June 23, 2003
Remembering Darryl Kile
A year ago yesterday, I can tell you exactly where I was. I was on State Street in Chicago, just outside a Jamba Juice, listening to the game on WGN. I'd been at the game the day before, in the locker rooms for the first time. Like some with the World Trade Center or with the Kennedy Assassination, I believe that the death of Darryl Kile is like that for many fans.
As that day's game was delayed, the descriptions coming from the field were confused at first. Was it another terrorist attack? Was it an early strike? Silence and restlessness were the early reactions of the crowd, packed in on a bright summer day, ready to watch a fierce game between sometimes-heated rivals.
As the news broke, touchingly and appropriately handled by Joe Girardi, I worried about the reaction of the crowd. Finally, when Andy Maser told us that Kile had died, it was a combination of relief and pain. In the wake of September 11th, the relief was only that things weren't worse, but it was short-lived and followed shortly by the pang of guilt.
While the loss of one baseball player to heart problems cannot be compared to historical events in any significant way, the lack of significance should not be lost on those surrounding baseball. In the face of what seemed a senseless death, we saw a team come together and a family torn apart. As fans, we tried to make sense of it. In the media, we tried to find that sense for our readers, viewers, and listeners.
But did we ever find the sense in it? In the millions of words written and broadcasted, we soothed ourselves, but was there any change that can be discerned from the distance a year gives us?
The simple answer is no. While Kile will live in the memories of fans for many of his feats on the field and with his family for all that made up his home life, his death has become yet another opportunity lost for the baseball community. Kile's death, in essence, was for nothing.
Let me be clear--I have nothing but best wishes for the Kile family. They have suffered one of the greatest tragedies a family can bear and will feel the loss of their husband and father for the rest of their lives. The loss was everything to them; to baseball--and by baseball I mean both the teams and the players--to baseball, it was nothing.
Kile's death was attributed to a heart attack. In a preliminary autopsy, he was found to have a 90% blockage in his coronary arteries. Quickly, it was discovered that Kile had no signs leading up to his heart attack--no allergies, no medications, no treatment. While Kile underwent what was called a "routine physical" during spring training, it was never clearly stated whether that physical included an EKG.
Assuming that Kile's physical was like most spring training physicals--a mere formality that takes no more than 10 minutes--then that was the first lost opportunity to prevent the player's heart attack. The next lost opportunity was the following spring. Baseball and the Players Association mandated no changes in the procedures for player physicals. While there would be an increased cost, the message sent to the public could be even more powerful than that of increased drug testing. There is no question that cardiopulmonary disorders cause far more deaths than even the most dire projections regarding the evils of performance-enhancing drugs.
If the owners and Players Association won't step forward, it's up to the players to do this themselves. In memory of Darryl Kile, each player on every roster should find his own physician and have a complete physical, including an EKG, a stress test, blood work, and any other medical tests or procedures that are deemed appropriate and necessary by a physician. In an age where players provide their own personal trainers, dietitians, and performance coaches, there is no reason at all for them not to provide their families with the protection of preventative medicine.
Kile's Cardinal teammates found a way to remember him, perhaps most touchingly by winning 57 games--his number--after they lost their ace and friend. It's time for baseball--players, owners or even somehow in partnership--to promote good health through a simple, public gesture.
Once a year, a full physical: Do it for Darryl.
Darryl Kile (1968-2002)