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Heartbroken The death of St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile stunned a team and a city already mourning the loss of a beloved broadcaster

July 01, 2002
July 01, 2002

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July 1, 2002

Heartbroken The death of St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile stunned a team and a city already mourning the loss of a beloved broadcaster

On Sunday night, at normally boisterous Wrigley Field, the St.
Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs played a game in near
silence. No raucous pregame activities, no ceremonial first
pitch. No music blaring from the loudspeakers before every at
bat, no beery seventh-inning sing-along of Take Me Out to the
Ballgame. Not even the trademark first-inning sprint into
rightfield and salute to the Bleacher Bums by Sammy Sosa. Instead
there was a moment of silence before the first pitch, the crack
of the bat and the pop of the glove during the game, and the
shedding of tears in the visitors' dugout.

This is an article from the July 1, 2002 issue Original Layout

Players and fans at Wrigley were in mourning for St. Louis
righthander Darryl Kile, who died in his sleep in a Chicago hotel
room early last Saturday. An initial autopsy found that Kile, 33,
suffered from coronary arteriosclerosis and that two arteries to
his heart were 80% to 90% blocked. It was the second jarring loss
in four days for the Cardinals, following the death of Hall of
Fame broadcaster Jack Buck (box, page 41).

With 39,000 fans already settled into their seats, Saturday
afternoon's game was called off 15 minutes after the scheduled
start. Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, with his teammates gathered
behind him, stood at a microphone in front of the Cubs' dugout
and announced the postponement, due to a "tragedy in the
Cardinals' family."

Neither team was in the mood to play on Sunday, either, but the
Cardinals--after team gatherings on Saturday night and Sunday
morning and consultation with Kile's wife, Flynn--decided they
should play the game to honor the memory of a man who took pride
in his competitiveness, durability and reliability. Not once in
his 11-year career did Kile go on the disabled list, and since
1996 he had made 216 starts. (Only the Atlanta Braves' Tom
Glavine and Greg Maddux made more.) What kind of message would
the players be sending if they didn't play? After all, Sunday was
Kile's day to pitch, and he never missed a start. Manager Tony La
Russa and his staff had privately referred to Kile as John Wayne
due to his grittiness.

On June 18, in his best outing of the year, Kile had pitched St.
Louis to the top of the National League Central for the first
time since April 15, allowing one run in 7 2/3 innings of a 7-2
win over the Anaheim Angels. But the joy of victory was tempered
by the death that night of Buck, the patriarch of the franchise.
La Russa and general manager Walt Jocketty attended Buck's
funeral outside St. Louis on Friday morning and arrived in
Chicago only minutes before the series opener that afternoon.

Less than 24 hours later Kile was found dead by hotel security,
and pennant races suddenly seemed insignificant. With a pair of
Kile's jerseys hanging behind their bench and black patches with
his number 57 sewn onto their left sleeves, the Cardinals lost
8-3. "You could see the attitude of their players coming to the
plate, almost walking with their heads down," Girardi said. "It's
amazing they were able to play."

"It's the most devastating thing I've seen on a ball club," said
the 57-year-old La Russa. "You see so many strong men, and you're
seeing them break down."

Kile kept a low profile with the media, but he was one of the
leaders in the St. Louis clubhouse. Although he was only a
30th-round draft pick by the Houston Astros in 1987, out of
Chaffey College, a two-year school in his native Southern
California, Kile earned a spot in the rotation by '91. While back
in California in '88 he met Flynn Behrens, and they were married
four years later. He won 15 games and threw a no-hitter against
the New York Mets in '93. After going 19-7 with a 2.57 ERA in
'97, he landed a three-year, $24 million free-agent contract with
the Colorado Rockies. Kile quickly became the poster boy for the
difficulties of pitching at Coors Field: His trademark pitch, a
sharp overhand curve, flattened out in the thin Colorado air, and
in two seasons he was a combined 21-30 with a 5.84 ERA. Despite
his struggles Kile won respect for his gutsy attempts to tame the
Coors beast--and he never made excuses for his poor performance.

Kile was rejuvenated by a trade to St. Louis before the 2000
season. The bite returned to his curveball, and he won 20 games
that year, followed by 16 last season, helping the Cardinals into
the playoffs both years. He was also a mentor to the team's young
pitchers. Last year he worked closely with lefthander Rick
Ankiel, who was trying to regain the control that mysteriously
abandoned him late in 2000. Kile also took righthander Matt
Morris, a 20-game winner last season, under his wing. The two
hung out together on the road, and Morris credits Kile with
helping him mature into a successful pitcher. "My numbers might
look better, but Kile's the best guy on our staff," Morris said
late last year. "He's the ace."

Kile appeared to be fine when most of his teammates last saw him,
after the Cubs' 2-1 win on Friday afternoon. That night he ate
dinner with his brother Dan and friends at Harry Caray's, a
downtown restaurant and sports bar. (According to Cook County
medical examiner Edmund Donoghue, Dan said Darryl had complained
of right shoulder pain and general weakness.) Kile was back at
the team hotel, the Westin Michigan Avenue, by 10:30. Around
midnight Morris called from the hotel bar to see if Kile wanted
to come down for a beer. Kile declined, saying he was turning in.
Shortly before Morris called, Kile had wrapped up a phone
conversation with Flynn. She was in San Diego visiting her father
and attending to the details of a new house there that the Kiles,
whose off-season home is in Englewood, Colo., were planning to
move into. The couple's three children--twins Kannon and Sierra,
5, and Ryker, 10 months--were home in suburban St. Louis with
Flynn's mother.

Kile wasn't on the team bus that took most of the Cardinals from
the hotel to Wrigley the next morning, but that wasn't unusual.
He often took a cab to the ballpark so he could arrive early and
start his workday. Nor was there reason to be alarmed when Kile
wasn't in the clubhouse when the rest of the team arrived at
Wrigley by approximately 11:20, three hours before the scheduled
first pitch. Perhaps his cab had gotten stuck in traffic. Perhaps
he had decided to sleep in; he had told Morris the night before
that he was tired.

When Kile failed to show by noon, however, the Cardinals began to
worry. Several calls from team officials to Kile's room had gone
unanswered. A little after noon the team phoned the hotel
security staff and asked them to check on the pitcher. Security
and engineering staff members arrived at Kile's 11th-floor corner
suite to find a gray PRIVACY PLEASE sign dangling from the door
and the safety latch fastened.

As the Cardinals filtered off the field after batting practice,
word began to spread that something was wrong. Club p.r. official
Brad Hainje asked pitching coach Dave Duncan who would start on
Sunday night, if Kile was ill or otherwise unable to take his
turn. "I don't know," the worried Duncan said. "I guess
[22-year-old lefthander] Bud Smith."

Minutes later the Cardinals learned the staggering news: The
hotel staff had forced its way into Kile's room and found him
lying in bed as if asleep, wearing eyeshades. The TV remote
control was next to him. His valuables were arranged on the
nightstand, his clothes laid out on an upholstered easy chair.
Full autopsy and toxicology reports won't be completed for at
least four weeks, but early indications are that the blockage in
the arteries may have caused arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat)
that interrupted the blood supply to the brain.

Kile's father, David, had died at 44 of a stroke, which is caused
by an arterial blockage or a hemorrhage. Even with that red flag,
doctors would have had little reason to perform an angiogram, the
most reliable test for coronary disease, on such a young patient
as Kile unless he had complained of chest pains or failed a
stress test. According to the Cardinals' medical staff, Kile had
passed a physical in spring training and hadn't complained to
them about anything other than muscular aches and pains since.

The Cardinals were still in shock when they headed home on Sunday
night. Competition might be their only escape for the rest of the
season. "During the game you can concentrate on playing," says
Cubs manager Don Baylor, a teammate of Angels outfielder Lyman
Bostock, who was shot to death after a game in Chicago late in
the 1978 season. "Players will have problems during the downtime.
That's when you have a chance to think about things and reflect
on your teammate. It's probably one of the most difficult things
they'll have to deal with as players."

As of Monday the Cardinals hadn't decided who would replace Kile
full time in their rotation. Most likely they'll call up a
pitcher from Triple A Memphis, perhaps righthander Travis Smith,
who has limited big league experience, or righthander Jimmy
Journell, a 1999 fourth-round draft pick who was 3-3 with a 2.70
ERA at Double A New Haven before being called up to Memphis on
Monday. The Cardinals will find someone to take the mound in
Kile's stead. Filling the empty place in their hearts will be
more difficult.

B/W PHOTO: TOM DIPACE COVER INSET The Life and Death of DARRYL KILECOLOR PHOTO: MIKE FIALA/AFP (KILE)COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER SOMBER NIGHT The crowd observed a moment of silence before Sunday's game, and afterward Mike Matheny paid a touching tribute to his batterymate.COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT ROVAK [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: BILL GREENBLATT/UPI FAMILY MAN Darryl played with Sierra (left) and Ryker on Father's Day weekend; Flynn talked to her husband hours before he died.COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT ROVAK [See caption above]
"It's the most devastating thing I've seen," La Russa said. "So
many strong men, and you see them breaking down."