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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

"It's really a shame. There's so much I wanted to tell him. There's so much I wanted to thank him for what he did.

"Most of all, I just wanted to tell him that I love him."

Steve Garvey was the only member of the 1984 Padre World Series team that attended the services. Lee Lacy was the only Oriole player who arrived. In all, there were only five former teammates who paid their respects to Wiggins.

"Some friends, huh?," said Tony Attanasio, Wiggins' agent and confidant. "I remember when he was with the Padres, and was in Minnesota (in drug rehabilitation). He'd call me and say, 'Here's my number, tell the guys to call me.' I'd go to the ballpark, give out the number to a few guys, and you know what? Not once did anyone call.

"That's what makes me sick now, seeing these guys come out in the paper like they're his friends, and they're not even at the funeral. His friends were at the service. The rest is pseudo, and that bothers me a lot."

Wiggins always was different, friends and family say. He was an introvert and trusted few people.

"If you didn't know him, you might get the wrong picture of him," Stone said. "People didn't have the right perception. We'd see things in the paper about him, and say, 'Come on, that's not the Alan we know. "

Said Padre right fielder Tony Gwynn: "To not like Alan Wiggins, is to not know Alan Wiggins."

In Baltimore, they gave everyone on the team an IQ test. Wiggins scored the highest. The only one in uniform who was higher was Manager Earl Weaver.

"You know," McGee said, "he could have avoided the bad press. If he told people his life story, people would back off. But he didn't think it was their business.

"He was a guy who had a lot of pride, and that was both an asset, and a liability, in a lot of ways."

Said Donald: "He was so very honest, and very direct. I may not have liked some of the things he was saying, but at least you knew where you stood.

"It may have gotten him into trouble at times, but that's Tony."

Wiggins, who was called Tony by his family and Alan by his friends, acknowledged that he sometimes would be stubborn intentionally, simply to see the reaction of his teammates. And always, always, he would love a debate. There was no teammate he enjoyed more than pitcher Eric Show, who belongs to the John Birch Society. They would scream at one another for 20 minutes, and teammates would prepare to step in for a fight, but then it would stop, and Wiggins would congratulate Show for a nice round of discussion.

"It was like point-counterpoint, Wiggs just loved that," Gwynn said. "I mean, Wiggs would say, 'What do you like better, Coke or Pepsi?' He could care less. He just wanted an answer. And as soon as you said one thing, he'd take the other side, and make you argue about it.

"But he'd respect you for putting up an argument."

There were others who simply couldn't figure him out. His Oriole teammates never did, or perhaps never bothered. And there were occasional spats in the Padre clubhouse.

"I think Alan was confused," former Padre Tim Flannery said, "even his best friends never knew him. I don't know if he was searching, had a chip on his shoulder, or what it was. I don't agree with a lot of things he did, and I didn't like him much, to be honest with you, but we were on the same ballclub, and respected one another.

"People who don't play professional sports say you should know everything about a guy, but we didn't know him. Who did? Maybe he didn't want to play anymore. Maybe he didn't want success. I don't know, I've got more questions than anyone else.

"I've got a picture on the wall I keep staring at. It's me and Wiggins hugging each other after scoring the winning run against the Cubs in the '84 playoffs.

"One day my son's going to ask me, 'Who's that hugging you, Daddy?' and I'm going to have to tell him.

"And that bothers me.

"That bothers me a lot."

There are no direct, simple reasons why Wiggins became an addict, and allowed drugs to ruin his life, but McGee said: "I think they were a number of very significant traumas in his personal life that very few people know about. It was one of issues where he was depressed or preoccupied, and it was perceived as arrogance or aloofness.

"At the time, he was carrying the weight of the world on his two shoulders, and no one knew."

There were marital problems between Wiggins and his wife, Angie, but when friends suggested divorce, Wiggins would glare at them. He was raised without a father, and wanted to make sure his kids had both parents.

There was the everyday pressure of trying to succeed in the role of a public figure, when he so badly wanted to remain private.

And there was his mother, Karla Wiggins. It was her illness, friends say, that might have triggered Alan's dependency, although Donald Wiggins scoffs at the notion.

It was about in 1983, Wiggins' friends say, when Karla Wiggins was diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease. It left Alan devastated. Some say he never recovered.

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