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05/15/07 11:00 AM ET

Bostock a tragic figure in history of draft

Young Angels outfielder's promising career was cut short

The book on the First-Year Player Draft teems with inspiring stories of low-level selections who struck it big, and with depressing tales, mostly of marquee picks who flopped.

Though he certainly did not flop, the legacy of Lyman Bostock Jr. has both ends covered.

Unlike most late-round picks who persevere across a long, winding road to break through, Bostock was a meteor. Four years after being the 596th pick in the draft as the Minnesota Twins' 26th-round choice, he was chasing the great George Brett to the wire in the 1976 American League batting race.

Bostock was one of the brightest stars in baseball's new galaxy, until his flame was suddenly and tragically snuffed on a street in a Chicago suburb.

• • • 

Sept. 23, 1978, dawned with promise for the California Angels and their right fielder, and it only got better. A team with little impact but much ridicule in its 17-year existence, the second-place Angels had streaked within six games of Kansas City's West Division lead as they bused to Comiskey Park on Chicago's South Side for an afternoon game against the White Sox.

And Bostock, whose 1978 debut season with the Angels had gotten off to such a horrible start in April -- batting .147 without a home run -- that he wanted to rebate his paycheck to owner Gene Autry, was scalding. Bostock singled in the first and doubled in the third off left-hander Rich Wortham and, even after grounding out his other two times up, finished the day at .296.

As Bostock departed for a family dinner date that night in Gary, Ind., he could already taste the .300 level he coveted.

Late that night, television viewers around Orange County watching a repeat episode of Saturday Night Live suddenly saw the ominous "News Bulletin" graphic bump the Not Ready for Prime Time Players off screen. At the same time, drivers snaking out of the Anaheim Stadium parking lot following a Van Halen concert heard the comparable urgent beeps on their car radios.

"Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock, shot earlier tonight in Gary, Ind., has been pronounced dead. He was 27."

• • • 

Born in Birmingham, Ala., and reared in Southern California, Bostock's baseball career was on the fast track from the moment he first suited up as a collegian for the Valley school now known as Cal State-Northridge, hitting .344 as a freshman.

The left-handed-hitter was all-conference in both of his seasons on campus, but at the time, this was only Division II ball, so the Twins delayed deep into the draft before calling his number in June 1972 -- nine years before Bostock became the charter inductee into the CS-Northridge Hall of Fame.

The kid with the line-drive swing and the outfielder with uncanny instincts for tracking flies rocketed up the ranks. His career graph was an upward-pointing arrow: .294 for Charlotte in 1972, .313 for Orlando in 1973, .333 for Tacoma in 1974. The next season, Bostock was clipping Triple-A pitching at a .391 rate when the Twins gave him the call.

Bostock broke in hitting .282 in 98 games, then his Major League career went into ascension, too. With a .323 average in 1976, he finished fourth in the American League batting race, 10 points off Brett's winning mark. The next season, he jacked that up to .336, ranking second to another Hall of Famer, Minnesota teammate Rod Carew.

In an era before the current free-agency qualifications were a negotiated part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Despite having played fewer than three full big-league seasons, Bostock became a free agent.

He embraced the opportunity to sign with his hometown Angels, to continue to flourish in daily sight of his inspiration.

Lyman Bostock Sr. had been a left-handed slugging Negro League star who ached for the Major League chance he never got, even though his playing career extended eight years beyond Jackie Robinson's entrance.

Finally, Bostock Sr. was able to go to a big-league game every night and see his lineage on the field.

It was all so heartwarming and promising, until a moment that redefined the concept of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

• • • 

For Bostock, an off-night in Chicago meant, as it always did, a visit to uncle Thomas Turner in Gary, a mere 25 miles to the south. On this night, the dinner party included Barbara Smith, Turner's goddaughter.

After the meal, the party climbed into Turner's car, Bostock sliding into the back seat next to Smith. The car waited out a red light at the intersection of Fifth Street and Jackson Street. Another car stopped alongside.

The second car's driver suddenly emerged, toting a .410-caliber shotgun he aimed into the back seat of Turner's car, and pulled the trigger.

Blinded by jealousy, Leonard Smith had targeted his estranged wife. Instead, the shot struck Bostock's left temple.

• • • 

There was something tragically poetic about Bostock taking a bullet for a woman he had known for all of about 20 minutes.

Bostock was an outgoing, caring man who always thought about other people's welfare -- unless, that is, they were on a pitching mound, fingering a baseball.

When Autry rebuffed that April attempt to return his salary, Bostock decided to instead donate it to charity.

Giving money is one thing, an easy thing for those blessed with plenty of it. But Bostock was just as quick to give of himself.

A message only recently posted by Carl Patten to a Web site dedicated to Bostock's memory reveals the man's essence:

"I was around 15 when Lyman was killed and remember it well. I was at the last game of the homestand. My friend and I waited after the game. It was really late. Lyman came out last, signed my card and walked us to Charlie Brown's restaurant. We didn't have a ride [and] he waited till my father picked us up. That's the kind of guy he was. Two days later, he was gone. Rest in peace Lyman Bostock Jr."

Fate prevented more people from getting to know "the kind of guy" Bostock was. Tom Mee, the Twins' former public relations director who in retirement still performs as official scorer at the Metrodome, offers an analogy every fan can understand.

"He had a personality like Torii Hunter," said Mee, referring to the gregarious outfielder seldom seen without a smile creasing his face. "He was very outgoing, friendly.

"As a hitter, he didn't have Torii's power. And as an outfielder, he didn't have the same speed, but made all the plays."

On May 25, 1977, he made more plays than anyone ever has. In a doubleheader against Boston, Bostock recorded 17 putouts. To this day, it is an American League record.

• • • 

The stone on his grave is simple:

Beloved Husband, Son

Carved into the gravestone on the left is a silhouette of a left-handed-swinging batter and, on the upper right, the old haloed Angels logo.

Lyman Bostock Sr. outlived his son by 27 years, passing away in 2005.

A simple note anonymously left on Junior's grave reads, "Have fun playing with your dad."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.