Remembering the lessons of the late Darryl Kile
Darryl Kile never knew it, but he taught me one of the most important lessons I ever learned as a beat writer.
Kile, who passed away 10 years ago today, certainly didn't seek me out to pass on any valuable insight. We weren't friends or even friendly acquaintances. In fact, we really only had a single one-on-one conversation of any substance in the four months that I covered him. It was the last conversation we ever had, when I interviewed him for a Father's Day story.
But that doesn't change the fact that I learned something extremely valuable from 'DK,' something that still colors my interactions with athletes and with the game of baseball to this day. You don't have to be a good interview to be a good person, a good teammate, and a good father.
Kile was not the first one of those things, at least not when he was with the Cardinals. He most assuredly was all the rest.
This is not always an easy thing to remember. For the media covering the team, face-to-face interactions are often all that we have to go on when assessing a player personally. For fans, interviews can be the only window into who a player really is.
Except when they're not. Who Darryl Kile was when he answered questions after a start, and who he was in the clubhouse and at home, were not the same thing.
Before I even arrived in St. Louis, I was warned about Kile. My predecessor gave me the rundown of the clubhouse: who to ask for insight, who could provide a quick, pithy quote, and who not to mess with unless you needed to. Kile was in the latter category.
He just didn't like to give interviews. Perhaps it resulted from his unsuccessful stint in Colorado, since there are reporters who covered him in Houston who swear by Kile as a terrific interview subject. Maybe it was just because the entire time I covered him, he was rehabilitating from an injury.
But during that time, you could just about write out his quotes before interviewing him. He just wanted "to take the ball every five days," "do his job," and things like that. It was dry, it was dull, and he knew it.
So he wasn't a reporter favorite. And what I learned was, that's fine. That's not who Darryl Kile was. And likely, it's not who a lot of ballplayers are, even if they give lousy interviews.
Kile's teammates, the people who knew him best, revered him. That's not too strong a word. There's always a bond among teammates. There's usually respect. There's love. But reverence of the sort that Kile commanded was rare. There's a reason, after all, that there are two awards named for Kile, one in Houston and one in St. Louis. He isn't just remembered fondly because he passed away at 33. He's remembered that way because he was a unique presence in the clubhouse.
I saw it a bit before he passed. Watching him interact with teammates, watching him protect younger teammates, he showed it. I got some idea of what he was like as a father when I talked to him for that Father's Day story that ran a few days before his death.
And then he passed away, and we in the media had to do the terrible task of asking players to talk about the death of a friend. And it was in those stories, from people like Matt Morris and especially Kile's close friend Dave Veres, that we got a fuller view of what the man was about.
And he was remarkable. He was fiercely loyal. He was funny. He was a devoted father. From all that I know, he was exactly the kind of person that fans want their favorite players to be. No matter whether he gave good sound bites or not.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.