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A Troubled Life, a Lonely Death : Former Padre Star Alan Wiggins Is Remembered by Friends Who Lost Touch With Him After Drugs Ruined Promising Career

January 13, 1991|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The three sat together in pews at Calvary C.M.E. Methodist Church in Pasadena Friday during the funeral service, trying to comfort one another and erase feelings of guilt created by their friend's death.

These were three of Alan Wiggins' closest friends growing up in Pasadena, staying together from Little League to Elliott Junior High to the Senior Babe Ruth League to being teammates at Muir High.

There was Warren Hollier, a 6-foot-6 pitcher and the star of the group, who eventually earned a baseball scholarship to Oral Roberts. There was Lyle Brackenridge, the shortstop, who went to Cal. There was Wayne Stone, the right fielder, who also wound up at Oral Roberts.

They were all close, all sharing the same dream. They were inseparable, playing ball at Brookside Park across from the Rose Bowl in the mornings. Their diamond was nothing more than a sandlot. They would rake an infield, build a pitching mound, and while playing the field, pulled their hats on tightly to prevent them from falling into the stickers.

"We'd sit around and talk about pro ball, what was going to happen, how we'd do," Hollier said. "Alan and I were best friends. Neither of us had a dad, or much money, and we figured sports was our way out.

"Alan probably had less than any of us, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. I remember once when he didn't have any shoes to wear, so he wore these white Converse high-tops, and he didn't care who laughed at him."

What did matter was that Wiggins could out-run anyone in his bare feet. He knew he was going to play ball. He just knew it. All you had to do was ask him.

"Alan knew he had superior talent," Stone said. "I remember one day I was working, and he said to me, 'You know something, I'll never have to work a day in my life,' and he kind of laughed.

"You know something, he never did."

Said Donald Wiggins, Alan's 35-year-old brother: "I remember those guys would actually sit around and practice signing autographs. That's why when you look at his signature, it's so good. He had been practicing."

When Wiggins made it to the big leagues with the Padres to stay in 1982, the four of them would get together every time Wiggins came into town. Each of the four players was drafted, but with the exception of Wiggins, none advanced past double-A. He was living out all their fantasies.

"When we saw him, we'd always pick his brain, wanting to know how he made it," Stone said. "He'd tell us we all could make it, you know, making us feel good.

But the visits became more infrequent each year, and when he was released by the Baltimore Orioles after the 1987 season, the gang never again got together, or even talked by telephone.

They never had a chance to say goodby.

Wiggins, 32, died Jan. 6 of complications caused by AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, according to one of his doctors. Wiggins had been suffering from complications caused by AIDS for three years, said the doctor, who declined to be identified.

Wiggins' family and the Cedars-Sinai Hospital staff decline to publicly acknowledge the cause of death, but one family member, and several friends of Wiggins, confirmed that Wiggins died from complications caused by AIDS.

"He has had some health problems for some time, he knew what was happening," said Dr. James McGee, Wiggins' psychiatrist in Baltimore. "The last few times I talked to him, about four months ago, were not fun, happy conversations. He was not in good shape, and wasn't optimistic.

"Things were not going well for him."

Wiggins, who had been hospitalized on several occasions, was admitted into the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai at 12:20 a.m. Nov. 29. The admissions report said Wiggins was "coughing, had breathing difficulty, and a clear indication of pneumonia."

He drifted in and out of consciousness during his stay, and 37 days later, he was dead.

"It's so tough when you see someone going through the pain he was going through," said Donald Wiggins, "and not being able to do anything about it. We always hung onto that hope. We kept praying God would perform a miracle.

"We held out hope right to the end."

The man who was the catalyst on the San Diego Padres' 1984 National League championship team weighed less than 75 pounds at the time of death.

"I feel like basically he died alone," Hollier said. "We all cared about him greatly, but I think he felt embarrassed about what happened, and he shut us out. I mean as close as we were, none of us even knew he was sick. Can you believe it?

"I've shed a lot of tears over this, and I don't want to place blame on myself or Lyle or Wayne, but we feel bad because we were not persistent enough. We used to say all the time, we need to go down there (to San Diego), grab the brother, pull him aside, and straighten him out. But we lost contact.

"He always felt embarrassed about the problems he had. He probably just needed someone to say, 'It's OK. I don't want to put any guilt on myself, but I wish I had been there for him, and given him encouragement.

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