"I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family, that the commissioner has canceled the game today. Please be respectful. You will find out eventually what happened, and I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals' family."--Joe Girardi, June 22, 2002.
There are moments that you just never forget. So many times, they are times of tragedy. Where you were when you heard about September 11 or, for an older generation, when you heard John F. Kennedy had been shot. For me, June 22, 2002 was one of those days. A day no one could see coming. A day no one that lived through will forget.
As this was before Fox Sports Midwest carried each game straight to my living room, I was always ready for the Saturday Game of the Week because, very often, the Cardinals were playing in that game. That was the case that Saturday. I believe I was cleaning the house and got to the game late. When I turned it on, the Boston Red Sox were on my screen playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. I rechecked the time and was puzzling over why the game wasn't on. I believe they had at the bottom of the screen that the Cards/Cubs game was in "a delay", but I went into my computer room to see if I could get online and find out what the delay was.
Before I could find it, I heard Joe Girardi's announcement and I popped my head back around the corner to hear what he had to say. When he talked about a "tragedy in the Cardinal family," I couldn't process it. After all, Jack Buck's death had been earlier in the week and the funeral had been the day before. Was this some sort of post-traumatic disorder and the Cards weren't going to be able to play due to that grief? That seemed strange.
The thought hadn't finished running through my head when Joe Buck appeared on the screen. Joe Buck, who had just days earlier had to break the news of his father's passing to Cardinal Nation, now had to inform the entire country that Darryl Kile, the Cardinal ace, had been found dead in his hotel room.
My jaw dropped. How could that be possible? I spent the rest of the day online talking with other fans, finding out everything that was known about Kile's passing. I read about how Dave Veres' wife was the one that first found out. How the clubhouse had started to worry about him not showing. How he'd never been on the disabled list in his career and was in the prime of his life. How, so painfully ironically, his last start had been the last game Jack heard. Kile didn't get to finish that game, but at least he got one last ovation from the crowd.
I read about his family. Cardinal Nation embraced Flynn Kile like she was part of our family, because she was. I read about his kids, especially Kannon, who we got to know later on during the year as a bat boy and--well, team mascot sounds so impersonal, so condescending. Kannon lost his father, but for those few weeks he gained 24 more.
How does this happen? I'm not sure Matt Morris ever recovered from the loss. He had some more successful seasons but never reached the heights of 2001 and 2002. The team completely sleptwalked through the next night's game, an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball matchup against the Cubs, and no one blamed them. You don't just move on from something so devastating as that.
The Cardinals did, however, eventually move on. They won 57 games the rest of the way, matching Kile's number. They battled to the NLCS before falling to the Giants. If they could have won, they'd have faced the Anaheim Angels in the World Series. The same Angels team that was in town when Jack Buck passed--the same night DK won his last game. Fitting that if the Cards couldn't take the Series that year, the Angels could and did.
It's hard to believe that now I'm older than Kile was when he passed. He seemed so much older, so much wiser than 33. His life made an impact on so many around him, an impact that is obvious when you hear those players continue to talk about him today. It's not everyone that is remembered as warmly and as fondly as DK is. Does a sudden death soften memories? Sure, to some degree. Still, no one has come forward in the ten years to cast any aspersions on the general view of Kile, which says something to me.
The number 57 hasn't been retired officially, not put up on the wall with the all-time greats of the organization. Which is proper--while DK was memorable, he was only in St. Louis for two and a half years. You wouldn't put him up there with people like Ozzie or Dizzy or Stan. Still, honor is paid to him in the bullpen, where his number still resides. I snapped this two weeks ago when I was at the park and remembered what we'd lost.
Ten years. People can come of age in that time. Both of my kids were born in that decade, which makes thinking about the Kile children losing their father so suddenly and so far away even that much more heartbreaking. We've not forgotten so far. Hopefully we never will.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball