The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

 

Cory Lidle, RIP

Early Wednesday afternoon, a small airplane crashed into an apartment building on the Upper East Side of New York City. Initial fears that this was somehow a terrorist-related incident have fortunately proven unfounded, but the latest news reports -- now on the local TV stations as well as ESPN -- are that the plane belonged to Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle, who was piloting it.

Last month the New York Times ran an article on Lidle's burgeoning interest in flying:
When the Yankees fly, the pilots are not only in the cockpit. There is another pilot in the main cabin, where the players sit. He is probably studying his hand-held Global Positioning System receiver, tracking the weather and noting the plane's precise speed and altitude.

He is Cory Lidle, who has been a major league pitcher for nine years and a pilot for seven months. He earned his pilot's license last off-season and bought a four-seat airplane for $187,000. It is a Cirrus SR20, built in 2002, with fewer than 400 hours in the air.

A player-pilot is still a sensitive topic for the Yankees, whose captain, Thurman Munson, was killed in the crash of a plane he was flying in 1979. Lidle, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 30, said his plane was safe.
From the ESPN report:
A small plane piloted by New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle crashed into a 50-story condominium tower Wednesday on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing at least four people, authorities said.

Lidle died in the crash.

The twin-engine plane came through a hazy, cloudy sky and hit the 20th floor of The Belaire -- a red-brick tower overlooking the East River, about five miles from the World Trade Center -- with a loud bang, touching off a raging fire that cast a pillar of black smoke over the city and sent flames shooting from four windows on two adjoining floors.
Unbelievable. Regardless of your feelings about the Yankees or Lidle's performance and comments regarding the Yanks' lack of preparation in the postseason, this is just sad, sickening, and downright surreal, a cruel coda to what's already been a crazy week in Yankeeland.

I recall vividly that the Times' article's mention of Munson sent chills up and down my spine, and today's news invokes the memory of hearing that horrible Munson news back in August of 1979, when I was nine. Despite the fact that I was on the other side of the aisle as a Dodger fan, the Yanks, Munson included, had my respect. Even then I sensed their seductive appeal; I remember sending away for team sets of Topps' 1979 baseball cards, $3 apiece, and once I got the Dodgers, I bought Yanks, Red Sox, and Reds sets, less because I liked the teams than that they were concentrated with superstars.

Like most nine-year-olds, I wasn't on close terms with death, but Munson wasn't even the first active ballplayer whose demise I'd experienced. That grisly distinction belonged to Lyman Bostock, who was murdered late in the 1978 season. But what really hit home was when the Yankees, playing at home two days later, were on NBC's Game of the Week, and there was a moment of silence at the outset of the game in tribute to Munson. All of the Yanks were at their positions, but as the TV cameras showed, the catcher's box behind the plate was empty.

Even then, it hit me: death equals loss, a void. It's the emptiness, the absence of the player you admired, the friend whose laugh used to light up your parties, the grandparents whose loving phone calls no longer come. Ultimately if we're lucky we have fond memories of a time when that space was filled and the world felt whole. If our luck continues to hold, we gradually find a way to re-fill that space so that the world may feel somewhat closer to whole again.

Cory Lidle played for seven teams in his major league career, reaching the majors with the Mets in 1997. He had gone to camp as a replacement player during the 1995 strike, a fact that may have had something to do with the reason he bounced around so much and often found himself engaged in verbal fisticuffs with his teammates. It was only a couple of months ago, just after Lidle had been traded to the Yankees, that former Phillies teammate Arthur Rhodes called Lidle a scab and said, "The only thing that Cory Lidle wants to do is fly around in his airplane and gamble. He doesn't have a work ethic. After every start, he didn't run or lift weights. He would sit in the clubhouse and eat ice cream."

As the premature passing of former umpire Eric Gregg illustrated, there's always another side to the story of those who are are mocked or vilified in the sports pages or the stat lines, a human side that puts the battles on the field and in the locker room into proper perspective. Cory Lidle may not have been a consensus choice to start Game Seven of a playoff series, but there's no question his untimely death touches a lot of people in the game and on its periphery. My condolences to all of you out there affected by this, as well as to Lidle's family, friends, and teammates.

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