September 23, 2008

A Great Athlete, An Even Better Person - The Life And Career Of Lyman Bostock

Sept. 23, 2008

By: Eric Bankston

Each and every baseball player has a story. For some, the personal narrative of their career is defined between the lines, in front of the legions of fans that flock to the ballpark, watch on television, or turn on the radio to listen to their heroes.

For others, their legacy is shaped more by their actions off the field. What these athletes lack in natural talent, they more than make up for it by their integrity and character, traits defined more by the events of their everyday life, than the actions that take place within the world of sport.

But every now and then, sports fans are presented an opportunity to witness someone who possesses the best of both worlds - admired for their athletic prowess, respected even more for their character and personal conviction.

Lyman Bostock was one of those individuals, and therein lies the real tragedy. Many people recognize the name because of the way he was murdered thirty years ago on September 23rd, by an enraged gunman, instead of all the events in his life that took place before that fateful evening.

Ever since he was born on November 22, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama, Bostock had baseball in his blood. Born to a father who was a legendary member of professional baseball's Negro League, Bostock often dreamed of taking the field himself one day.

Growing up in a single-parent household thanks to a divorce that took place at an early age, Bostock and his mother decided to relocate to Los Angeles, California. Even though he would never see his estranged father again, Bostock still wanted to follow in his footsteps and play professional baseball.

His dreams would first take root at Manuel Arts High School, where he was an all-Southern League first baseman as a senior, and played well enough to invite the attention of various major league scouts. The St. Louis Cardinals thought so highly of Bostock's skills and potential, they originally drafted him straight out of high school in 1968.

Bostock decided to dress for the men in red, and swing for the fences. But instead of signing with the Cardinals, he chose to attend Cal State Northridge, and try-out for Matadors Head Coach Bob Hiegart and his men's baseball team.

Young and excited when he arrived on campus in the fall of '68, Bostock quickly became influenced by the university environment, and found himself choosing the fight for civil rights over playing baseball. With tensions rising on campus, Bostock joined the Black Student Union in their student takeover of the Administration Building, holding various staff members in the building hostage until the university agreed to draft various educational reforms focused on improving the quality of life for black students on campus.

It was one of the first times in Bostock's life that he put the welfare of others before himself, as he was arrested and jailed for his participation in what was the first mass felony conviction of student demonstrators in United States history.

Bostock missed most of the early season, and was cut from the team midway through the fall. He remained a no-show until 1971 when he spoke with Coach Hiegart and asked him for another chance to play baseball. After the two drafted an agreement that contained a list of rules that needed to be adhered to at all times, Bostock was welcomed back to the team.

In his first season with the Matadors, Bostock ended up hitting .289 for the season, and was second on the team with 58 hits. The following season, he increased his average and hit .344, and collected all-conference honors for the second consecutive season.

Known by many off the field for his line-drive swing and natural fielding talents, fellow teammates saw an individual who, when on the road, would borrow their equipment and run a short clinic with a number of children from around the neighborhood that they were staying in. Sometimes Bostock would even give out baseballs or other baseball paraphernalia simply because these children loved the game, and needed the equipment more than he did,

It was hard for the coaching staff to become angry at him whenever his charitable tendencies would arise because they knew that Bostock's intentions were purely altruistic, he always wanted to help others, especially those who were less fortunate.

Bostock's dream of playing professional baseball would eventually become a reality, as he was drafted with the 596th overall pick in the 26th round of the 1972 amateur draft by the Minnesota Twins.

After paying his dues in the minor league, he made his major league debut midway through the 1975 season. In only 98 games, Bostock hit .282, and gave Twins fans a glimpse of his future potential.

In his first full season with the Twins, Bostock finished with a .323 batting average, the fourth highest in the American League, only 10 points behind Kansas City Royal's infielder George Brett who earned the batting title that season.

Bostock finished the following season batting .336, and nearly claimed the American League batting crown as his own, finishing second only to his teammate Rod Carew.

Both Brett and Carew were eventually inducted to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame, a fate that Bostock could have experienced as well.

Bostock went from being an unknown rookie, to a well-respected baseball player, to a free-agent in less than three seasons; when given the opportunity to return home to Southern California and play for the California Angels (now Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Bostock wasted no time and became one of the first free agents to sign a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.

In his first month with his new team, Bostock hit a meager .147, a result so disappointing that he asked owner Gene Autry to withhold his monthly paycheck. Since Autry refused his request, Bostock then turned around and donated his monthly salary to charity.

When asked by the reporters about the incident and his two hits in his 39 at bats during the month of April, Bostock simply replied, "I'm not going to take anything I don't earn."

Such occurrences were nothing new to Bostock as he regularly donated his wages to various churches, school, and charities during his time with both the Twins and the Angels as he felt that it was of the utmost importance to discern between "the needy and the greedy."

His average would eventually climb to a very respectable .296, as he entered the final month of his inaugural season with the Angels.

One of the final road trips of the season took the Angels to Chicago to face the White Sox, a trip that would enable to once again visit his uncle Thomas Turner who lived only 25 miles away in Gary, Indiana during his off-night.

These trips doubled as a de facto family reunion for Bostock, on this occasion Turner's goddaughter, Barbara Smith, would join the family festivities.

As he did whenever Bostock visited, Turner would drive the slugger back to his hotel in Chicago and take advantage of Bostock's final moments as an everyday man before re-joining his teammates.

Joining Bostock in the backseat of Turner's car was Smith, who just wanted to tag along and join the two in their trip back north to the big city,

It was here when the tragic chain of events would begin, with Bostock eventually finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As the family was leaving town to head back to Chicago, another car pulled up next to Turner at a stoplight, and fired a few shots at his car before speeding off into the darkness.

Bostock was it in the head by one of those gunshots, and was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital for treatment. Two hours would pass, before anyone received an update on Bostock's condition, and the news was grim.

Due to a gunshot wound that was received in the head, Bostock passed away in the early hours of September 23, 1978.

A suspect was arrested shortly after the incident, as it was discovered that Leonard Smith, Barbara's husband, was the individual behind the gruesome murder. Enraged from an earlier argument, Smith had originally planned on targeting his wife, but wound up killing Bostock instead.

Bostock was an individual who, on countless occasions, donated his money, time, and energy to those in need simply because he cared about the fortune and welfare of others. In his final act of selflessness, he gave up his life for a woman he never met up until that evening.

Bostock is still the only major league player to be murdered during the season.

Thirty years later as we stop to remember his life and career, Bostock still continues to give to others,

One month prior to his death, Bostock set up a scholarship to provide additional financial support for worthy student-athletes involved in the men's baseball program at Cal State Northridge, an award that is bestowed upon those worthy of such an honor to this day.

In 1981, Bostock also became one of the ten charter inductees of the Cal State Northridge Athletic Hall of Fame; an honor not only based upon the success Bostock created on the field both at the collegiate and professional level, but for his continued contributions off the field.

Each and every baseball player has a story, most usually end when they walk off the field for the final time. Lyman Bostock's story, however, continues to be written today by those who were fortunate enough to cross paths with one of the most generous and selfless athletes ever to play the game.

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