6/22/2002 - Kile dies in his sleep

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(Joe Girardi. Photo via Cincinnati Enquirer)

On a Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, the Cubs and Cardinals were in an unexpected delay. 20 minutes had passed and the game had yet to begin. Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, the team representative, was standing in front of a microphone with the rest of the Cubs players in the background.

''We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family that the commissioner has canceled the game today,'' Girardi announced, his breaking as he said it. ''Thank you. I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals family.''

Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that Darryl Kile, the 33 year-old Cardinals pitcher, had died in his bed at the team hotel. His eyes were closed and there was no sign of foul play. His teammates had gotten suspicious when he hadn't shown up to the ballpark; he was found with the sheets pulled over his head.

Bud Selig promptly canceled the weekend game. It was the first time in 23 years that a player had died in the middle of the season; in 1979, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson perished in a plane crash.

"Our club is just totally staggered, I mean, devastated,'' manager Tony La Russa said.

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(Darryl Kile. Photo by Tom Gannam, AP)

"I couldn't believe it and I still don't believe it," said Cubs manager Don Baylor, who managed Kile in Colorado. "DK was a very special player. He was always the perfect teammate to all the guys who played with him."

"He was a great guy," said ex-teammate Larry Walker. "[He] was in a good mood all the time and was a professional at everything in life. It's going to be hard to deal with."

Kile played with the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies before heading to St. Louis. He was a three-time All-Star and a 20-game winner. He threw a no-hitter in 1993 and was considered the ace of the Cardinals' pitching staff. He was survived by his wife, Flynn, and three kids.

"I can't imagine what that phone call to his wife was like," said Cubs pitcher Jason Bere. "Just devastating. It's a tragedy."

"He refined me as a player," said teammate Matt Morris, who was particularly affected by Kile's death. "He helped me be a winner. I would always look to him for advice and now I'm unable to do that. (Darryl no longer being around) is a huge void."

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(Craig Biggio, his teammate in Houston. Photo by Pat Sullivan, AP)

Kile's death came just a four days after Jack Buck, the Cardinals' legendary announcer, passed away at the age of 77.

"This has been a very difficult week with the loss of Jack Buck and now the loss of Darryl Kile,'' said Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty. "It is going to be real tough period for the Cardinals organization and the citizens of St. Louis.''

The next day, the Cubs and Cards resumed their series. The St. Louis players had held a team meeting and decided, after speaking with Kile's wife, that the best way to honor Kile would be to go out and play. Kile had been scheduled to start that game.

The Cardinals ran onto the field with a black "DK 57" patch on their hats and uniforms. A moment of silence preempted each baseball game that day; Houston hung Kile's jersey in their dugout; the flags at Turner Field in Atlanta were at half-mass; Sammy Sosa's traditional sprint to right field was replaced with a somber jog. At Wrigley Field, the rival Cardinals received a standing ovation from the Chicago fans, many of whom carried signs wishing them well.

Jason Simontacchi filled in for Kile and pitched 4 innings before getting pulled. The Cubs went up 8-0 before winning 8-3. It was clear that the Cardinals' priorities weren't on the field.

"This is what we did in showing our respect for Darryl," La Russa said. "He would have wanted us to go out there and try to win a ballgame."

Kile's death was a surprise in every fashion. He appeared to be in perfect health when he conversed with teammates just hours before his corpse was discovered. How could a 33 year-old athlete die in the prime of his life?

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(Photo by Tom Gannam, AP)

The following day, the local coroners determined that two of Kile's arteries were 90% clogged. He suffered from "coronary arteriosclerosis," or the hardening of the arteries, and died of a heart attack. His father had died at 44 from a stroke. Kile tested negative for steroids, alcohol, cocaine, and ephedrine.

The Cardinals soldiered on and played out the season. They won 97 games and claimed the NL Central, then beat the Diamondbacks in the first round of the postseason. In both clinching victories, Kile's jersey was carried out onto the field.

In the offseason, Kile was given a special exemption and was allowed to be placed on the Hall of Fame ballot. He only received seven votes, as it was more a gesture than a serious consideration.

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