October 19, 2019

Lyman Bostock: What Might Have Been

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

What coulda been–a man taken from us WAY too soon….

It’s been 35 years since the very memorable 1975 baseball season–one that saw future Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver win Cy Young Awards, Frank Robinson become MLB’s first black manager, and another “no-no” thrown by Nolan Ryan. It also featured the Tigers losing a staggering 19 in a row, a guy named Fisk using body English while hitting an unforgettable World Series home run, and an unstoppable “Big Red Machine” rolling to a title. Sadly forgotten to this day (and hugely so) was the debut of a talented outfielder that special season–Lyman Bostock, Jr. His tragic death three years later abruptly ended the life of a tremendous individual–and cut short an extremely promising baseball career.

An All-Conference player at Cal State Northridge from 1970-72, Lyman Bostock vowed to be a major leaguer and make up for his Dad’s failed attempt/dream of playing baseball with white players back in the 1940s. Chosen in the 26th round in the ’72 amateur draft, he debuted with the Twins in 1975–hitting a respectable .282 playing part-time. The 24-year-old, left-handed batter had little power–but possessed the keen ability to spray line drives in various directions; he had good speed, too. He truly “arrived” in Minnesota the following year–hitting.323 and finishing fourth in one of the tightest AL batting races in history (ultimately won by George Brett at .333); he also won the Calvin Griffith Award for being the most improved Twin. Being in the same lineup with the great Rod Carew seemed to do wonders for Bostock; the two left-handed spray hitters would finish first and second in the ’77 batting race–Carew hitting an outrageous .388 while Bostock was the runner-up at a blazing .336 clip. As a fielder, Lyman had even tied the big league mark of 12 putouts in the second game of a doubleheader vs. Boston during the ’77 campaign. Free-agency beckoned for Bostock at the end of that year; it was the opportunity for Lyman to earn some major money and to escape the shadow of Mr. Carew, his mentor, in Minnesota. California and Gene Autry came calling with checkbook in hand: Five years, over $2 million for an outfielder named Lyman Bostock.

Funny thing about one Lyman Bostock, though. It really NEVER was all about the money to him; he always felt a need to assist other people while realizing how very fortunate he was to be playing the game both he and his father loved so much. Upon signing his contract with California, Bostock immediately donated $10,000 to a church in his native Birmingham, Alabama. He then continued to give his time and money to various youth programs while also helping student-athletes at CSU-Northridge. However, all one really needs to know about one Lyman Bostock was something that many of us witnessed in the spring of 1978. Getting off to a terrible start with the Angels, Bostock’s batting average stood at .150 at the end of April–prompting him to (sit down, folks) approach owner Gene Autry and voluntarily GIVE BACK his April salary. After Autry refused the deal, Bostock casually/quietly donated it to charity–and went on to raise his batting average to .296 by September–when tragedy struck.

After a game vs. Chicago on September 23rd, Bostock decided to visit a relative in Gary, Indiana. While sitting in the back seat of his uncle’s car at a stoplight, Bostock was gunned down by a shotgun blast. Some accounts said the gunman–the estranged husband of a female riding in the car–hit the wrong target; others chalk it up simply to a case of mistaken identity. In any case, Lyman Bostock was dead at the age of 27, and baseball had truly lost one of its rising stars–both on AND off the playing field.

In just four years in the majors, Lyman Bostock compiled a .311 lifetime average; he was well on his way to his third consecutive .300+ season before a crazed maniac (whom doctors deemed “no longer mentally ill” in 1980) cut short the life of one helluva hitter–and an even better citizen. A memorial scholarship fund has been established at CSU-Northridge–which yearly aids a needy athlete. But for some reason, Bostock’s name rarely comes up in modern sports conversations; perhaps it was due to the short length of his career or his quiet way of disdaining the limelight–unlike the athlete of today. Hell, the modern player can’t relate to what Bostock did while slumping back in early ’78; I guess that’s what makes the man special and worthy of this remembrance–at least to one columnist. The proverbial “what might have been” always comes to mind when I think of one Lyman Bostock; however, I also remember the fine, unique legacy he left behind.

The often-forgotten life of Lyman Bostock was elegantly put into words in 2002 by Chad Finn of the Concord News–who offered the following: “We hear about Lyman Bostock. But not as much as we should. He deserves to be more than a footnote, more than a name on a morbid list of ‘Ballplayers Who Died During A Season.’ He deserves better, because he might have been among the best.”

Rest assured, Mr. Bostock; some of us will NEVER forget.

Bob Lazzari is an award-winning sports columnist for both Connecticut’s Valley Times and NY Sports Day, where his “Sports Roundup” column is featured weekly. He is a member of the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance and host of “Monday Night Sports Talk,” a cable television show on CTV/Channel 14 in Connecticut.

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