As a kid growing up in Southern California loving baseball, I was a bit of an oddity. While all of my friends adored their beloved Dodgers, I adopted the mostly ignored team down the freeway, the "Los Angeles," "California," "Anaheim," and today, "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim!" When I told people of my allegiance, I often got blank stares probably questioning my sanity. "The Angels?," I often heard in astonishment.
Any loyal Angels fan will tell you that it hasn't been easy over the past forty plus seasons. Not only did the team lose far more games than they ever won, the past is filled with true tragedy on and off the field. Until the team won the 2002 World Series Championship, I think it is fair to say that most Angels fans honestly believed that this was a cursed franchise. Defeat was often snatched from the jaws of victory as it was in 1982, and 1986, when the team stood on the very doorstep of the World Series only to see it slip away. Then there was 1995 when the club blew a thirteen game lead in the American League Western division over the final six weeks of the season.
Year after year, key players received season ending injuries at the worst possible times, players died, team buses crashed, and the team would always be seen as the step child of the Dodgers. Original owner Gene Autry, spent tens of millions of dollars trying to bring us a pennant but it always seemed to end in what resembled a Greek tragedy!
In the early years of the franchise Angels loyalists had little to get excited about. That all changed in the mid 1970's with the dawning of the free agent era. Mr. Autry used his deep pockets to sign the very best baseball talent that money could buy. Suddenly a championship in Anaheim didn't seem completely out of the question. By 1977 new and talented players were suddenly wearing Angel uniforms. These included future American League MVP Don Baylor, all star second baseman Bobby Grich, and former Oakland A's standout Joe Rudi. While injuries held the team back in 77, Angels faithful became even more optimistic when hard hitting, slick fielding outfielder Lyman Bostock, just 27, was signed away from the Minnesota Twins prior to the 1978 season. By all accounts Bostock was a can't miss superstar in the making, having hit 336, and 323, the two previous seasons. Angels management thought enough of him to offer an astonishing at the time, 2.7 million dollars over the next five seasons. With the addition of Bostock, the team seemed only a pitcher or two away from making a serious run at the American League pennant.
As the 1978 baseball season began, the high priced Bostock struggled. Obviously pressing in his desire to produce for the generous owner, and expectant fans, Lyman's batting average sank to a lowly 150 in the month of April. Hometown fans began to loudly boo him. Embarrassed and distraught Bostock did something that would endure him to Angels fans forever. He called owner Gene Autry offering to return his first months pay check to the club! When Autry refused, Bostock donated the money to a local charity. When asked why he would give up part of his salary, he simply said, "If I can't play up to my capabilities, I don't want to get paid for it." As the year wore on his bat heated up. By what would be his final game, his average was up to 296. To make it all even better, the team was in the pennant race for one of the few times in club history.
SEPTEMBER 23rd 1978 A DAY THAT LIVES IN ANGEL INFAMY
Lyman Bostock had a routine 2-4 game in a 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. He lined a base hit in his final at bat. Following the game, he got in a car and made the short trip to Gary, Indiana, where he was staying with his uncle as he always did when the team was in Chicago. After eating a meal with a group of people, Bostock got in the back seat of his uncle's car. As the vehicle crossed the intersection of 5th and Jackson streets, a car pulled up along side them. The driver got out and fired one blast of a 410 gauge shotgun into the back seat where Bostock was sitting. The shooter, Leonard Smith, did not even know Lyman Bostock. His lethal wrath was intended for his estranged wife, Barbara Smith, who was along with the group as a guest of Bostock's uncle, Thomas Turner, who happened to be her godfather. The blast missed the woman but struck Bostock in the left temple. He died two hours later at a Gary hospital. Just like that, a life with so much to live for was snuffed out in a senseless act of violence. It was later discovered that Bostock had known the woman in the car for a total of twenty minutes.
News of his death sent shockwaves through the baseball world. Bostock's former manager when he was with the Twins, Gene Mauch, said "I'm shocked, I'm sorry, I'm angry, I'm sick. People don't realize the strong feelings of admiration and respect that develop on a ballclub. I thought the world of that man."
Making this story even more bizarre is the fact that Bostock's murderer spent just twenty-one months behind bars! After two trials he was found NOT guilty by reason of insanity. He was sent to a mental hospital where after just a few months of "treatment" he convinced a doctor that he was no longer insane. Leonard Smith has been a free man since 1980.
BOSTOCK THE MAN
Lyman Wesley Bostock was born on November 22nd 1950, the son of Annie, and Lyman Bostock Sr. 1918-2005, a retired Negro leagues ballplayer. Bostock senior dreamed of playing in the major leagues but had to wait until his son's debut in 1975 to see his name in a major league box score. In 1959, the family moved to California. Lyman junior went on to star at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School. After a stellar career at San Fernando Valley State College, now Cal State Northridge University, he signed his first pro contract after being drafted in the 26th round by the Minnesota Twins in 1972.
Unlike many of the sports stars of our era that we have come to detest, Lyman Bostock was not an arrogant, "it's all about me," kind of guy. He almost seemed apologetic that he was getting paid so much money to play a kids game. According to those fortunate enough to come across him, Lyman had time for everybody. Bostock would insist on signing every last autograph. He gave of his money and time supporting the baseball program at his college alma mater Cal State Northridge. One of the first things that he did with his new found wealth after signing with the Angels, was donate ten thousand dollars to rebuild a church that had been destroyed by a fire in his former home town of Birmingham, Alabama.
Carl Patten was a young teenager in September of 1978. He, along with another friend, attended the last game that Lyman Bostock would ever play at Anaheim Stadium. In those days fans could wait just outside the gate leading to the Angels dressing room until all of the players came out following games. Kids by the dozens would wait in hopes of getting autographs. On this night, Lyman Bostock happened to be the last player to leave the locker room. When he encountered the boys, Bostock expressed concern that they were out so late without adult supervision. Instead of just signing his autograph and leaving, he took them across the street from the stadium to a restaurant and waited with them until Patten's father picked them up. One can only imagine the shock of these young men when they heard just forty-eight hours later that Lyman Bostock was dead!
FORGOTTEN ALL TOO SOON
It has always amazed me how quickly the sports world forgot Lyman Bostock. Just a week later baseball's post season began with the Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Yankees, battling the Kansas City Royals, and George Brett, for the American League Pennant. Following the ALCS, the Yankees disposed of the Dodgers in the World Series. Not once throughout the broadcasts did I hear anyone even mention the terrible tragedy that the baseball world had recently endured. Its possible that two other major news events which occurred in the days following Bostock's murder shifted public attention. On September 25th, there was a major air disaster in San Diego, California, and on the 28th, Pope John Paul the first died of a sudden heart attack after just 33 days in office. Compared to the tragic death of Thurman Munson, a year later, the Bostock murder seemed a blip on the media radar screen.
As a teenager and a fan of the Angels, the death of Lyman Bostock made a huge impression on me. It's fair to say that the event made me for the first time, aware of my own mortality. To those like Carl Patten and myself, it was hard to grasp the thought that someone so young, with such a bright future, and so much to offer, could have it all come to an end by such a needless act of rage. With all of the first class jerks in the world, why did it have to be Lyman Bostock?
In the days to follow, I thought of Bostock's pretty young wife Yuovene, who I saw play one night along with the other Angels wives in a silly softball game against KMPC's on air radio personalities before the Angels took on the Brewers at the Big A. She seemed so happy, and to be having a great time hamming it up for fans. How inconceivable it would have been to imagine the tragedy in store. I pondered how hard it must have been for the team to play that Sunday game in Chicago after the horror that had occurred just hours before?
Lyman Bostock was a good man but he certainly was no choir boy. On the field he was a fierce competitor as was witnessed by the bench clearing brawl that he set off in Kansas City two weeks before he died, when the Royals flamboyant relief pitcher, Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabowsky sailed a ninety mile per hour fast ball too close to his head, Bostock charged the mound placing a serious body blow on the pitcher. It was possibly the biggest baseball fight of the season.
We often hear the overused words "role model" mentioned when speaking of professional athletes. I sense that our true role models come in far under the radar screen. That said, it is fair to apply the quote of sports writer, Dave Farquhar, "They don't make em like Lyman Bostock anymore." We will never know what he could have achieved on the field as he was just entering the prime of his career. What we should realize based upon the entirety of his brief life, is that he was too good of a man to ever be a simple footnote in baseball trivia. I'm truly astounded that there is not a permanent memorial to Lyman Bostock at Angels Stadium.
Hit for the cycle (July 24, 1976)
Collected 12 putouts in the second game of a doubleheader, tying the major league mark, as the Twins swept the Red Sox, 13–5 and 9-4. Bostock became only the third big leaguer to do it in a nine-inning game and just the second center fielder in the XX century. His 17 putouts in the doubleheader also set a record in the American League that still today (May 25, 1977).
In 1976 hit .323, finishing fourth behind Kansas City Royals George Brett (.333) and Hal McRae (.332), and teammate Rod Carew (.331).
His .336 average in 1977 was only second to Carew's .388.