Perhaps Tony La Russa described Darryl Kile the best: “He was literally too good to be true. And you had to keep saying ‘was he really as great as we thought he was?’ and the answer is yes.”
La Russa was just one of many who shared his thoughts in “The Life and Death of Darryl Kile,” a powerful and emotional documentary from MLB Network that premiered last night. And, to a man, each of those interviewed spoke more about the person Darryl was — not just the baseball player.
“The fact that you see his number hanging up in three different stadiums, in three different organizations he played with, tells you the type of person Darryl was,” said Brad Ausmus. “He didn’t change when he went from organization to organization. He didn’t change with success or failure, and he didn’t change with a different salary. He was always Darryl Kile.”
And Darryl Kile was so much more than a baseball player — that much was very clear from the recollections of all.
“He was a great father, he was a great husband, great guy, cared about people. That’s what I want to be in my life, and that’s who Darryl Kile was,” said Jeff Bagwell.
“He was genuine. He was real. You want to pattern your life after what Darryl Kile did,” said Phil Nevin.
“You start talking about legacy, and that’s how you influence people,” said Mike Matheny. “And I think you’re going to find out not just from me but every person you’re going to have this conversation with. They’re going to talk about that.”
The documentary, narrated by Bob Costas, focuses much on his Cardinals career — the final three of his 12 years in the majors. Yet seeing the footage of a 22-year-old Darryl making his big league debut for the Astros in 1991 and the final out of his no-hitter in 1993 makes you miss the true baseball talent he was. Plus there was talk, and video evidence, of that amazing 12-6 curveball. Not having seen it in 10 years, you almost forget how truly incredible it was.
Craig Biggio described one instance from Darryl’s Cardinals days, from a game against the Astros. Biggio hit a home run and, as he was rounding the bases, heard someone cursing at him. He didn’t think anything of it at the time and, back in the dugout, Jeff Bagwell told him it was Darryl. “We’re cracking up, laughing,” Biggio said. Later that year, two weeks before Christmas, Biggio received a phone call from Kile. “He goes ‘Hey, I want to apologize.’ What are you apologizing for? ‘I never should have cursed at you, yelled at you.’ I go, dude, it’s the heat of the battle, it was a big game. I love ya. I don’t care. He goes, ‘I should never have done that. You treated me so nicely when I was in Houston. You helped me when I was a younger player. You were always there for me.’ And that’s the type of person that Darryl was.”
The personal stories add depth to much of the story of Darryl’s legacy, yet it’s the footage and recollections from the coverage of his death that bring about an emotional punch on their own. The story of June 22, 2002, is told from many of those involved, from Dave Veres and Walt Jocketty to Cardinals security director Joe Walsh and traveling secretary C.J. Cherre.
How that Cardinals team dealt with the unbelievable loss is a story of both struggle and triumph that’s powerfully illustrated — Darryl Kile’s influence was definitely felt, and honored, through the rest of the season.
And Walt Jocketty pointed out one significant fact about the 2002 team: “When he died, we had 40 wins. We ended up with 97. That’s 57, which was his uniform number. That’s pretty amazing.”
Yet even with so much of the focus understandably on Darryl Kile’s baseball life, it is — as Mike Matheny said above — his legacy that lives on today and stands out as the most memorable facet of the entire documentary.
For who wouldn’t want to have such an impact on the lives of those around you that 10 years after your death, your friends cry as they talk about how much you meant?
That is a life well lived, even if cut terribly short, and an influence that continues.
For a preview of “The Life and Death of Darryl Kile,” click here. MLB Network will rebroadcast the documentary today at noon and tomorrow at 4 p.m., both times Central.
I wrote about Darryl Kile’s final inning on June 22, the 10th anniversary of his death. You can read that here. Other members of the United Cardinal Bloggers also wrote tributes to both Darryl and Jack Buck — find a link to all those posts here.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email email@example.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.