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Kile's Death Stuns Baseball

Cardinals: St. Louis pitcher, 33, is found in his Chicago hotel room and appears to have died of natural causes. Game against Cubs is canceled.

June 23, 2002|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Darryl Kile, one of the St. Louis Cardinals' top pitchers and one of the best in baseball, was found dead in his Chicago hotel room Saturday. Police said there were no signs of criminal involvement and that Kile, 33, appeared to have died of natural causes.

"It appears he died in his bed, in his sleep," said Michael Chasen, commanding officer of Chicago's Area Three Homicide unit, adding that medical examiners will conduct an autopsy today.

The shocking development prompted cancellation of Saturday's game between the Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where Joe Girardi, the Cubs' catcher and player representative, addressed the crowd of about 40,000--unaware at that point of Kile's death--from behind a microphone at home plate and said the game would not be played because of a "tragedy in the Cardinals family" and asked fans to say a prayer for the Cardinal organization and its players.

"Our club is just totally staggered, I mean, devastated," St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa told reporters, wiping away tears. "You guys know what a pro [Darryl] is."

A product of Norco High and Chaffey College who was only a 30th-round draft choice of the Houston Astros in 1987, Kile blossomed into a top-of-the-rotation starter with a devastating curveball. He had a 133-119 record in 12 seasons with the Astros, Colorado Rockies and Cardinals, pitching a no-hitter against the New York Mets in 1993 and winning 20 games for the Cardinals in 2000 before going 16-11 last year.

He had pitched the Cardinals into first place in the National League Central with a victory over the Angels on Tuesday night, won three of his last four starts in improving to 5-4 with a 3.72 earned-run average in 14 games and was scheduled to pitch tonight against the Cubs. That game is still scheduled to be played.

"Obviously, this is a very tragic event for the Cardinals, Darryl's family and all of baseball," St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty said.

"He was a great competitor and leader on the club who I had grown close to in the last two years because he was the type leader that I could go to and ask questions about other players and situations in the clubhouse.

"The thing that stood out most about him was his competitiveness. He loved to compete and he loved to win, and he was very instrumental in the development of [Cardinal ace] Matt Morris and very close to our young pitchers. It's going to be very tough to play for a while."

Kile's death followed by only a few days the loss of longtime St. Louis broadcaster Jack Buck, and Jocketty said "it will obviously be a difficult mourning period for the team and city, but we'll have to find a way to battle through it, go on, and win the division. I'm sure that's what Darryl would want."

Jocketty said the Cardinals became concerned Saturday when Kile, usually one of the first players to report, was not on the team bus to Wrigley Field and had not arrived at the required time. Calls to his room at the team hotel went unanswered, and hotel security ultimately had to use force to enter the room, where Kile was found in his bed.

Jim Loomis, the Cardinals' assistant team physician, said the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Kile had no health problems and was not on medication. He said Kile had undergone shoulder surgery in the off-season but "other than muscular and skeletal" conditions at different times in his career there was no evidence of a serious problem.

Kile's father, David, died at 44 of a reported heart attack and stroke in 1993, but Loomis and Cardinal officials refused to speculate on the cause of Kile's death.

Kile's wife, Flynn, was "obviously distraught" when notified in San Diego, Cardinal officials said. She is left with 5-year-old twins, a boy and girl, and a son born last August.

The development stunned baseball.

At Dodger Stadium, Boston Red Sox pitcher John Burkett expressed the view of many when he said, "An auto accident you can understand, but dying in your sleep? That's a strange deal."

Dodger pitcher Kevin Brown called Kile's death "a real wake-up call. We live and breathe baseball this time of year, but something like this jolts you to reality."

Dodger pitcher Jesse Orosco, a teammate of Kile's in St. Louis two years ago, described him as "a great guy, great family man, an unbelievable teammate" who was always talking baseball and you could "always hear yelling and screaming."

At Miller Stadium in Milwaukee, Angel outfielder Tim Salmon said, "We all think we are invulnerable. When I travel, I think about my wife and kids back home. But you never think anything could happen to you."

Milwaukee pitcher Mike DeJean, a teammate of Kile's in Colorado, said, "When a guy like Darryl, who had everything going for him, is blindsided, it turns your life upside down."

Jamey Wright, another Milwaukee pitcher was a teammate of Kile's in Colorado, had tears in his eyes as he sat at his locker stall and talked about the man he regarded not only as a friend, but as a mentor.

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