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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

"When his mom kind of lost it, that's when he started to lose it," Gwynn said. "His mom was so proud of his accomplishments. She was kind of like his life support system. That started his whole slide."

Said Hollier: "I hate to say it, but it was like that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I remember seeing her, and she was so proud. Alan had made it. But she wasn't herself anymore.

"Now, Alan couldn't buy her a big beautiful house like he planned, or a nice car, because what was she going to do with it with Alzheimer's disease?"

There were early signs of problems in Wiggins' career after he was selected in the first round of the 1977 draft by the Angels. Midway through the season, he had a fight with one of his coaches, and was released in June.

The incident didn't deter the Dodgers from selecting him in the first round of the free-agent draft in January of 1978. He kept improving, and stole a minor league record 120 bases in 1980.

The Dodgers, however, curiously left him unprotected after that season, and the Padres snatched him up.

The reason for the Dodgers' decision was simple.

"It was known in our organization that he had a problem in the Dodger organization," said Dick Williams, who then managed the Padres. "They didn't want a part of it."

The Dodgers won't confirm any drug involvement, but Padre officials say it simply involved an arrest for possession of marijuana.

Wiggins was arrested again for possession of marijuana in 1981, but the Padres shrugged it off.

"We didn't think it was anything problematic thing," said Tom Romenesko, then-Padre farm director. "We just thought it was a social thing. I grew up in Wisconsin. You think I don't drink beer? He was caught by the police, so we just hid it."

But it happened again, this time in San Diego on the night of July 21, 1982. Wiggins was arrested for possession of a gram of cocaine.

This time, he was sent to a drug rehabilitation clinic in Orange County. He stayed 30 days, was reinstated, and then went right back into the lineup.

"I remember after that happened," Gwynn said, "he sat by me and started telling me about the rehab centers. It was like he was laughing about it. He was saying how they don't faze him, and told me, 'You can't rehab a guy in 28 days, you just can't do it.'

"When he said that, I knew, sooner or later, he'd relapse."

If Wiggins returned soon to drugs, he did a wonderful acting job. He was selected as the Padres' most valuable player for the 1983 season, batting .276 with a club-record 66 stolen bases. The next season, he would establish himself as one of the finest players in the league.

"If not for Alan Wiggins," Williams said, "we don't win the championship. It's that simple. He was our catalyst. He was our most valuable player. My God, could he play!"

The Padres experimented before the 1984 season by moving Wiggins to second base, and by the time the season ended, Wiggins had scored 106 runs, stole 70 bases, and the Padres had a National League pennant.

The Padres, wanting to make sure that Wiggins was going to be with them for a long time, signed him to a four-year, $2.8-million contract. No one even blinked. He was part of the future.

Until April 25, 1985.

"I'll never forget that day as long as I live," Flannery said. "I'm taking infield, and Dick Williams comes to me about 25 minutes before game time and said, 'Get ready, because you're going to be playing tonight. And you're going to be playing a long time because the other guy'--that's what he called him--'didn't show up.

"That's the last time most of us ever saw him."

Wiggins never arrived, and after the Padres called the police, he emerged the next day, and was in a rehabilitation center by the weekend.

This time, the Padres ended their leniency. Padre owner Joan Kroc said that Wiggins wasn't coming back, and there was nothing Wiggins or Attanasio could do to persuade her otherwise.

"It still bothers me to this day," Attanasio said. "The problem in San Diego should have been taken care of from the start. It was not a matter of baseball. It was a matter of life. A human being was in trouble.

"They didn't even listen. I said, 'What if the doctor says he not only can play, but must play to preserve his life?'

"Do you know what (Kroc's) response was: " . . . him.' I said, 'What did you say? She gave me the same response."

Ballard Smith, then-Padre president, said: "We knew after that happened, he'd never play for us again. While some people looked at what we did was somewhat cruel, every doctor I've talked to in the field told that me that the last thing drug addicts will do is hold onto their job. If you force them to live up to their responsibilities, you can be a catalyst. We had to do what we thought was right."

The Orioles settled on an agreement in which the Padres would be obligated to pay part of the contract if Wiggins had a relapse, and then traded them pitchers Roy L. Jackson and Rich Caldell.

The Padres never were the same again.

Nor was Wiggins.

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