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Friday, August 16, 2002
Heat may have played role in Porter's death
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Police said former major-league catcher Darrell Porter may have been trying to free his stuck car when he died Aug. 5 in a park near Kansas City.
Porter, 50, of Lee's Summit, catcher for four major league teams, was found dead late Monday afternoon next to his car in La Benite Park.
An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning. But the cause and manner of death was not available, pending further investigation and lab work, said Jackson County medical examiner Dr. Thomas Young. He said there was no indication of foul play.
Sugar Creek police chief Herb Soule said Porter had told his wife that he was going to buy a paper and go to the park. When he entered the park, his car went off the right side of the road and got caught on a tree stump that wasn't easily visible because of the tall grass, Soule said.
''I'm sure he was trying to push (the car) off, and I'm sure with the high temperature the heat got to him,'' Soule said. The National Weather Service reported the high Monday in Kansas City was 97 degrees.
Porter was remembered Tuesday as a star player who inspired teammates with his fiery leadership, and who overcame the drug and alcohol addiction that threatened his life and career.
Former teammate Frank White remembered Porter as a serious and determined player, loving to his family, involved in the community and a good Christian.
''He ran the show from behind the plate,'' said White, now the special assistant to the general manager for the Royals, who was in Omaha watching the Royal's Triple-A team.
White said his fondest memory of Porter came before the 1977 All-Star break, with Kansas City 6 1/2 games behind Chicago. The Royals had just lost the first half of a double-header at Chicago when Porter addressed his teammates.
''He challenged everyone to play the way we knew how to play baseball,'' White recalled, ''and we came back and won 16 games in a row, and then 102 for the year.''
Porter grew up in Oklahoma City, where he was an all-state quarterback at Southeast High School in 1969 and the state's baseball player of the year in 1970. He signed to play football at Oklahoma but chose baseball.
He broke into the majors in 1971 with the Milwaukee Brewers, who traded him to the Royals after the 1976 season. He was an All-Star twice in his four years with Kansas City.
But he began abusing cocaine, Quaaludes, marijuana, and alcohol.
Porter once told The Associated Press that during the winter of 1979-80, his paranoia became so bad he was convinced that baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn knew of his drug involvement and was going to ban him for life.
Night after night, Porter said he sat in the dark at an upstairs window overlooking his front drive and watched for Kuhn to sneak into his house. Porter -- a powerful thrower who for one season led all American League catchers in percentage of runners thrown out -- clutched billiard balls and planned to hurl them at the commissioner if he approached.
Former major league pitcher Don Newcombe, who works with alcoholics and drug addicts, spoke to Royals players during spring training in 1980.
''He gave us about 10 questions and if you answered three of the questions with 'yes,' you probably had a problem with drugs or alcohol,'' Porter told students at Kansas City, Kan., Community College in May 2001. ''I answered every one of them yes.''
Porter left spring training that year and entered a drug rehabilitation clinic. He later chronicled his fight with addiction and recovery from it in a 1984 book, ''Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story.''
''Drugs eventually destroyed my career and almost my life,'' Porter told the community college students. ''I never came back and played at the same level again and I was only 28 years old.''
Porter returned to the Royals but his production dropped, with his average falling to .249.
Despite his struggles, Porter was a key factor in helping the Royals reach the World Series for the first time, in 1980. They lost to Philadelphia in six games.
Porter filed for free agency after the 1980 season and the Cardinals snapped him up.
He struggled in his first two seasons at St. Louis but played an important role in 1982 when the Cardinals won the World Series for the ninth time, beating the Brewers in seven games.
Porter was the most valuable player of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series.
''He had a great career,'' said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. ''He did really well with Kansas City, then he goes over to St. Louis and he is the MVP of the World Series -- the highest things you can do.''
Porter played in his third World Series when the Cardinals lost to the Royals in 1985. He then spent two seasons with the Texas Rangers before retiring from baseball in 1987.
In 17 big league seasons he hit .247 with 188 home runs and 826 RBI.
Porter's father, Ray, said he had seen his son in May and that he was doing well.
''We were very proud for him. I know he's touched a lot of people's lives and we're grateful for that.''
Darrell Porter's brother, Jimmy, said he recently told Darrell that he wished he had more of his brother's personality.
''I'm about 180 degrees opposite from him,'' Jimmy Porter said. ''He was a wonderful brother and friend and truly was a tremendous inspiration, not just because of the rehab and getting his life together, but because of the kind of person he was.''
Porter is survived by his wife, Deanne, and three children -- Lindsey, 20; Jeff, 18; and Ryan, 14.
A visitation is scheduled for Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Blue Springs. The funeral will be Friday at 3 p.m. at Raytown First Baptist Church. Porter also will be remembered with a moment of silence at the Cardinals' home game Tuesday night and the Royals home game Friday night.
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