Putting things into perspective

Death of young athletes touch everyone

Darryl Kile was working on a no-hitter through six innings in his first major league start for Houston 11 years ago. He never got the chance to finish it.

Art Howe, his manager at the time, worried that Kile had already thrown 90 pitches and might blow out his arm trying to close the game out. Kile was the kind of kid, Howe knew, who was governed more by guts and desire than by sheer talent. The kind who didn't win a college scholarship or get drafted out of high school but who wouldn't quit.

He was a kid with that special quality called character.

Maybe Howe saved Kile from injury, maybe not. As it turned out, Kile never spent a day on the disabled list and never missed a start the rest of his career. The rest of his life, really.


He didn't have a smooth ride. There were plenty of hard times that tested Kile's character, perhaps strengthened it. After that brush with the no-hitter, he struggled his first couple of seasons and got sent down to Tucson. In 1993, when he came to spring training uncertain if he would nail down a spot in the Houston rotation, he was slammed by his father's sudden death from a heart attack at 44.

That tragedy put baseball and life in perspective for Kile, and out of it he summoned the courage and resolve to become the pitcher he had always believed he could be. He made the team, won nine straight games and earned his first All-Star selection. Then in September against the New York Mets, Howe again watched Kile work on a no-hitter.

This time, Howe let him finish the job.

"This is the great thing about baseball, you never know what's going to happen," Kile said as he summed up that game and season.

Nothing to blame but fate

No one ever knows what's going to happen. No one knew Kile had heart disease, that hardening of the arteries might kill him in his sleep at 33 in a Chicago hotel room Saturday.

When athletes die in their prime, it often sets off suspicions as people try to understand why. Dr. Edmund Donoghue, Cook County's chief medical examiner, said marijuana was possibly found in Kile's hotel room, but it had nothing to do with his death. Aware of all the concern about baseball players using anabolic steroids, which can cause heart disease, Donoghue also said there was no evidence that Kile used them.

Sometimes there's no one and nothing to blame but fate.


The deaths of young athletes touch everyone. They are supposed to be stronger, more durable, than the rest of us. But, of course, they're not. One moment they're youthful and vibrant, the next they're gone.

Mike Darr, a San Diego Padres outfielder, was killed in a car crash in February at 25. Joe Bauldree, a minor league pitcher formerly with the Atlanta Braves organization, died in his sleep a month ago at 25.

Personally or vicariously, we've all experienced grief in the past year for heroes and ordinary souls who died far too young -- all the victims of Sept. 11, the police and firefighters and soldiers, the people who simply went to work one morning or got on a plane and never came home.

When someone like Darryl Kile dies -- a good husband, a father of three and a blue-collar kind of pitcher who started every fifth game for more than 11 years -- it's a reminder of how vulnerable we all are. And how random the world is, ruled by chance or circumstances out of anyone's control.

Why so young?

The year Darryl Kile blossomed as a pitcher and threw his no-hitter, 1993, was one of the most brutal for deaths among athletes. That spring, an 18-foot bass boat slammed into a dock in the darkness of Little Lake Nellie near Orlando, Fla., killing Cleveland Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin, and very nearly killing Bobby Ojeda.

Later that year, another Cleveland pitcher, Cliff Young, died in a truck accident.

It was a year that saw the death of stock car drivers Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison, basketball players Reggie Lewis and Drazen Petrovic, golfer Heather Farr and Zambia's national soccer team.


For each of them, the question was always: Why so young?

Arthur Ashe thought about that question as he lay dying the previous winter.

"Quite often, people who mean well will inquire of me whether I ever ask myself, in the face of my diseases, 'Why me?' I never do,"' Ashe wrote in his aptly titled memoir, "Days of Grace."

"If I ask 'Why me?' as I am assaulted by heart disease and AIDS, I must ask 'Why me?' about my blessings, and question my right to enjoy them. The morning after I won Wimbledon in 1975, I should have asked 'Why me?' and doubted that I deserved the victory. If I don't ask 'Why me?' after my victories, I cannot ask 'Why me?' after my setbacks and disasters."

Darryl Kile, who had his own share of triumphs and tragedies, might have thought the same way.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. He can be contacted at

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