Skip to main content

On Sunday night, at normally boisterous Wrigley Field, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs played a game in near silence. No raucous pregame activities, no ceremonial first pitch. No music blaring from the loudspeakers before every at bat, no beery seventh-inning sing-along of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Not even the trademark first-inning sprint into rightfield and salute to the Bleacher Bums by Sammy Sosa. Instead there was a moment of silence before the first pitch, the crack of the bat and the pop of the glove during the game, and the shedding of tears in the visitors' dugout.

Players and fans at Wrigley were in mourning for St. Louis righthander Darryl Kile, who died in his sleep in a Chicago hotel room early last Saturday. An initial autopsy found that Kile, 33, suffered from coronary arteriosclerosis and that two arteries to his heart were 80% to 90% blocked. It was the second jarring loss in four days for the Cardinals, following the death of Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck (box, page 41).

With 39,000 fans already settled into their seats, Saturday afternoon's game was called off 15 minutes after the scheduled start. Cubs catcher Joe Girardi, with his teammates gathered behind him, stood at a microphone in front of the Cubs' dugout and announced the postponement, due to a "tragedy in the Cardinals' family."

Neither team was in the mood to play on Sunday, either, but the Cardinals--after team gatherings on Saturday night and Sunday morning and consultation with Kile's wife, Flynn--decided they should play the game to honor the memory of a man who took pride in his competitiveness, durability and reliability. Not once in his 11-year career did Kile go on the disabled list, and since 1996 he had made 216 starts. (Only the Atlanta Braves' Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux made more.) What kind of message would the players be sending if they didn't play? After all, Sunday was Kile's day to pitch, and he never missed a start. Manager Tony La Russa and his staff had privately referred to Kile as John Wayne due to his grittiness.

On June 18, in his best outing of the year, Kile had pitched St. Louis to the top of the National League Central for the first time since April 15, allowing one run in 7 2/3 innings of a 7-2 win over the Anaheim Angels. But the joy of victory was tempered by the death that night of Buck, the patriarch of the franchise. La Russa and general manager Walt Jocketty attended Buck's funeral outside St. Louis on Friday morning and arrived in Chicago only minutes before the series opener that afternoon.

Less than 24 hours later Kile was found dead by hotel security, and pennant races suddenly seemed insignificant. With a pair of Kile's jerseys hanging behind their bench and black patches with his number 57 sewn onto their left sleeves, the Cardinals lost 8-3. "You could see the attitude of their players coming to the plate, almost walking with their heads down," Girardi said. "It's amazing they were able to play."

"It's the most devastating thing I've seen on a ball club," said the 57-year-old La Russa. "You see so many strong men, and you're seeing them break down."

Kile kept a low profile with the media, but he was one of the leaders in the St. Louis clubhouse. Although he was only a 30th-round draft pick by the Houston Astros in 1987, out of Chaffey College, a two-year school in his native Southern California, Kile earned a spot in the rotation by '91. While back in California in '88 he met Flynn Behrens, and they were married four years later. He won 15 games and threw a no-hitter against the New York Mets in '93. After going 19-7 with a 2.57 ERA in '97, he landed a three-year, $24 million free-agent contract with the Colorado Rockies. Kile quickly became the poster boy for the difficulties of pitching at Coors Field: His trademark pitch, a sharp overhand curve, flattened out in the thin Colorado air, and in two seasons he was a combined 21-30 with a 5.84 ERA. Despite his struggles Kile won respect for his gutsy attempts to tame the Coors beast--and he never made excuses for his poor performance.

Kile was rejuvenated by a trade to St. Louis before the 2000 season. The bite returned to his curveball, and he won 20 games that year, followed by 16 last season, helping the Cardinals into the playoffs both years. He was also a mentor to the team's young pitchers. Last year he worked closely with lefthander Rick Ankiel, who was trying to regain the control that mysteriously abandoned him late in 2000. Kile also took righthander Matt Morris, a 20-game winner last season, under his wing. The two hung out together on the road, and Morris credits Kile with helping him mature into a successful pitcher. "My numbers might look better, but Kile's the best guy on our staff," Morris said late last year. "He's the ace."

Kile appeared to be fine when most of his teammates last saw him, after the Cubs' 2-1 win on Friday afternoon. That night he ate dinner with his brother Dan and friends at Harry Caray's, a downtown restaurant and sports bar. (According to Cook County medical examiner Edmund Donoghue, Dan said Darryl had complained of right shoulder pain and general weakness.) Kile was back at the team hotel, the Westin Michigan Avenue, by 10:30. Around midnight Morris called from the hotel bar to see if Kile wanted to come down for a beer. Kile declined, saying he was turning in. Shortly before Morris called, Kile had wrapped up a phone conversation with Flynn. She was in San Diego visiting her father and attending to the details of a new house there that the Kiles, whose off-season home is in Englewood, Colo., were planning to move into. The couple's three children--twins Kannon and Sierra, 5, and Ryker, 10 months--were home in suburban St. Louis with Flynn's mother.

Kile wasn't on the team bus that took most of the Cardinals from the hotel to Wrigley the next morning, but that wasn't unusual. He often took a cab to the ballpark so he could arrive early and start his workday. Nor was there reason to be alarmed when Kile wasn't in the clubhouse when the rest of the team arrived at Wrigley by approximately 11:20, three hours before the scheduled first pitch. Perhaps his cab had gotten stuck in traffic. Perhaps he had decided to sleep in; he had told Morris the night before that he was tired.

When Kile failed to show by noon, however, the Cardinals began to worry. Several calls from team officials to Kile's room had gone unanswered. A little after noon the team phoned the hotel security staff and asked them to check on the pitcher. Security and engineering staff members arrived at Kile's 11th-floor corner suite to find a gray PRIVACY PLEASE sign dangling from the door and the safety latch fastened.

As the Cardinals filtered off the field after batting practice, word began to spread that something was wrong. Club p.r. official Brad Hainje asked pitching coach Dave Duncan who would start on Sunday night, if Kile was ill or otherwise unable to take his turn. "I don't know," the worried Duncan said. "I guess [22-year-old lefthander] Bud Smith."

Minutes later the Cardinals learned the staggering news: The hotel staff had forced its way into Kile's room and found him lying in bed as if asleep, wearing eyeshades. The TV remote control was next to him. His valuables were arranged on the nightstand, his clothes laid out on an upholstered easy chair. Full autopsy and toxicology reports won't be completed for at least four weeks, but early indications are that the blockage in the arteries may have caused arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) that interrupted the blood supply to the brain.

Kile's father, David, had died at 44 of a stroke, which is caused by an arterial blockage or a hemorrhage. Even with that red flag, doctors would have had little reason to perform an angiogram, the most reliable test for coronary disease, on such a young patient as Kile unless he had complained of chest pains or failed a stress test. According to the Cardinals' medical staff, Kile had passed a physical in spring training and hadn't complained to them about anything other than muscular aches and pains since.

The Cardinals were still in shock when they headed home on Sunday night. Competition might be their only escape for the rest of the season. "During the game you can concentrate on playing," says Cubs manager Don Baylor, a teammate of Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock, who was shot to death after a game in Chicago late in the 1978 season. "Players will have problems during the downtime. That's when you have a chance to think about things and reflect on your teammate. It's probably one of the most difficult things they'll have to deal with as players."

As of Monday the Cardinals hadn't decided who would replace Kile full time in their rotation. Most likely they'll call up a pitcher from Triple A Memphis, perhaps righthander Travis Smith, who has limited big league experience, or righthander Jimmy Journell, a 1999 fourth-round draft pick who was 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA at Double A New Haven before being called up to Memphis on Monday. The Cardinals will find someone to take the mound in Kile's stead. Filling the empty place in their hearts will be more difficult.