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First appeared in Gameday, April 2006

Among Twins, Bostock's death most senseless

It's the asterisk that no one wants, but everyone from Allison to Zimmerman will get. In fact, Bob Allison and Jerry Zimmerman already have it.

The Minnesota Twins place an asterisk in their media guide before the name of deceased players. When Kirby Puckett died in March of 2006, it was the 35th asterisk among an all-time roster of more than 600 men.

The previous 34 deaths combined didn't generate the attention surrounding Puckett's death at 45, even though six of those men died younger than Puckett.

Four didn't see 30.

Certainly the most senseless of those early deaths was that of Lyman Bostock. Bostock was 27 when pellets from a shotgun blast struck his right temple, robbing him of a slice of the fame Puckett enjoyed.

A list of all deceased Twins' players.

The insult was magnified when the murderer walked free.

Teammates called the son of a former Negro League player "Abdul Jibber Jabber." Unlike many rookies, Bostock burst into big-league camp and wouldn't shut up.

He was a 6-foot-1 electric tapestry. Manager Gene Mauch said Bostock would get so worked up before games that, "He had to be rested periodically, otherwise he would have exploded." Best friend and teammate Larry Hisle said Bostock played the game so hard, "you would have been embarrassed to be on the field with him and not give 100 percent."

Bostock learned to back up his jibber jabber by watching two of the Twins' finest hitters, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew. Oliva taught Bostock how to set up pitchers during Bostock's rookie season in 1975. Carew demonstrated how to put Oliva's advice into action.

Twins fans who never saw him play would have been able to identify with Bostock. He had future center fielder Kirby Puckett's smile and goodwill with fans. And as was the case with Twins' center fielder Torii Hunter in '05, Bostock broke his ankle making a play at the center field wall, which ended Bostock's rookie season with a .282 batting average. Bostock followed with seasons of .323 and .336, with more walks than whiffs.

Baseball free agency was in its toddler years then, and the Twins regularly lost star players to higher bidders. After Bostock hit 14 home runs, drove in 90, and slugged .506 in 1977, he and Hisle bolted. Bostock opted for the state he loved: California.

California Dream

Because his father had never been in the picture, his mother made the family decisions. In 1958, she and 7-year-old Lyman stepped onto a Greyhound bus in Gary, Indiana, bound for California. They arrived with $7, but relatives welcomed them into their home.

Mom quickly found work, and Bostock quickly found the California climate ideal for baseball. His standout high school career landed him a scholarship and all-conference honors at Cal-State Northridge.

Bostock was an aware man at an early age, earning a degree in psychology, working with troubled teens in South Central L.A. during his college years. Fans in Minnesota adored him, and naturally reacted with bitterness toward owner Calvin Griffith when he left the Twins.

Bostock had earned $20,000 in his final year with Minnesota. He signed a five-year, $2.5 million pact with California, a fabulous contract at the time, particularly for a man who had never lived extravagantly.

The move to California made Bostock happier than ever. He had a good marriage and money in his pockets for the first time. He began donating money to housing projects and coaxed liquor store owners to put money back into the community. Bostock knew he couldn't reach the heart of the drug problems in L.A., but thought liquor retailers contributed to some of the area's problems and that they should contribute to a solution.

Bostock's play was horrendous during his first month with the Angels. He batted .167 in April, his swing so out of whack that he had begun pumping his leg - as Puckett would later, but the difference was Bostock did it because he was such a mess he couldn't find his timing.

Donates his salary

When April of '78 ended Bostock told Angels' owner Gene Autry to take back his salary. He hadn't earned it. Autry refused, so Bostock proceeded with detective work to determine which charities should receive his salary. "You gotta discern the needy from the greedy," he explained. He also insisted this was a one-time donation -- the Bostock family would be the future beneficiaries.

After his act of charity, Bostock's batting improved quickly, and in June he went 44-for-109 - a .404 clip. He was batting .296 and hot enough to expect to once more hit .300 for the season the day the Angels left Minnesota for Chicago shortly before the end of the season. When Bostock played in Chicago, he always stayed in Gary, Indiana, with his uncle, Thomas Turner.

Bostock went 2-for-4 on a September Saturday afternoon game in Chicago, then drove to Gary.

Bostock told Turner that he hadn't seen childhood friend Joan Hawkins for years, so Turner called Hawkins' sister, Barbara Smith, who said Hawkins would be by soon. Bostock and Turner drove to Smith's house, where friends began to gather to meet Bostock. He chatted and signed autographs for friends of Smith, whom he had known for about 30 minutes when she asked Turner if she and Hawkins could catch a ride to a friend's house.

Bostock and Smith got into the back seat of Turner's Buick Limited. Six blocks later, Turner heard a shotgun blast and thought it had come from outside a nearby store. It had come from a car next to them. Leonard Smith, the estranged husband of Bostock's seatmate, had driven beside the Buick and pulled the trigger on a sawed off shotgun.

Reports suggested Smith wanted to kill his ex-wife, but those close to the case later said Smith mistook Bostock for his estranged wife's boyfriend.

Smith's first trial ended in a hung jury. The jury in the second trial deliberated for just five hours before ruling Smith was temporarily insane. Indiana law at the time stipulated such verdicts would allow the defendant to walk. Smith was incarcerated for less than two years, prompting such outrage that the law was later changed.

When people maintained that Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle had never made Bostock's kind of money, Bostock didn't defend his Angels' contract. He just said, with some irony as it turned out, "If you ask me, I was in the right place at the right time."

[POSTSCRIPT: Smith died of natural causes in 2010 at age 64. He had no further police record after being released in 1980.]

Cool of the Evening:
The 1965 Minnesota Twins


Teammates: Herman Hill and Danny Thompson

Herman Hill had spent his entire career in the Twins' organization. The youngest of 13 children, he grew to be 6-foot-2 and had earned honors as an All-New Jersey prep football player.

The Twins traded him to St. Louis just as he was about to report to Venezuela for the 1970 winter season. He played left field for Magallanes before a young Cleveland catcher named Ray Fosse arrived. Fosse was to be tried in left field, so Hill prepared to move to center field.

Hill, Fosse, two other teammates and their wives headed to the beach one afternoon, and as the group swam and sunned, Hill suddenly found himself being swept out to sea.

Teammate John Morris reached Hill, who began to struggle violently. Morris lost three teeth to the thrashing Hill before Hill slipped from view, leaving Morris exhausted. Fosse managed to swim out and pull Morris to safety. At 25, Hill is the youngest Twin to die.

Shortstop Danny Thompson had been a teammate of Hill in 1970, Thompson's rookie season. Thompson was a slick fielder who could also play third and second base. Thompson played about 350 games with the Twins after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He was initially floored when told of his condition, but treatment kept it under control and he adjusted, frequently visiting children hospitalized with the disease. In 1975, he received baseball's Fred Hutchinson Award for his courage.

It was during the'76 season that Thompson and Bert Blyleven were shipped to Texas for four players, including Roy Smalley.

Thompson singled in his last major league start, which occurred in Bloomington during that '76 season. That off-season, Thompson visited Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to have his spleen removed. While at Mayo, Thompson succumbed to complications of leukemia - the same disease that killed Walter Bond. In '67, Bond was the first Twins' player to die. Like Thompson, he was 29.

Baseball essays


"He was a good man. I felt comfortable around him. When he came into the clubhouse he always had a smile, and a nice word.

- Ron Fairly

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