The Split

Twenty-five years after Donnie Moore's death, it's time to dispel the myth that the pitcher killed himself because of a playoff home run. The truth is both darker and more relatable

Larry Goren/Four Season Images/AP (2)

The last game Donnie Moore pitched in took place on a drizzly day in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 11, 1989. The 35-year-old Moore—the oldest guy on the Omaha Royals’ roster by more than three years—entered the game in the sixth inning, facing loaded bases, a 5-0 deficit, and a fraction of the 3,678 fans who had been there in the first.

Wearing number 9, one of an embarrassing rotation of jerseys the former big-league All Star donned that summer for the AAA Royals, Moore threw a wild pitch to the first Iowa Cubs batter he faced, a 26-year-old who hit an ensuing pitch for a two-run double. Iowa’s number-nine hitter smacked an RBI single. Their 170-pound shortstop hit an RBI double. The onslaught finally ended when 24-year-old catcher Joe Girardi, who had led off the inning, popped up. Moore gave up another earned run in the seventh. The final score was 11-1. His earned run average for the season now stood at 6.39.

Moore and his teammate Bill Laskey, a 31-year-old righthander who was clawing to get back on a big league staff as desperately as Donnie, made the two-hour drive from Des Moines to Omaha that night in the mid-size rental they had been sharing since the beginning of the summer. It was after midnight when they rolled into the Ramada Inn at 72nd St. and Grover in Omaha—their home since mid-May. Their teammates lived in short-lease apartments, but Moore and Laskey wanted to be able to leave Omaha the moment Kansas City called one of them up.

“When you’ve pitched in the big leagues, every hit you give up in the minor leagues is hell,” says Laskey. “You’re like, ‘I can’t get these guys out?’…The last few times [Moore] got hit so bad it tore him up. He got pounded.”

Donnie had expected to be up there by now, reunited in the Royals’ clubhouse with Bill Buckner, his old teammate from the Cubs, whose path had crossed Donnie’s many times since then, and Bob Boone, who caught Moore in Anaheim and had recommended that the Royals take a chance on him back in the spring. But Donnie’s body did not know or care about Buckner or Boone or bigger paychecks or bellhops, so despite giving its all on every pitch, his body threw fastballs and split-finger fastballs that came out of his hand slower and more hittable than the ones Boone caught back in ’85, when Donnie’s stuff hissed in the mid-90s and his elbow and shoulder and lower back weren’t shot.

“When you’ve pitched in the big leagues, every hit you give up in the minor leagues is hell,” says Laskey, now 56. “You’re like, ‘I can’t get these guys out?’ … I swear to you, the last few times [Moore] got hit so bad it tore him up. He got pounded..”

“I spoke with him every day,” says Moore’s wife, Tonya. “He didn’t run down the games for me or anything but you knew it wasn’t going well.” Donnie’s Omaha teammates also remember him talking to his wife every day, always excusing himself from the bar to go give her a call from his room. Their marriage was a raging greasefire, but Donnie and Tonya spoke daily, devotedly, if not always civilly.

They had been an item since both were 11, when Tonya flipped Donnie over her shoulder in the Moores’ front yard in Lubbock. They got married when they were 18. They were 35 now, the exhausted, unwitting victims of an attraction that neither could explain, terrible for each other in every way, the most immediate being Donnie’s belief in violence as a means to control women.

Tonya and Donnie’s relationship, which started when they were kids, was marked by both passion and recurring violence.
Courtesy of the Moore family

Once a free-spirited country girl, by 1989 Tonya Moore had forgotten what it was like to go shopping or get her hair done without asking Donnie for permission. She could spend all she wanted—Donnie was proud that way, and making his teammates swoon had always been part of her job description—but Tonya’s dresses and shorts had to be a certain length or there would be hell to pay with Donnie, whose teammates weren’t allowed to call her Tonya, only “Mrs. Moore.” Tonya was the only person other than Donnie who knew this rule going in, and she was the only one who got punished when it was violated.

“He told me I was like one of his nice pair of shoes,” says Tonya, now 60, sitting at a window in a seaside restaurant in Long Beach, Calif.. Her braces and smooth skin make her look like a model in her mid-40s, but Tonya Martin-Moore has rarely been accused of being delicate. Those dainty, French-manicured hands poised on the white tablecloth are the same ones that pulled on a catcher’s mitt in towns all over the Florida State League forty years ago and caught Donnie’s fastballs when no one else was available.

She still fuses swear words together in conversation—M-----f------s---, Oh-hellll-to-the-got-damn-no—and she still says, “Don’t get me started” when she and everyone else present knows it’s too late. Her three grown children are protective of her for this reason—her lack of filter—particularly her daughter Demetria, 42, who as the sun sets on the Pacific decides to let her mom run free.

Once a free-spirited country girl, by 1989 Tonya Moore had forgotten what it was like to go shopping or get her hair done without asking Donnie for permission. “He told me I was like one of his nice pair of shoes,” says Tonya, now 60.

“People have asked me, ‘Why didn’t you leave him?’” Tonya says, leaning forward, her face pinched with incredulity. “First of all, he told me he would find me and kill me the moment I left.” She sits back, her hand making a flourish. “And look at how I grew up. My mama had eight men. I wanted my kids to have one man.”

Apparently the only person who did something about the bruises that began appearing on Tonya in the 1980s was towering Angels outfielder George Hendrick, who currently coaches first for the Rays and gives as many interviews these days as he did as a player, which was none. Hendrick did, however, recently confirm the accounts of two other former Angels players who remember Hendrick’s Fu Manchu hovering over Moore’s one-inch afro. You wanna hit somebody?

The various masks Donnie wore to separate his private life from his public life were shattered in that moment. But it was only that one time, and only for a moment.

Moore and Laskey had a late breakfast at the Ramada the morning after they arrived from Des Moines. At around noon Donnie got a call in his room asking him to come see Omaha manager Sal Rende. “At that time of day, I knew it could only mean one thing,” recalls Laskey, who answered the knock on his door that day and handed Donnie the keys to their rental car.

Rosenblatt Stadium was razed in 2010; the spot on which it stood is now a parking lot for the Omaha Zoo. In ’89 the old church of a ballpark was older than any other baseball stadium in America not named Fenway or Wrigley. The College World Series, which Rosenblatt had hosted since the Truman administration, had ended two days earlier, which for the Omaha Royals meant the end of a hellish road trip on which 19 of their previous 21 games had been played elsewhere. The park was a four-minute drive from the Ramada.

“I don’t think it came as a shock to him,” Rende said of the conversation in which he told Moore he was released. “He was a true professional. He said he appreciated the opportunity, thanked me and the coaches. He understood where things were.”

But Rende had only known Moore for five weeks, and not intimately. He didn’t know that Moore had owned a major-league poker face long before he made it to the major leagues. He had it years before Cubs pitching instructor Fred Martin taught him the pitch that would transform Moore from minor league middle reliever to world-class closer. Donnie had it even before his teen years, when he fell hard for Tonya yet declined to profess his love or humble himself in any way before the stunning beauty who looked like a young Diahann Carroll. When Tonya got pregnant at age 17 he put on his mask of indifference and gave their daughter to his parents for six years so he and Tonya could chase his big league dream. Bradenton, Key West, Midland—every step on the Cubs’ ladder. Moore made his big-league debut in 1975 but didn’t stay there for good until ‘84, when Braves manager Joe Torre made him his closer and instantly looked like a genius for having done so.

Moore made his big league debut in 1975, but only came into his own in 1984 with the Braves, when Torre (left) made him a closer. The following season Moore would make the All-Star team.
Rich Pilling/MLB Photos/Getty Images

“The look he gave people on the mound, that cocky appearance, that wasn’t Donnie Moore,” Torre told a Washington Times reporter five weeks after Moore’s suicide. “He just did that to try and intimidate the hitters. Donnie was a deep person, obviously a lot deeper than anybody thought. There was a lot more hurt down there than anybody realized.”

With his signature split-finger and an intimidating mound presence, Moore collected 31 saves in 1985 and 21 in ’86 before the postseason began.
Richard Mackson for Sports Illustrated

The 58th-to-last game Donnie Moore pitched was Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series between Moore’s Angels and the Red Sox. It is the game that Moore will always be remembered for, although Al Michaels, who called that game and a hundred other momentous athletic contests for ABC, remembers it because it contained “the most dramatic hour of sports I’ve ever seen.”

“I did Lake Placid, the U.S.-Soviet game [the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey semifinal],” Michaels says, “but that drama took place within about 20, 25 minutes on the clock. This game in Anaheim, from the top of the ninth through the eleventh—if everyone sat around and debated the 20 greatest baseball games of all time, I think I could make a pretty good case for it.”

When Angels starter Mike Witt stepped onto the mound in the top of the ninth, leading 5-2 and coming off a breezy, nine-pitch eighth, the Angels stood three outs from their first-ever World Series appearance. Buckner smacked a leadoff single off of Witt, after which Angels’ bullpen coach Bob Clear got a call ordering him to get Moore and lefthander Gary Lucas warmed up.

“I don’t remember feeling rushed,” says Lucas, now 59, “but Donnie was the opposite: Get it going. Right now. Full throttle.” Policemen filed into the bullpen in advance of the celebration that stood two outs away once Witt struck out Jim Rice.

“I’m the guy who should probably take the brunt of everything that happened afterward because I could have kept Donnie out of that game,” says Lucas. “It’s kind of on my shoulders. I’ve felt it there for years.”

Don Baylor battled Witt to a full count before the Red Sox’ burly cleanup hitter lunged at one low and away, his bat landing the first knee-buckling uppercut of the Gatti-Ward fight that was about to ensue. Moore and Lucas pretended not to care about the two-run home run that dropped over the green vinyl sheet in leftfield. With the Angels’ lead now cut to one, Witt bore down and got Dwight Evans to pop up. One more out. Boston catcher Rich Gedman walking to the plate in the bright sunlight. “I knew he had gotten three hits [off Witt],” says Lucas, “and I had struck him out the night before, so I knew I was going in.”

Lucas would throw just one pitch that day—the pitch that Donnie Moore had helped him refine, the pitch that had made Moore an All Star and earned him the black Mercedes and the mansion on a two-acre spread in the Anaheim hills. Lucas and a few others called it a forkball. “Unfortunately, something just left me as far as what he had taught me and what I had done the night before,” he says, “and I tried to throw a better forkball than had ever been invented and it got away from me.

Game 5: Brought in to face Gedman in the ninth, Lucas hit the Red Sox catcher with his first pitch, setting up a dangerous situation for Moore and the Angels.
Jerry Wachter for Sports Illustrated

“I’m the guy who should probably take the brunt of everything that happened afterward because I could have kept Donnie out of that game,” adds Lucas, who hadn’t hit a batter for four years prior to plunking Gedman, and would strike Gedman out in all three of their other career appearances against one another. “It’s kind of on my shoulders. I’ve felt it there for years.”

Angels pitching coach Marcel Lachemann emerged from the Angels’ dugout and tapped his right arm as P.A. announcer Dennis Packer droned: “Centerfielder. Dave. Henderson.”

Tonya stopped catching Donnie around 1975 because of the pitch he picked up from Martin, an old-school Oklahoman who had been suspended from the big leagues from 1946 to ‘49 for moonlighting in Mexico. The split-finger fastball was too unpredictable for Tonya to catch. Too deceptive. “I didn’t want any part of that and he knew it,” she says.

Martin, the Cubs’ minor league pitching instructor, first showed the pitch to Moore in Midland, Tex., in 1974. Wedging the ball between his index and middle finger and throwing it as hard as he could, Donnie at some point found he had a knack for making it drop as it neared the plate. His friend and Midland teammate Bruce Sutter found he had the same knack, at almost exactly the same time. Moore and Sutter learned together from Martin that if you worked on stretching the webbing between the first two fingers then the pitch’s awkward grip could become more comfortable. They learned that the pitch could make good hitters look bad. Later they would learn firsthand that the pitch came with a price.

“Other than me, he had no one close to him that he could talk to deeply,” says Tonya. “Donnie was not a trusting person.”

The wrist is kept loose when throwing the split, so it’s murder on the shoulder and elbow. Sutter’s elbow is what went first. The surgically-repaired Cy Young winner, who would thank Martin and Moore in his 2006 Hall of Fame induction speech, soldiered on for three more years, just like Donnie was soldiering on in Omaha, before he threw his last pitch at age 35—Donnie’s age when he faced the Iowa Cubs in his last game. Lots of pitchers have messed around with the split or sprinkled it into their repertoires, but for guys like Sutter and Moore and Mike Scott and Hideo Nomo—pitchers who rely on it almost exclusively—no arm gets out intact.

Which meant that Donnie’s career had been hanging by a thread for years by the time he faced Dave Henderson in the ’86 ALCS, or more accurately, his career had been hanging by a few threads of connective tissue. Fibrous strands, unseen by Donnie or anyone else, that finally started to give way that spring, when Moore felt a stabbing pain in his lower back at the Angels’ 1986 spring training.

The relationship between Donnie and Tonya was clinging to its own frayed threads. For 20 years they had been a two-headed serpent that writhed against itself in equal parts agony and passion. Even today, Tonya will describe what a “selfish a------” and “awful husband and father” Donnie was, then seconds later reiterate how much she adored him and he adored her. Donnie did not discuss his marital problems with anyone, other than Buckner, very briefly, during an offseason hunting trip. Says Tonya: “Other than me, he had no one close to him that he would talk to deeply about things. Donnie was not a trusting person.”

Could a psychiatrist or marriage counselor have helped calm the storm that was building in him, Tonya is asked. Her eyelids lower with contempt—You have no idea what you’re talking about. She looks out the bay window next to her. “He would have died first.”

Sitting next to her is Demetria—tall, immaculately dressed, blessed with her mother’s looks more than her father’s—who says, “Well, that’s what happened, isn’t it?”

It was the Moores’ only reason for subjecting themselves to several days of interviews over the course of three years: the hope that someone out there might see in a friend or loved one what the Moores had not noticed in Donnie during the days just before his death. “The next step after recognition is getting help for the person,” says Demetria. “And making sure that the endangered wife or mother is safe… My daddy was not a bad man. I know that in my heart.”

Demetria (left), here with Tonya in 2012, maintains a close—and protective—relationship with her mother.
Courtesy of Demetria Moore

Tonya says her former husband was “broken by some of the things he experienced as a child.” She declines to elaborate. Having grown up with Donnie in rural Texas and having traveled the country with him for years on his baseball odyssey, Tonya knows better than anyone that she and baseball were Donnie’s greatest accomplishments, his two most prized possessions. She also knows, more painfully, that she and baseball were the root of his ruin, never more profoundly than in the summer of ’89, when he realized he never owned either of them at all.

“He tried to act like it was no big deal,” Laskey said of the moment Donnie returned from Rosenblatt and said he’d been released, “but you knew it hurt.” Donnie had been hell-bent on playing in the big leagues since his age matched his final jersey number. So hell-bent that he transferred to an all-white high school because he knew that Monterey High’s coach, Bobby Moegle (the winningest coach in Texas history), could help him get drafted. So hell-bent that he pitched in nine straight playoff games not so much to win the state title (which Monterey did that ’72 season) but so that more scouts could see him. So hell-bent that Donnie turned down the powerful University of Texas baseball program in favor of Ranger [Junior] College. He wanted to quit school the moment he was offered a pro contract. It was an early version of the Omaha Ramada, a quick signpost in a life completely dedicated to pitching in the bigs. And now, in the summer of ’89, sooner than he was ready to hear it, the minors were telling Donnie Moore: No thanks.

“That’s what most of the one-on-one conversations I had with Donnie were about: ‘What’s next?’” says Laskey, who pitched for the Giants in the ’80s and currently calls their games as a local broadcaster. “He had no clue where to go, who to be.”

The Moores hope that someone out there might see in a friend or loved one what they had not noticed in Donnie. “The next step after recognition is getting help for that person,” says Demetria. “My daddy was not a bad man. I know that in my heart.”

Laskey insisted that Moore drive their rental car from Rosenblatt back to the Ramada and leave the keys for him at the front desk after Moore checked out. When Laskey returned to the hotel after that night’s game, he saw that Moore also left him an envelope containing cash—half of that month’s car rental charge. “First-class move,” Laskey says.

Midwest Airlines, now defunct, had four daily flights from Omaha to L.A. in June 1989. Each stopped in Chicago. Former Omaha Royals GM Bill Gorman thinks the big-league club probably booked Moore on one of these flights, which means he probably told Tonya he had been released during his layover because Tonya remembers: “He said he was getting ready to get on a flight and I remember I only had a couple hours to get out of the house.”

He arrived in a taxi at 4610 Cerro Vista, the home he had bought upon signing his $3 million contract with the Angels in ’86. In a two-acre meadow behind the house lay a private pond, home to 15 ducklings that had been given to the Moores by one of Donnie’s hunting buddies. Tonya was partial to those ducklings. Their presence at her ankles during her strolls around the pond had brought her rare slivers of peace.

When they first moved in, Donnie had the pond stocked with catfish so he could drop a hook in it when he didn’t want to drive to the country. But when he came home from Omaha in the summer of ’89, the catfish were gone and there was green scum on the pond. The ducklings were ducks and they didn’t get as much attention or torn-up bread as they used to.

Donnie’s only task before he began hunting Tonya was to pour some Jack Daniels into a tumbler and drink it. If he stayed consistent with his usual routine, he did this more than once. “He called everybody looking for me,” Tonya says. She was staying with a platonic friend, who lived with his sister and a roommate in an apartment in Rancho Cucamonga, 45 minutes from Anaheim.

At 32 and battling a long string of injuries, Moore was no longer at his best when he took the mound in Game 5 of the ALCS against Boston.
Jerry Wachter for Sports Illustrated

Major league teams in the mid-’80s weren’t as discreet as they are today about things like cortisone shots. The Angels’ ‘87 media guide reported that Gary Lucas received six such injections in his injured back between spring and mid-July of ‘86. Donnie Moore’s friends, relatives and teammates believe he had twice that many in the same span, but his treatments continued until at least Oct. 12 of that year—the day he stood on the back of the mound in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS, preparing to face Dave Henderson and record the final out that would send the Angels to the World Series.

Moore somehow summoned his vanishing velocity and overpowered Henderson with fastballs that reached the plate sooner than Henderson expected them to. Henderson told ESPN writer Jim Caple in 2005: “I was in trouble. I was just trying to survive.” Henderson had been awful at the plate (.189) since arriving via trade from Seattle that August and was only playing in Game 5 because starting centerfielder Tony Armas hurt his ankle in the fifth inning. Witt had fanned Henderson on four pitches in the seventh. Now Witt was in the Angels clubhouse, watching on a boxy TV as Henderson fouled a 2-2 fastball straight back, his bat catching but a sliver of the ball. Without that sliver the Angels would have played Game One against the Mets the following Saturday.

We can share all these what-ifs and stories-within-the-story, but all that has mattered over the last 28 years is that Moore’s next pitch was a split-finger fastball that Henderson said “hung there a little bit” before breaking down and away. It was not an awful pitch. It was the first non-fastball Henderson saw from Moore. Henderson, his left knee locked prematurely, flung his bat toward the outside corner. Al Michaels summoned the high, slightly embarrassing octave he had accessed for Do you believe in Miracles? and cried: “To leftfield and deep and Downing goes back and it’s GONE! Unbe-LEEEV-able!”

With the count at 2-2, Henderson fouled off a fastball and then connected on a split-finger—watched by Anaheim leftfielder Downing as it sailed over the fence—and then circled the bases past the stunned Angels.
Jerry Wachter for Sports Illustrated (2)

“Stunning,” Michaels said more than two decades later. “I’m still amazed by it.” Buckner called Henderson’s home run the most excited he’s ever been in 22 years in the big leagues. “But it didn’t last long,” Michaels counters, “because 20 minutes later the game is tied and the Angels have the bases loaded and one out with their four and five hitters up.”

Too many baseball fans have forgotten the counterpunch the Angels landed in the bottom of the ninth. We have forgotten that Boone hit a leadoff single and was replaced by pinch runner Ruppert Jones, whose hook slide into home two batters later tied the game at 6, rubbed away Henderson’s home run and sent Anaheim Stadium into that rare kind of sunburned, exhausted loudness that baseball doesn’t have as much of anymore.

We have forgotten the pitcher the Red Sox called on to put out the fire. Steve Crawford worked three innings of relief for the Omaha Royals the night before his friend and teammate Donnie Moore faced the Iowa Cubs in his final pro game. “Yeah, people have always said it was weird how me and Donnie ended up in Omaha together, the winner and loser of that Game 5,” the 56-year-old Crawford says in his Oklahoma drawl.

One Boston supporter gleefully spelled out what the Angels and their fans were feeling all too keenly.
Anthony Neste for Sports Illustrated

Crawford spent his share of midnights with Moore and Laskey at those Triple-A hotel bars. “Yeah, there were a few of us old goats on that team who were trying to get back to the big leagues,” says the man his teammates called Shag. “Me and Donnie became good friends. We played cards together, ate together… He and the other guys messed with me because of that home run I gave up to Gary Carter in the [‘86] World Series that went about four miles… The guys in Omaha were like: ‘Could you show me how you held that pitch, Shag?’

“With Donnie, once I got to know him and became friends with him I said, ‘Donnie how’d you hold that ball that Hendu hit?’

“He would laugh at it. He didn’t take it as a mean thing. It was just—a pitch. Y’know? It was just one pitch in his career and that’s all people remember.

“But what about all the rest of them pitches he threw?”

“I was in trouble,” Henderson said, in recalling his momentous Game 5 at bat against Moore. “I was just trying to survive.”

Crawford’s stuff in Omaha wasn’t far removed from what it had been three years earlier, when, in Michaels’ gentle phrasing, “he was the ninth guy on [Boston’s] 10-man staff.” Closer Calvin Schiraldi had been shelled the night before in an Angels comeback win, so it was Shag Crawford of Salina, Okla., who was dropped in front of 64,223 adrenalized fans and millions of TV viewers. Crawford promptly gave up a single to Dick Schofield and intentionally walked Brian Downing to load the bases for Angels cleanup hitter Doug DeCinces. “I’ll never forget what Crawford said after the game,’ said Michaels. “He said, ‘If there was a toilet on the mound I would have used it.’”

Tie game, one out. Base hit or fly ball and the Angels advance. DeCinces swung at the first pitch and popped one to shallow right, where Dwight Evans and his cannon arm forced the runners to hold. Crawford snagged a soft liner off the broken bat of Bobby Grich for the third out. The stadium deflated. “That was the biggest thrill in my baseball life, getting out of that jam,” said Crawford, who would pitch 250 more big league innings after that night—largely because of that night.

And here came his future minor-league teammate Donnie Moore, spikes clicking up the dugout steps, walking slowly to the mound for more of what he had dreamed of as a kid but in fact was something much different.

“My friend Bobby Leach came up to Omaha one time,” Crawford says, interrupting his Game 5 reverie for a moment. “We were all playing cards, Donnie had never met him, and they started shooting the bull together like they’d known each other for years. Donnie said, ‘Here, play my hand for me.’ That’s what I’ll remember about Donnie. The way he treated my friend Bobby Leach.”

“When Donnie came home from Omaha the boys had two days of school left,” Tonya Moore recalls. “On the last day he kidnapped them… When I came to pick them up [from school] they were gone.”

The boys were returned to Tonya by 17-year-old Demetria, who served as a shuttle bus between her parents that summer. Tonya remembers regaining possession of the boys “two or three days before Fathers Day.”

Demetria made a brief appearance at the Cerro Vista house to give her dad a card on what would be his final Fathers Day. She doesn’t think she kissed or hugged him. “Back when he was with the Braves, I used to kiss him on the cheek every morning before school,” she says, “but when I became a teenager, our relationship changed. I don’t think he liked women.”

Tonya had already taken the boys to see their dad that morning. For her own safety she “dropped them off at the bottom of the hill and stayed in the car until I saw them [enter the Cerro Vista property].” Donnie Jr. and Ronnie would stay in that house, alone with their alcoholic, depressed father, for most of the next month.

Donnie could have lived with giving up the home run to Henderson. That’s what Buckner and Donnie’s other friends and family say. The home run itself would have been fine. What he couldn't handle was the loneliness.

Mental illness has never been considered a factor in what happened at the Moore house five weeks after Donnie was released by the Royals. It was impossible to diagnose him after the fact, but he appeared to show many of the symptoms to those around him, including irritability, mood swings and lethargy. It is somewhat easier to confirm that he was lonely, but it’s still hard. After all, who witnesses loneliness? The people who called Donnie that summer but never heard back. The smaller number of people, like Rod Carew, who came by and rapped a knuckle on the front door in vain. The neighbor who told a newspaper reporter that he saw Donnie crying one day in the same backyard where Donnie had once played catch with this neighbor’s sons. And there are the more than three years of conversations and interviews with Demetria Moore in which she uses the word lonely more than any other adjective when talking about her dad.

When he got this way, Demetria remembers, he usually went hunting or fishing. His favorite spot was Cramer Ranch, an enormous property near the rural town of Norco that conjures Saskatchewan more than SoCal. Jim Trask, who ran the place, was the friend who had given Donnie those 15 ducklings for his pond. Donnie’s passion for duck hunting would turn out to be one of the factors that saved Tonya’s life, because he only used streamlined ammunition, bullets that were designed to go straight through the birds without disturbing anything around the wound.

Moore was in trouble as soon as the 10th inning began. He walked Wade Boggs and allowed a single to Buckner’s defensive replacement, Dave Stapleton, putting runners at the corners with one out. Jim Rice, who had just driven in 100 runs for the fourth straight season, was at the plate. Moore started Rice off with a fastball down the middle… only it wasn’t a fastball, it was a split, maybe one of the last truly snappy ones Moore ever threw. It clipped the underside of Rice’s bat and started a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

It is telling that Al Michaels can recite every play in the final three innings of this game—almost every pitch—but the double play Moore got Jim Rice to hit into in the tenth slipped his mind. Buckner can describe every pitch in the top of the ninth, the location of each of the offerings Witt made to him and Moore made to Dave Henderson, but Buckner also forgot the double play his friend Donnie induced in the 10th—just like baseball fans have forgotten that Buckner has more career hits than Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx or Ernie Banks. We only know Buckner for one thing.

Donnie could have lived with giving up the home run to Henderson. That’s what Buckner and Donnie’s other friends and family say. The home run itself would have been fine. What he couldn’t handle was the loneliness, which during his 21 home appearances after the Henderson home run (in 1987 and ’88) took on the sound of booing. Near the end of the Angels’ awful 75-87 season in ’87, as the one-year anniversary of Henderson’s home run approached, Angels general manager Mike Port said of injured closer, who was on the DL: “Instead of whining about his rib cage . . . he should have been out there earning his money. What do we pay him $1 million for?” That comment gave fans license to boo Moore as soon as he emerged from the bullpen to begin his long walks to the mound. The boos did not let up, even after Moore underwent the back surgery that fall that proved Port wrong.

As his career went on, Moore felt increasingly trapped by that loss in the 1986 playoffs.
Larry Goren/Four Seam Images/AP

That’s life, some might say. Comes with the million-dollar contract.

A clinical psychologist might counter that this sort of grand-scale unfairness, real or perceived, can change a man’s worldview.

“He told Port and [Angels manager Gene] Mauch that his arm and his back were shot,” says Randall Johnson, Moore’s friend and lawyer, “but they were unsympathetic. So he thinks, ‘I might as well just shut up about it and do the best I can.’ And then he goes out and gets shellacked and booed. And cut. And—you’re done.”

Gary Ashby, 60, is having lunch at Gilbert’s restaurant in Lubbock with another of Donnie’s high school teammates, Mark Griffin. At the head of the table is their 81-year-old coach, Bobby Moegle. These men, during the 42 years that preceded this gathering in June 2014, never knew that Donnie’s first child, Demetria, was born while Donnie was lifting them to the 1972 state championship. And they never knew that Donnie, their friend and teammate for three years, had a brother.

Ronnie Moore had been born to a woman who wasn’t Donnie’s mom within a few days of Donnie’s birth in February 1954. Ronnie was sent off to be raised by his grandmother in Gause, Tex., six hours away, until he was killed in a highway accident at age 10. Donnie, younger than Ronnie by 10 days, would go on to be a big-league pitcher and would name his second son after his deceased brother. (Ronnie and Donnie Moore Jr.—sons of Donnie and Tonya—are in their 30s now. Both declined to be interviewed.)

Donnie knew that Tonya wasn’t keen on the “moving back to Texas” idea. She wasn’t fired up about following him anywhere.

Demetria didn’t even know her dad had a brother until a couple of years ago. It would have fascinated her to know such a thing when she was 17. It might have helped explain why her dad spent his last days in his chair in the den holding his glass of Jack in silence. Was he wondering which secrets he should keep? Which ones he should let go of?

The last time Randall Johnson saw him, Donnie had two or three weeks to live. “He seemed fine,” Johnson says. “A little down, maybe… Looking back, I wasn’t the friend he would call and say, ‘I’m having marital problems, I’m having legal problems, I’m having physical problems, I’m having alcohol problems.’ I wish I could have been that to him.”

The legal issue involved a defect in Moore’s house. The land was uneven in that part of Orange County’s hills, where suburban sprawl abutted wilderness, and one corner of the home had started to droop. Johnson filed suit against the developer on Donnie’s behalf. Victory would mean Donnie could sell the house and raise his sons in Texas. If the lawsuit failed, Donnie would be stuck with a mansion he could no longer afford.

Donnie knew Tonya wasn’t keen on the “moving-back-to-Texas” idea. She wasn’t fired up about following him anywhere. He knew he would need to talk to her about this in person at some point.

Another chance for Moore to be unburdened arrived in the bottom of the 10th, when spindly Angels centerfielder Gary Pettis lashed one deep to the opposite field off Crawford that in Crawford’s memory “just kept going and going and going.” There were two outs and the count had been full so the runner on first, Jerry Narron, bolted with the pitch and looked destined to score the series-winning run.

The ball arrived at the lip of the wall faster than Jim Rice expected it to and all Rice could do was thrust both hands blindly over his head, his back splashing into the vinyl in a green Nestea plunge. Rice landed on his feet and without pausing began walking calmly toward the infield, gripping his glove with both hands to keep the white snowcone at the end of it from falling out.

Click-clack up the steps went Donnie Moore’s cleats…

Moore would take the mound again in that ALCS against Boston, in Game 7, but by then it was too late, as the Red Sox took two in a row at home to advance to the World Series. Meanwhile, the Angels—Moore in particular—were left to wonder What if, and to ponder what lay ahead.
Anthony Neste for Sports Illustrated

Thirty-three months and nine miles removed from that Game 5, hidden behind 40 yards of privacy hedge, Donnie sat drinking in the home whose mortgage payment outweighed the $5,000 a month he had been getting from the Royals, which he didn’t have anymore. On July 17, Donnie called his former Angels teammate Reggie Jackson and asked to borrow money. Jackson has never revealed how much Donnie asked him for, but according to a 2002 story in the Newark Star-Ledger, “it was enough that Jackson felt he had to say no.” Through his longtime manager, Matt Merola, Jackson declined to be interviewed about his last conversation with Moore. (“He says thank you but it’s too emotional for him,” said Merola.) Jackson told the Star-Ledger: “I’ve second-guessed myself a lot about that. What if I had given him the money? Would it have made a difference?”

Tonya had a hair appointment scheduled for Tuesday the 18th, but when Donnie invited her to the house, she skipped it. “He was nice on the phone,” she recalls. “He said he wanted to talk about selling the house. He knew I wanted that. That’s how he got me down there.”

Lisa Favorite, Demetria’s best friend at the time, rode with Demetria to retrieve her mom, a 90-minute round trip. Demetria doesn’t remember that day very well and she doesn’t like talking about what she does remember. The details remain crisp in Lisa’s mind. “Tonya was wearing a white summer dress,” she says. “All white.”

“Demetria dropped me off at the [Cerro Vista] house and left,” Tonya recalls. “The boys were in the pool, I could see them.”

“There was something wrong with their electric fence,” Favorite continues. “Her dad gave us a piece of the fence and asked us to go find this part he needed at a hardware store.”

Only one person can say what happened at the house during the four hours after Demetria and Lisa left. Tonya insists she and Donnie didn’t argue until she began talking on the phone with a girlfriend who suddenly put a man on the phone. Before Tonya could finish saying “You want me to talk with a man while he is here? Are you crazy?” Donnie “came over and hit me in the f------ head.”

One of Moore’s few statements after Game 5 also applied to his career as a whole, if not his very existence. “It hurts so much, Moore said. “But only so much. I can’t let it get to me. I’m not going to let it get to me.”

“I said, ‘Oh f--- no, you said you weren’t gonna hit me no more.’ I went straight out to the pool. I said, ‘I’m leaving here and I’m never coming back.’ I told the boys, ‘Get out the pool.’”

“We were on this wild goose chase for this [fence] part,” Favorite remembers. “We must have gone to five different hardware stores.” They got a call from Tonya on the Mercedes’ brick-sized car phone. “She said, ‘You guys need to come get me, I need to get the f--- out of here. This isn’t working out.’”

“I’m trying to leave,” Tonya remembers, “the boys are walking in front of me next to the pond. He always threatened to drown me in there, you know. He told me he was gonna tie rocks around me and throw me in there. That’s why I took f------ swimming lessons…

“He kept saying, ‘Come back here.’ Then he stopped and goes, ‘I’ll be right back.’”

At that point, or possibly earlier, Donnie laid some old memorabilia on the bed he once shared with Tonya: a game ball from his first American League save, another from the ‘85 All-Star Game, some trading cards, a ball signed by Jackson. He placed a sheet of paper on the bed on which he’d written:

Comfort in the time of loneliness:
Psalm 23
Isiah 41:10
Hebrews 13:5-6

Guidance in time of decision:
James 1:5-6
Proverbs 3:5-6

Let go, Let God

He retrieved his .45-caliber handgun.

“I’ll never forget, he had those purple Puma pants on,” Tonya says of the next time she saw him. “He lifted the gun and put it to his head like this. I said, ‘Really. You’re gonna shoot yourself in front of your f------ kids?’ Then he pointed it at me like this.”

There was nowhere to put Dave Henderson when Donnie faced him in the 11th. The bases were loaded with no outs. “It’s so cruel in a way,” Michaels says, “because Gene [Mauch] had exhausted his bullpen the night before. Clearly, Donnie was the only guy he trusted in that situation, even though he was so beat-up. He was a fraction of the pitcher he was the season before, but— what can you do?”

Donnie jabbed his right foot next to the rubber and prepared to deliver his 31st pitch of the afternoon. He’d thrown 38 pitches two days earlier, and was about to face 11 batters for the second straight outing. He’d only done that four times all year, and he hadn’t done it at all the day after a cortisone injection, which he’d received the previous night, after Game 4.

Henderson would not miss the opportunity DeCinces had missed in the ninth. He hit a fly ball to centerfield and Baylor tagged up and scored without much fanfare. The Angels went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 11th against redemption-minded, butane-throwing Schiraldi. The stadium fell dead quiet when Stapleton caught the final out in foul territory. The Red Sox leapt around like they’d won the World Series even though the Angels still led the ALCS three games to two. Considering the combined 18-5 score of the ensuing Games 6 and 7 in Boston, however, the series was over.

One of Moore’s few statements after Game 5 also applied to his career as a whole, if not his very existence: “It hurts so much,” Moore said. “But only so much. I can’t let it get to me. I’m not going to let it get to me.”

The news of the violent tragedy that occurred at the Moores’ house in Anaheim on July 18, 1989—and the images of its aftermath—shocked fans across the country.
Alan Greth/AP

Maybe Donnie saw the Mercedes pull up. Maybe that’s why he pulled the trigger. “When we got back to the house,” says Lisa Favorite, “he must have realized, ‘This is it. If Tonya leaves she’s not coming back.’” At the time, Demetria and Lisa had no idea what was going on in the house. “We walked in the garage all happy go lucky, [saying] ‘Hey we couldn’t find the—”

A deafening gunshot cracked and now Tonya was running at them, blood spraying from her neck, wood fragments flying off the doorjamb in the garage as another POP assaulted their ears. And another. For the next six minutes Tonya, who had been shot once in the neck and twice in the upper torso, gurgled loud profanities about getting her to the hospital. Lisa held her hand over Tonya’s wounds in the backseat while Demetria drove and sobbed.

In the end, Henderson’s home run had about as much to do with the gunshot Moore fired into his own head as it did with that loss in Game 5, that is, not as much as most people think. Moore’s suicide was more comparable to the way the shoulder pain he felt after learning the split spread cancer-like to his back and then his ribs and later to his elbow until it had no more parts of his upper body to infect. All the while Donnie kept compensating, masking, numbing …

In the end, Henderson’s home run had about as much to do with the gunshot Moore fired into his own head as it did to that loss in Game 5, that is, not as much as most people think.

“He’d take those damn-blame cortisone shots to make him feel better,” Conaway Moore told the Boston Globe after his son’s suicide, “and that’s just like treating a hinge. You know the hinge needs greasing, so you grease it to take the noise away, but the hinge keeps wearing away.”

Donnie used another kind of grease that came in a rectangular bottle with a black label. To this day, Tonya and Demetria don’t allow Jack Daniels in their homes or even to be consumed near them. The smell of it conjures the days, the months, the years, before July 18, 1989.

“We were driving away from the house,” says Favorite, “and I realized [Demetria’s] brothers are still in there. What do you do? Take this bleeding woman to the hospital or go back into this house where the guy who shot her still has a gun and there are two little kids in there?” Favorite heard the fourth and final gunshot as the Mercedes roared away.

Demetria doesn’t remember the last gunshot, but the image in her rear-view mirror of seven-year-old Ronnie emerging from the house, crumpling to his knees and slapping the driveway in anguish, is one that the years have not sanded away.

The next 10 seconds are filled only with clinking restaurant noises, until Tonya says, “He loved me.” Then, after a ladylike sip of red: “That boy adored me.”

The conversation returns to her sons, Ronnie and Donnie. They’re okay, say Tonya and Demetria. Donnie has had the rougher go of it because of his name and because he was there in the room that day. Tonya talks again about the ducks. They were there that Tuesday 25 years ago. They probably flinched at the sharp sounds that roared from the house—the same way Lisa Favorite jumps every time she hears a backfire or a popping balloon. The downloaded babble of quacking ducklings is the current ringtone on Tonya’s phone. “They were one of my few bits of peace back then,” she says.

What became of them? the Moore women are asked. The ducks.

“Coyotes came and got ‘em,” Tonya says.

Just 35 when he died, Donnie Moore was laid to rest back in his native Lubbock County, Texas.
Michael McKnight/Sports Illustrated