In the past decade, Donnie Moore has become one of the tragic figures in baseball history. A relief pitcher that played for the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Atlanta Braves, and California Angels, Moore is most well known for two things. On the field, he is known as the California Angels pitcher who gave up the home run to Boston’s Dave Henderson that prevented the Angels from making the 1986 World Series. Off the field, Moore is known for shooting his wife three times before raising the gun to his own temple and ending his life.
Since his 1989 death, Moore has become the poster child for reacting gravely to on-the-field problems. Moore’s death has become commonly associated with that home run, and almost every time a pitcher gives up a crucial blast, Moore’s name is conjured as a warning. Most recently, in 2001, 22-year-old Byung-Hyun Kim of the Arizona Diamondbacks lost a two-run, ninth-inning lead in two consecutive World Series games, and several dozen of writers recalled pieces of Moore’s tragic story. There are differing accounts of why Moore ended his life, and attempted to end his wife’s as well. Most reporters incorrectly tie the suicide/attempted murder solely to the home run, while others cite factors such as the sudden end of Moore’s career, a reportedly rocky and abusive marriage, or a drinking problem. Some Angels teammates, including Brian Downing, blamed the media for how cruel and unsympathetic they were to Moore following the home run. And one of Moore’s family members even suggested that Moore shot his wife, but a third adult forced Moore to kill himself. Though it is impossible to accurately describe what transpired between Tonya and Donnie Moore directly before the incident, Moore did not kill himself over a bad pitch, having many other reasons for his suicide and no precedent for a death related to on-field-action.
Throughout baseball history, there have been thousands of crucial plays gone awry-some of the most noteable include Bobby Thomson’s 1951 “Shot Heard Round the World,” Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series walk-off home run, and the consecutive 2001 World Series games that slipped away from Byung-Hyun Kim. Yet the Moore incident is allegedly the only on-field related suicide in baseball’s history.
Donnie Moore was a well-liked teenager, who began carving his reputation as a pitcher at Monterey High School, in Lubbock, Texas. Moore was the only black student at the school, but his athleticism and sense of humor helped him be voted the fourth-most popular student in his senior yearbook. Moore began his major league career in 1975 with the Chicago Cubs, after turning down The Boston Red Sox’s 1972 draft-day offer of becoming an outfielder. Instead, Moore went to Ranger College, where he pitched the small Texas school to the national junior college championship the following year. 1973 was also the year that he married childhood sweetheart Tonya Martin, who family members say Moore had been dating since he was 11 years-old, and with whom he had already fathered a one-year-old child. But soon after he signed with the Cubs, Moore’s difficult family life began – his daughter Demetria lived with Donnie’s parents until she was six years old, while Donnie played in the minor leagues during the season and winter ball during the off-season.
After three seasons in the minors with a few brief major league stints, Moore finally caught on with the Cubs in 1978, appearing in 71 games and pitching 102.2 innings. But poor ERAs saw Moore’s work reduced the following season, which was followed by a new club, the St. Louis Cardinals. Moore spent much of 1980 and 1981 in the minor league town of Springfield, until the Cardinals sold him to his third major league club, the Milwaukee Brewers – who returned him two months later. In 1982, the Cardinals sold Moore again, this time to the Atlanta Braves, with whom he stayed until the end of 1984. While pitching for Atlanta, thanks mainly to the development of a new forkball, Moore began to hit his groove. In 1982, Moore posted an ERA of 4.23, noticeably lower than his then-career mark of 4.62, and his lowest in four years. In 1983, Moore reduced it to a 3.67, and again to 2.94 the following season. Moore had also become a candidate for a closer role, saving twenty-three games with the Braves, including sixteen in his final season. With his career on the upswing, Moore was somehow left unprotected in the 1985 free-agent compensation draft, and the Angels selected him to sure up their bullpen.
Moore had his best season in 1985, racking up a California club record thirty-one saves and eight wins with a miniscule 1.92 ERA. Moore even pitched two scoreless innings in the All-Star Game, though future Hall of Famer teammates Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson were not selected. Moore’s selection came as a surprise to himself, as well. “I never thought I’d make the All-Star team, I never gave it any thought,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times All-Star Weekend, after saying he planned to negotiate an All-Star bonus into his next contract.
After the 1985 All-Star Game, Many reporters gushed about Moore’s dominance exhibited while becoming one of the top closers in the league. Right after Moore returned from the contest in Minnesota, The LA Times’ Mike Penner called Moore part of “the wherewithal”¦to fashion a 3-2 victory,” ironically over Boston. Moore recorded his 18th save of the season that game, pitching a perfect ninth inning to shut down the Red Sox. At the end of the season, Moore was seen as so dominant that he even received two Cy Young Award votes – one of only two American League relievers to do so. But while all of Orange County and much of the country was taking notice of Moore’s success, Jackson issued an eerie warning regarding Moore. “A man is only as good as how he weathers his bad times,” Jackson told reporters. “And you’re going to have them in this league.”
Professionally, 1986 meant more good times for Moore. The previous journeyman middle-reliever Moore was suddenly famous; he had become so well known that he was one of four Angels pitchers selected by the video game company Namco to appear in Nintendo’s R.B.I. Baseball. Moore was also a free agent during the off-season, and his successful 1985 campaign allowed him to sign a then-tremendous $3,000,000, three-year contract. At the time, the average salary was slightly over $500,000, a figure that Moore was now doubling. And despite a shoulder injury that landed him on the disabled list for five weeks during the early part of the season, Moore turned in a solid effort, saving 21 games and recording a 2.97 ERA. Going into the playoffs, Moore was still regarded as one of the top closers in major league baseball. But despite the great year he’d put together, he scraped through the end of his injury-riddled season, receiving five cortisone shots, including two directly after Game Five of the American League Championship Series. After Game Four, Moore thought that injuries would prevent him from pitching again until the World Series. And after his son’s death, Conaway Moore blamed Moore’s eventual on-field demise on the cortisone.
“They’d shake his arm and he’d be all right, but it wasn’t his arm”¦It was his back. He knew it was hurting him. He knew that was why he was having trouble. But he’d take those damn-blame cortisone shots to make him feel better, and that’s just like treating a hinge. You know the hinge needs greasing, so you grease it to take the noise away, but the hinge keeps wearing away.”
Common knowledge of Game Five of the 1986 ALCS, as illustrated by Moore’s New York Times Obituary, is that, with a three games to one lead in the best-of-seven series, Moore came in during the ninth inning, and with two outs and two strikes, gave up a game-tying home run to Boston’s Dave Henderson who eventually won the game for the Red Sox with a sacrifice fly in the 11th inning. But Moore was not nearly the only goat in the game; Henderson almost became one himself by committing a sixth inning error that turned an out into a two-run homer and gave the Angels the very lead that Moore was sent in to protect. The Sporting News, which lists the game as number 24 in “Baseball’s 25 Greatest Moments,” also reminds its readers that the Angels had won in 11 innings the night before, and that during Game Five, two ineffective pitchers appeared in the ninth inning before manager Gene Mauch called on Moore. Starter Mike Witt, with a 5-2 lead entering the ninth, gave up a two run homer to Don Baylor to bring the score to 5-4. Witt recorded one more out before he was yanked for a relief pitcher. “Not everyone can play the ninth inning,” Mauch said after the game. “Donnie Moore can.” According to the statistics, Moore seemed the obvious choice. In 1986, Moore was 4-0 while pitching at home. And in four regular-season innings against the Red Sox, Moore recorded two saves and only allowed three base runners, none of them reaching second base. Moore had also already been successful in the series, saving Game Three. Nevertheless, Mauch went first to Gary Lucas before settling on Moore, showing that there was a reason not to put Moore in – more than likely due to his back injury. Lucas immediately hit Rich Gedman with a pitch, and was as immediately yanked in favor of the Anaheim closer.
Fifteen years later, Angels catcher Bob Boone exaggeratedly explained his view of the rationale behind Mauch’s decision.
“Witt was tremendous. But Rich Gedman was coming up, and he was the only guy that hit Witt. So Mauch brought in Gary Lucas, who hadn’t hit a guy with a pitch in 100 years, and he hit Gedman. It was unbelievable”¦Then the dam broke.
Centerfielder Dave Henderson stepped to the plate, and, as writer Tony Trigilio of the Cosmic Baseball Association described, “fouled off a few pitches, and looked miserably off balance each time he swung.” Moore worked the count to 2-2 on Henderson, and the Angels rose to the dugout steps. Henderson planted the next pitch into the left-field bleachers. The Red Sox took the lead, 6-5. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Angels rallied for a game-tying run. And with only one out in the inning and the bases loaded, the Angels looked like they were going to get Moore off the hook, but Doug DeCinces hit a short fly ball and Bobby Grich tapped a weak liner back to the pitcher to end the threat, and send the game into extra innings. And somehow, injured and confidence shaken, Moore was left in to pitch the tenth. After Moore let runners reach first and third with one out, a lucky double-play ball gave the Angels another chance to win it. Which they didn’t, and again somehow, an injured and tired Moore pitched the eleventh. Moore hit the first batter, and gave up a single to the next. The third batter reached when Moore threw the ball wide to first base. But Mauch kept Moore in the game to face Dave Henderson again, who lofted one long enough to score the runner from third. And Moore was still pitching when the next batter-Moore’s 11th–was retired on a miracle, wall-crashing catch by Brian Downing. Only then did Mauch replace Moore with Chuck Finley, but it was much too late.
Long after the game, Moore reflected to reporters on the ninth inning. “I made a bad pitch,” Moore said. “Usually, my ball dips. That ball didn’t dip. When you make bad pitches, you lose games.” According to his father, on the drive home that night, Moore said, “Boy, I sure didn’t want to go back to Boston.” Neither did Conaway Moore, who returned with Moore’s family to Lubbock. And neither did the rest of the Angels. Teammate Doug DeCinces called the incident “draining,” and said, “you could feel it. All of a sudden, everything was just gone.” The Angels lost the final two games of the series by a combined score of 18-5. A few days after the home run, Moore was asked about the loss. “I’ve had time to reflect,” Moore said. “It’s a numb feeling. Only one pitch away from the World Series. This one is going to follow me around for a while.” Ironically, the pitch that just didn’t break was a forkball – the same pitch that made Moore successful enough to be put in such a pressure filled situation.
Moore was widely credited for the loss. Over the course of the 1987 season, Moore was mentioned on eighteen occasions in the Los Angeles Times’ sports section. Eight of those also made reference to Henderson. Over the course of the 1988 season, two years after the home run, the paper mentioned Moore twenty-five times, and seven of those still had the pitcher coupled with Henderson. “He was never treated fairly,” teammate Brian Downing later said of Moore. “Nobody was sympathetic. I never ever saw him credited for getting us to the playoffs. All you ever heard about, all you ever read about, was one pitch.”
Moore did bring some of the blame upon himself. In an effort to shield his teammates, and not realizing the barrage that lay ahead, Moore addressed reporters following Game Seven. “I’ll shoulder the blame,” the pitcher said. “Somebody’s got to take the blame, so I’ll take it. We were one pitch away from going to the World Series . . . and I threw that pitch. I lost that game.” But at the same time that he appeared to be able to accept the loss and move on, what would become Moore’s frustration with his career began becoming noticeable. When asked about manager Gene Mauch not making the World Series for the 25th straight year, Moore responded by saying, “It hasn’t been easy for him and it hasn’t been easy for me”¦I don’t know if he can feel half as bad as I feel.”
Moore’s career spiraled quickly downward, thanks mainly to his injuries, which got increasingly worse. Angels fans booed Moore the following two seasons whenever he was brought in. And Moore grew increasingly angry, finally walking off the mound after losing a game in late May, raising a fist towards the crowd.
“I’m sick of it”¦I’m pitching against guys out there making all kinds of money and I’m 75-80%. I don’t mind being booed, but I’ve been hurt. Let someone else go out there who’s healthy…I can’t go on this way, it’s as simple as that. Something has to be done — some more shots, something”¦I go out there and get booed and that’s frustrating, too. I’m sick and tired of it.”
Moore, as he would do many times thereafter, emphasized how much money he was making in relation to other ballplayers. Fans responded poorly to this approach, as did management. In 1987, Angels General Manager Mike Port made the following widely published statement regarding Moore and his money:
Instead of worrying about his rib cage because of pitching three innings on the wrong night, he should have been out there earning his money. What do we pay him $ 1 million for? He’s supposed to be in shape. We should be getting our money’s worth.
Bob Boone blamed Port for opening the floodgates. “The fans were already on [Moore]. But when Port came out with that, it was like waving a red flag, telling all the fans, ‘OK, everyone, get him.'” But Port, like many of the fans, assessed the situation incorrectly. Overworked while injured, Moore never fully recovered. Injuries limited Moore to just 14 games in 1987, but he still compiled a very respectable 2.70 ERA. But without their closer for much of the season, the Angels split the saving responsibilities among DeWayne Buice and Greg Minton, both who registered ERAs higher than Moore’s. Anaheim tied for last place, and at the end of the season, Mauch retired without ever winning a championship.
But Moore’s high-profile career was not the only thing unraveling. After his death, neighbors, friends, and family members, such as Moore’s aunt Elsie White, came forward describing Moore as an “outsider in his own house.” White described a 1987 night on which she was staying with Tonya at the Moore’s Anaheim Hills house to a Boston Globe reporter. White said that while Tonya was out, two boys vandalized the house, and Tonya came home after 2 AM, saying she had been out dancing, and insisting the house be cleaned. “Everything was cleaned up and put in place. Tonya washed that car she used herself, cleaned it out, so when he came home he would see that everything was that way all the time,” White said. “She kept saying, ‘Don’t tell Donnie. Don’t tell Donnie.'”
The 1988 season got worse for Moore. He had undergone microsurgery over the off-season, and a doctor removed a small bone spur from the area near his spine. And though many, including Moore, were optimistic about his recovery, it never really happened. Injuries again limited Moore, this time to 27 games. But they also limited his effectiveness, leaving him with a 4.91 ERA – his worst total since he was with the Milwaukee Brewers. In late August, Moore was waived by the Angels. “I knew I wouldn’t be here next year, “Moore said. “I just didn’t know I wouldn’t be here the rest of this year.” And though Moore was happy to leave Anaheim, at one point referring to his recent time there as “a living nightmare,” he needed a new job. Moore had hoped he’d catch on somewhere, attributing his ineffectiveness of the last two seasons to his injuries, and the length of time it took doctors to find the bone spur. He vocalized his hope to get a chance to turn things around in 1989.
“One . . . game and I shouldn’t have even been in it”¦I was scheduled to get two cortisone shots for my rib and shoulder that night. They weren’t even planning to use me. The fans look only at the bottom line. They have a right to boo, but I think I handled it well because I always gave my all. I hope that’s how I’ll be remembered.”
After trying to land work with the hometown Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, and surprisingly even offering to be an Angel again on a blank contract, Moore finally signed with the Kansas City Royals. A major factor in his signing was Bob Boone, who was now playing in Kansas city and spoke highly of the pitcher. But Moore began the season on the disabled list, still fighting injury. Having lost a few miles-per-hour on most of his pitches, when Moore recovered on May 18th, he was sent to the Royals’ Triple-A minor league affiliate, Omaha. Moore did not make much of an effort to fit in while in the minors. Already 35-years-old, Moore stayed in a room by himself while on the road, which was most of the time he played for Omaha. At one point, Omaha played 19 of 21 games away from their home stadium.
Ironically, one of Moore’s Omaha teammates was Steve Crawford, the former Boston reliever who got the win in Game Five. Crawford said the two got along “real well,” but said that this was not true with everyone. “Donnie had a minor case of what we call big-league-itis. You know, lollygagging around the outfield, telling kids to get stuff for him. He was always on me about all of his big league time and the iron money he made.” Crawford described one incident where Moore kept talking about how rich his contract was, while the team was on the road, playing the Pawtucket Red Sox. Crawford went home and retrieved his 1986 World Series t-shirt, and wore it in front of Moore, much to the delight of the rest of the Omaha clubhouse. “Yeah, yeah,” Moore said, “I’ve got my money.” Moore was released just a few weeks later. Upon his release, one teammate recalled Moore saying, “he had some things to take care of.” If Moore’s desire to return his family to Texas or his wife’s reaction to his release were any indication, these “things” primarily concerned his family and his finances, which were not as solid as he led teammates to believe.
Moore’s lifestyle, which included a tremendous 1.5 Acre Anaheim Hills estate, left him with what family attorney Randall Johnson referred to as “financial problems.” And though Tonya later denied it, reports listed an argument about selling the $850,000 home and moving to Texas as the original cause of the fatal fight. After the incident, Tonya and Donnie’s father Conaway disagreed over the house again, with Conaway urging Tonya to sell the house and move the family to Texas, and Tonya citing daughter Demetria’s senior year of high school as a reason not to. But whatever sparked the July 18th argument, it most likely stemmed from the couple’s separation.
When Moore returned to Anaheim after being released in early June, he found his home empty. Later claiming she feared for her safety, Tonya had packed up her belongings and the couple’s three children and left. “I couldn’t stay at home,” Tonya Moore later said. “He was taking it out on me.” But in the same thought, the pitcher’s wife also admitted that she could have been there for her husband. “He needed me. He was a very sweet guy. I loved Donnie very much, and he loved me very much. He didn’t quite know how to show it.” After 16 years of marriage, the couple separated, due to what Moore agent Dave Pinter referred to as “domestic problems.” During the Moores’ final argument, Donnie pulled out a .45 caliber handgun and fired five shots, missing twice, and landing one each into Tonya’s abdomen, neck and shoulder. Tonya was standing still during the first shot. The next four were fired on the run. And all three children were in the house at the time. “We found them arguing,” Demetria, then 17-years-old, later said. “The next thing I know, he had a gun and he shot. I heard several shots, and I saw my mom shot. Then we all ran to the car.” “We all” refers to Tonya and Demetria, who drove her mother to the hospital in time to save her life. Demetria’s two brothers, 10 and 8 years old, remained at the house with their father. While his daughter and estranged wife were at the hospital, and with 8-year-old Ronnie still in the room, Donnie Moore then turned the gun on himself and ended his life with a single shot to the head. Ronnie leaned over his father’s body to call 911. The child simply said, “My dad’s been shot.”
Some relatives, like Elsie White, blamed Tonya for Moore’s death. “All he needed was a woman or friend who could wind him back down so his retirement could be sweet and wonderful.” And Demetria, in a sense, agreed. Though she did not blame her mother specifically, Moore’s daughter attributed the suicide/murder to a fall from great height, but more so a lack of a life beyond baseball to catch him. “When he was cut by Kansas City, he’d really been depressed about that,” Demetria said. “I mean, here he is, the high-life career…then all of a sudden, it’s gone. He comes back home…and the marriage, the family, is all destroyed. I mean, what else does he have left?”
Moore is certainly not the first pitcher in baseball’s history to come within a pitch of greatness, only to give up a home run and turn someone else into the hero. Men like Ralph Branca, Mitch Williams, and Byung-Hyun Kim were all in situations just as crucial, if not more so, and gave up home runs to lose both their games and their chances for being known as anything other than trivia questions. But all three of them have said that they never thought about suicide. Moore’s life, however similar it was on the field, was unlike that of Branca, Williams, Kim, or any other pitcher thus far.
In 1951, with less than two months to go in the season, the Brooklyn Dodgers held a thirteen and a half game lead over the New York Giants in the race for the National League pennant. But after the Giants won thirty-seven of their last forty-five games, the teams ended the year in a tie and were forced into a three-game playoff series to determine who would go to the World Series. Thanks in part to a Bobby Thomson home run, the Giants beat Ralph Branca in Game One, but the Dodgers came back to win Game Two, which necessitated the decisive Game Three. Coming into the bottom of the ninth inning, the Dodgers led 4-1. But the Giants quickly plated a run and put two men on base with only one out. Starting pitcher Don Newcombe was removed, and in stepped Branca. After getting one strike on Giants hitter Bobby Thomson, Branca gave up a series-winning home run that would forever be known as “The Shot Heard Round the World.”
Coming into that playoff game, Branca had won seventy-six games in eight years with the Dodgers. The following season, Branca was no longer in the starting rotation for the Dodgers. Five years and five team changes later, Branca was out of baseball, having won only 12 more games. And having been in a similar on-field situation, Branca will not let anyone attribute one pitch to Moore’s death. “I cannot visualize being that depressed that you would take your own life,” Branca said a few days after Moore killed himself. “I threw a home run pitch. So what? We lost the game. So what? Life goes on.” But for Branca, it did. Whereas Moore came home to the end of his marriage, Branca got engaged less than three weeks after his fateful pitch. And Branca also turned to religion, in the form of his fiancÃ©’s cousin, a priest who picked Branca up after the game, in more ways than one. “Her cousin, a priest, was there and when I got into the car, I asked, Why me?'” Branca said. “He said, “˜God gave you this cross to bear because He knew your faith would be strong enough to bear it.’ From that point on, I understood. I lived with it.”
In 1993, the Philadephia Phillies reached the World Series for the first time in ten years. Their opponent was the heavily favored defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays, who had beaten the Atlanta Braves in six games just one year earlier. The Blue Jays took Game One, but thanks in part to a Mitch Williams save, the Phillies tied things up the next day. Game Three went to the Blue Jays, and so did Game Four. With a 14-9 lead coming into the eighth inning of that game, the Phillies watched their pitchers, including Williams, get shelled for six runs. Williams was credited with the loss. The Phillies bounced back and won Game Five, and had a chance to push the series to seven when they led by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Six. Phillies manager Jim Fregosi called in Williams to close it out, hoping for the pitcher he saw in Game Two, but getting the pitcher he saw in Game Four. Williams, known by fans as “Wild Thing” for his sporadic control problems, walked the first batter he faced on four pitches. The next hitter flew out to left field, but Williams gave up a single to Paul Molitor, which set up one of the most dramatic moments in World Series history. Joe Carter hit a 2-2 pitch over the left field fence, only the second walk off home run in World Series history. Up to that point in his career, Williams had recorded 186 saves, including 102 in three years with Philadelphia, and 43 that season-his best year. That was the last game Williams would appear in for the Phillies, playing for three clubs over the next four years, saving a total of just six more games and compiling an ERA of 8.25. But though he shared Moore’s place in baseball history, Williams spoke about he would not share Moore’s fate off the field.
“I’m not going to go home and commit suicide”¦I wish I hadn’t thrown it down and in to Carter. I was trying to keep the ball away from him. It was a mistake…It ain’t comin’ back…I can’t replay it and win it…I can’t change this one, much as I’d like to, if only because my teammates busted their butts. I let ‘em down”¦But don’t expect me to curl up and hide from people because I gave up a home run in the World Series. Life’s a bitch. I could be digging ditches. I’m not.”
After he left baseball, Williams spent the next few years taking care of his Texas ranch and tending bar at his brother’s bowling alley in New Jersey, as well as co-owning a Kansas bowling alley with his wife. In 2001, Williams resurfaced as a pitching coach for the independent Atlantic City Surf. Like Branca, Williams’ exit from baseball was eased by close family and friends who were happy to have more time to spend with him.
In 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks reached the World Series for the first time in the club’s four-year history. After leading the series two games to one lead over the three-time defending champion New York Yankees, the Diamondbacks entered the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Four up 3-1. Reliever Byung-Hyun Kim gave up a two-out, two-run home run to tie the game, and another solo shot in the 10th inning for the loss. The next day, with the series suddenly tied at two games a piece, the Diamondbacks brought another two-run lead into the bottom of the ninth inning, this time up 2-0. And again with two outs, Kim gave up a game-tying homer. The Yankees eventually won the game in the 12th inning. And though the Diamondbacks won the next two games to take the series, many writers feared the worst for Kim.
“The image of Arizona reliever Byung-Hyun Kim squatting shell-shocked on the mound last week at Yankee Stadium offers a sobering reminder that baseball is never just a game,” wrote Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star, just three paragraphs before conjuring images of Donnie Moore. Salon.com senior writer King Kaufman was even more descriptive.
“I don’t know that I’ll ever forget Kim’s crestfallen look after surrendering that two-out, game-tying blast by Brosius Thursday. Only 24 hours before, he’d given up an eerily similar game-tying homer, then a game-winning shot. Now, it was happening to him again. He squatted in front of the mound and stared at the grass, then in toward home plate. He stood, turned and climbed the mound. His catcher, Barajas, ran up to him and, cupping his hand gently on the back of Kim’s head, spoke to him. Kim, who reportedly speaks little English, nodded and stared blankly toward the scoreboard in center field as he listened to Barajas. Shortstop Tony Womack and first baseman Mark Grace ran up to Kim and threw their arms around him, Womack patting Kim’s cheek.”
Maybe it was Kim’s teammates’ immediate concern and support for him that helped him move on. Or perhaps it was the Diamondbacks’ ability to win the series despite those three home runs. Or possibly it was Kim’s tender age of 22 that allowed him to get past his inability to get things done on the field. Whatever the reason, through the first month of the 2002 season Kim has not let his failure of last year get to him, recording three saves and not allowing a run while striking out fourteen in just six and two-thirds innings pitched. Unlike Moore, Branca, or Williams, Kim is at the beginning of his career, and appears just as dominant, if not more so, as he was before Game Four of the 2002 World Series.
Though baseball players are affected by what happens on the field, there is no reason to think these affects permeate their lives any more than what happens to a layperson at work. Ralph Branca and Mitch Williams were not affected for long after they gave up their crucial home runs because the pitches, though probably career enders, did not destroy their lives. Both men went on to other professions, content to spend more time with their families, with whom they were already close. Though time will be a better lens, Kim’s career does not seem derailed in any significant way, since he is young enough to re-establish himself as dominant. But if reporters, like those who spoke with Graeme Lloyd and Jay Howell, do not expect players to bring off-field problems to the games, why then do other reporters, like those who dramatically described Kim’s emotional state, expect players to bring the games with them off the field? Donnie Moore shot his wife during a heated argument, after a long history of alleged alcoholism, domestic abuse, and disagreements over raising their children. And some close to Moore, like his uncle Reverend Charles Tanner think that he shot himself over what he did to Tonya.
“I guess I’ll always believe that he snapped out of whatever he was in that day and said, ‘Look what I’ve done. This is me, Donnie Moore, and I’ve just shot my wife and I don’t know how I’m going to explain it to my family.’ So what he finally did was the only way he knew to get out.”
But hundreds of reporters, including those that wrote his New York Times obituary, attribute the suicide/attempted murder to a home run. “It was one pitch,” begins the obituary, before comparing Moore to Branca. But if Moore were truly like Branca, he would not have pulled the trigger any of the six times he had. On field, the two were quite similar – pitchers that rose to fame, fortune, and fans only to have one pitch overturn their career. Off the field, it would be hard to find two players whose situations differed more.
Even Bruce Gardner, the former all-American pitcher who killed himself on the same University of Southern California mound he had pitched from 11 years prior, did not kill himself over baseball. He, like Moore, killed himself over a life filled with disappointment that followed expectation. Gardner, who dreampt of pitching in the majors, only got as far as Triple-A ball and was eventually released. Afterwards, he failed at several business ventures and relationships, until 1971, when he climbed the locked USC fence and shot himself in the head. The following was the suicide note that he, unlike Moore, left behind.
“I saw life going downhill every day and it shaped my attitude toward everything and everybody. Everything and every feeling that I visualized with my earned and rightful start in baseball was the focal point of continuous failure. No pride of accomplishment, no money, no home, no sense of fulfillment, no attraction. A bitter past, blocking any accomplishment of a future except age. I brought it to a halt tonight at 32.”
Though he blamed his baseball success for the disappointment that followed, Gardner wrote what Demetria Moore later reiterated about her own father: that a sense of nothing to come home to afterwards is what left him feeling empty enough to end his life. Branca became a successful businessman. Williams did the same, and currently enjoys his job as a pitching coach. And both of them had families whom they turned to during their hard times at and after work-Branca his wife and wife’s cousin, Williams his wife and brother. When Moore arrived home, already unemployed and in financial trouble, his wife left, taking his three children with her. And when he wanted to permanently move back to Texas in order be with the rest of his family and to get away from the life he called “a living nightmare,” Tonya refused to move with him. Regardless of if the two could eventually reconcile, Tonya’s refusal meant that if Moore were to move to Texas, he’d have to do so without his children, and with owning an $850,000 house that he did not use.
Baseball is often referred to as “just a game,” and players are not usually expected to bring what happens in their off-field lives with them when they play. In 2001, Montreal Expos relief pitcher Graeme Lloyd returned to the team after losing his 26-year-old wife to complications with Crohn’s disease. Lloyd was quoted as saying, “It shows you what matters and what doesn’t matter, what your priorities are. Baseball is just a game.” The quote was given to a reporter in a locker room before a three game series, and at the end of the article, the writer included Lloyd’s career statistics. Clearly, the reporter and Lloyd differed on what matters and doesn’t matter. A similar situation happened when Major League Baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti died of a heart attack in the late summer of 1989. Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Jay Howell was asked, before a game, how he took the news. “It was a shock,” Howell said. “It certainly puts in perspective how the game of baseball is just a game.” The caption under the accompanying photograph, however, did not even mention Giamatti’s death – only his suspension of Howell during the previous season for cheating during the playoffs. Again, the writer concentrated more on what occurred on the field then what took place off of it.
Washington Post Columnist Thomas Boswell, while writing about Moore’s death, described sports as an escape for fans. “All the moral ambiguities of daily life are suspended,” Boswell wrote. “Somebody wins and is happy. Somebody loses, but gets to play again the next day or season.” But because of injury, as well as the poor performance of the 1987 Angels, Moore never got another chance to win. And winning, according to Boswell, is the only thing that really matters to fans, and thus the thing that matters most to the players whose livelihood depends on trying to please them. And because fans want the game to matter as much to the players as it does to themselves, writers, whose livelihood depends on fans reading their work, make it matter to them, too. Just after Moore’s death, a writer from the Associated Press called Bill Buckner, whose error cost the Red Sox Game Six of the 1986 World Series. The writer asked Buckner if he had ever contemplated suicide. Thus, according to Boswell and the clichÃ©, winning is everything.
The flaw in our attitude — perhaps it is even an American predisposition with Puritan roots — is to equate defeat with sin. The unspoken assumption is that those who lose must do so because of some moral flaw. Sports, especially pro sports, is not a morality play, much as it suits our national appetite to act as it it were. Even some athletes, perhaps including Moore, seem to crush themselves under a burden of self-imposed guilt in areas of life where no cause for guilt exists. If you work hard enough, sacrifice enough, then you will win. That’s what many coaches teach. Or should we say preach. It might be more honest, and healthier, to say that if you work very hard you will become excellent and, because of that excellence, you may do great deeds and win great prizes. Unless, of course, you don’t. Because, sometimes, the other player is better or luckier. In which case you simply have to be satisfied with your excellence and the dignity of your effort.
The Angels, specifically Mike Port, were not satisfied with Moore’s previous excellence or the dignity of his effort. Thus, Moore’s loss, like Branca’s and Williams’ before him, cost him his career. And how Moore and his wife dealt with that loss of career probably cost him his marriage. And how Moore dealt with that loss of marriage cost him his life. While it is easy to say that had Moore recorded the save, his life would have been much better and probably much longer, it is just as easy to say that the “one pitch” the Times describes was far from the only factor in his eventual death.
In a piece shortly after Moore committed suicide, USA Today writer Hal Body used the pitcher’s death to force the issue for baseball to have an after-care program. “The major leagues do little to provide their players for life after baseball. There is no after-care program and some, like Moore, are ill-prepared to cope with the real world,” wrote Body. And then-American League President Dr. Bobby Brown, who had turned a baseball career into one as a cardiologist, agreed. ”For most of their lives, they have been devoting virtually all of their time to baseball. It consumes their thinking, their physical being, everything involved in their day-to-day life is connected with baseball,” Brown said. “Suddenly, it’s gone. They have gone from what they think is a pinnacle of success to a life without that type of atmosphere.”
And as New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza described, keeping baseball on the field is possible. While the Mets were floundering at the start of the 2001 season, Piazza spoke with New York Times baseball writer Jack Curry about how he copes with his failed expectation. Piazza recalled rookie-year advice he received from Brooklyn Dodger great Roy Campanella, whose career-ending injury left him paralyzed from the waste down. “He just told me: ‘Just play the game. Just play baseball. Just keep it a game,’ ” Piazza said. And according to men like Branca, Williams, and Kim, that can happen – with help from friends and family, religion, another career, and the lessons learned from the story of Donnie Moore.
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