Say what you will about Ben Sakoguchi and the Baseball Reliquary...they do not sugar-coat. "Purpose Pitch," an exhibition featuring fifty-four of Ben's paintings from his Unauthorized History of Baseball series (hand-picked by Reliquary Executive Director Terry Cannon), does not blink from the tragedies in baseball history.
One of those tragedies occurred thirty-five years ago and is now little more than a footnote in baseball history. Late in September 1978, the California Angels' trip to Chicago proved fateful when outfielder Lyman Bostock, whom they'd signed as a free agent over the previous off-season, kept a family rendezvous in nearby Gary, Indiana.
Bostock, riding in the back of his relatives' car, was shot and killed by his cousin's jealous husband, whose aim was as bad as his judgment.
In a cruel twist of fate, Bostock's murderer, a man named Leonard Smith, was set free a few years later after a mistrial and a highly controversial subsequent ruling that deemed him not guilty by reason of insanity.
Bostock's story has not lacked for those who would give voice to it. Jeff Pearlman gave it a patently overwrought narration at ESPN, marring a sure-fire tearjerker by interjecting himself into the story; SABR's Tim Connaughton takes a much more prosaic approach, focusing on Bostock's baseball exploits; Tom Hoffarth, beat writer for the L.A. Daily News, reviewing MLB.com's slightly undercooked 2013 feature, keeps the journalism tucked-in and admirably astringent.
Two documentaries have been assembled about Bostock and his senseless demise; while they are both competently done, neither of them quite manages to capture the shock of the moment as it played out on that late September morning in 1978, when the news reached disbelieving baseball fans.
Dick Enberg, then the Angels' announcer, had the thankless task of broadcasting the news to fans of the team--and this was a team that had been through hard times in the 70s, and had embarked on a free agent buying spree (Bobby Grich, Joe Rudi and Don Baylor prior to the 1977 season; Bostock prior to '78) and that was still coming up short in the standings. Remembering that day, Enberg's words are plain and heartfelt:
"We are not trained to handle a tragedy like that, are we? You think back over all of baseball history...just how many times has something like this happened? It's staggering just to contemplate the idea of a ballplayer playing one day, and then the next day comes when you expect to see him again, but you don't. And you never do, because he's gone."