
I was sitting in a restaurant with my wife Saturday afternoon when my cell phone jumped to life. Jonah Keri's words-"Darryl Kile is dead."-rang just as false as those boys' words had on that August afternoon 23 years ago. Yet, it was true, it had to be true, because while children may joke about such things, adults know better.
Ballplayers don't just die. They're better than that. They're gods we watch on television and cheer on a Saturday afternoon in bright sunshine with a beer in our hand and a smile on our face. They do things we could never do, achieve things we dreamt about as boys, float above us in the ether of our adoration.
Ballplayers don't just die. They retire, take coaching jobs, become icons in broadcast booths, pitchmen for local businesses, legends on a wall in a rural New York museum.
Sometimes, they're struck down, as Munson was, as Lyman Bostock or Mike Darr or Mike Sharperson were, victims of timing and fate and machinery.
They don't just die.
Darryl Kile's death resonates with me, and with so many people I know, because it scares the hell out of us. If a 33-year-old ballplayer can die in his sleep, alone, in a hotel room 2,000 miles away from the people he loves the most, what chance do we have? If Darryl Kile is mortal, what are we?
This past weekend, the cliches about how an event like this "puts baseball in perspective" were tossed around. Frankly, I think a Tuesday morning in September gave us all the perspective on professional sports we'll ever need.
No, Darryl Kile's death doesn't put baseball in perspective. It puts us in perspective. All of us who are a little bit overweight, who don't get as much exercise as we used to, who don't get that checkup or skip that second piece of pie or slip on those cross-trainers.
That's why this is so hard. We can explain a plane crash or a drunk driver or a bullet. We can look at that from afar and know that we'd never be in that situation.
We all know we could be in Kile's shoes. And if being a god doesn't get you a reprieve, what's to protect the rest of us?
To Flynn Kile, to three beautiful children, to the many, many people in and out of the game who knew and loved Darryl Kile, my thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts and prayers of the entire Baseball Prospectus family, are with you.
Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.