Friday, July 15, 2011
Angels Moment No. 12: Lyman Bostock
By Mark Saxon
In the 50 years of Angels baseball, most seasons ended in disappointment, with failed pennant races or pennant races that never began. But what has defined this franchise, every generation or so, has been tragedy.
Something seems to go terribly awry, never more so than in September of 1978 when one of the most promising young players in baseball wound up dead in the back seat of a car in Gary, Indiana, a rifle blast from a jealous husband snuffing out his life.
Lyman Bostock Jr. was a smooth-fielding center fielder and a brilliant slap hitter in the mold of Ichiro Suzuki. In 1978, he was 27 years old and a career .311 lifetime hitter. He had started so poorly that season (.147 in the first month) after signing a five-year, $2.25 million contract, that he approached owner Gene Autry and offered to forfeit a chunk of his salary.
General manager Buzzie Bavasi refused the gesture, so Bostock donated a month's salary to charity. Four months later, on the day he died, Bostock had gotten his average up to .296, best on the team, and many people around baseball predicted future batting titles.
Bostock had gotten permission from Bavasi to visit family in nearby Gary after a Saturday afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox. After dinner, Bostock went with his uncle, Thomas Turner, to visit Joan Hawkins, a woman Bostock had tutored as a teenager.
Turner agreed to give Hawkins and her sister, Barbara Smith, a ride after the visit. Smith's estranged husband, Leonard Smith, was outside the house and became enraged when he saw Bostock and his wife get in the back seat together. Bostock had met Barbara Smith 20 minutes earlier.
At the intersection of 5th and Jackson streets, Smith's car pulled up. A bullet punctured Bostock's right temple. He died two hours later. For more on Bostock's career, that awful day and the residue of it, read Jeff Pearlman's excellent E-ticket story on the 30th anniversary of his death.
Who knows how far Bostock's career would have taken him? He was only in his fourth major-league season, so anything was possible. Instead, he lies buried in an Inglewood Cemetery.
Longtime observers of the Angels would see echoes of the Bostock tragedy in pitcher Nick Adenhart's death caused by a drunk driver 31 years later. In both cases, a young player with brilliant potential was taken away from their team, their fans and -- most sadly -- their families far too young. All anyone could ask afterward was, "Why?"
This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.