06/22/2002 7:49 pm ET
Darryl Kile left his mark on baseball
HOUSTON -- It was a pleasant Spring Training day in Jupiter, Fla., and the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Walt Jocketty, was taking advantage of the climate by having an impromptu interview session in the great outdoors.
There were four reporters with Jocketty and when the questions wound down there was some off-the-record baseball talk.
That included discussion of an official in the Cardinal organization. All present were in agreement that he was an extremely knowledgeable baseball man a credit to any organization and an all-around good guy.
"And then there's Darryl Kile," Jocketty said.
The tone of the GM's voice seemed to be an invitation for somebody to say something negative about Darryl Kile. But total silence followed. There was no reason for anybody to say anything negative about Darryl Kile.
This was a good thing, because Jocketty had set us up. Darryl Kile was standing behind us. We knew this as soon as he started laughing. He slapped me on the back--not because we were pals, but because I was the reporter standing nearest to him.
And then he walked away chuckling. The pitcher had a good laugh, the general manager had staged a funny moment and none of the reporters had stabbed anybody in the back.
You just remember that moment when there was nothing to say when faced with the possibility of saying something critical about Darryl Kile.
And then Saturday afternoon, there was Jocketty, talking about Kile again, on television. But this time the discussion was equal parts tragic and unimaginable.
Kile, age 33, had died in a Chicago hotel room.
It put everything else in perspective, although the perspective was a very sad one.
Some people occasionally fall into the trap of looking at ballplayers as a collection of statistics, or, more cynically a salary number. But they are always, before money or stardom or stats, human beings. And you never expect to lose one of them at age 33.
So there was Jocketty, describing Kile as "a great leader on this ballclub" and "a great father." This was in line with everything else you knew about the man, who was always well-liked and highly respected in his own clubhouse.
He was always characterized as an excellent teammate, the kind of person who would help a member of his team in any way he could. He did not seek attention. He probably went out of his way to be matter-of-fact in most of his interviews.
Kile's passing follows, by just a matter of days, that of the Cardinals' beloved broadcaster, Jack Buck.
"There is going to be a really tough mourning period for the fans of St. Louis, the citizens of St. Louis," Jocketty said.
Here at Minute Maid Park, there was also a personal sense of loss.
Kile came up through the Houston Astros and this was his first Major League team - the place where his career began to come to prominence.
"There isn't anything really appropriate to say in a situation like this," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "You feel sort of helpless."
Hunsicker said that Darryl Kile obviously still had many close relationships in the Houston organization.
The Astros closed their clubhouse to reporters before their game Saturday night against the Seattle Mariners.
Hunsicker requested that members of the media "respect the sensitivity and the severity of the situation" by "giving the players their privacy" and not asking players for their reaction to Kile's death before the game.
Drayton McLane, Astros chairman and chief executive officer, called this "a very sad and somber occasion....All of us with the Houston Astros, who have known him well and known his family, we just send our sympathy and our prayers and our thoughts to his family. Darryl was a kind, gentle, thoughtful person, a family person and a great athlete. This has hit all of us very hard."
In human terms, this is not a time, when considering the death of a 33-year-old man, to contemplate the St. Louis Cardinals losing a fine starting pitcher.
This is a time to think about a wife losing her husband and three small children losing their father.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.