Thursday, October 12, 2006

Life, history and airplanes

One second was all it took. An errant left turn under a thick October cloud deck on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

In one second, terror gripped those below, sixty-one months to the day after the World Trade Center fell.

Fire and smoke, billowing out of a high-rise. Talk of impact zones and hurried evacuations. The nation's air defense pounced into action. It was all too sickeningly familiar.
Then we exhaled. Once. It was a small plane.

But the next breath, we choked on. It wasn't just any small plane. It was registered to a Yankee.

"God, who was it? Was he on board?" we wondered with that voyeuristic curiosity that only celebrities can provide.

Yes, we learned shortly. It was Cory Lidle. He was dead at 34. Within the next day or two, he would have flown home to his wife and six-year-old son.

Then another sickening tragedy came to mind. This was Thurman Munson all over again.
The 1979 death of Thurman Munson, who crashed near the Akron-Canton airport, was so similar, and so equally unfair.

A baseball player on baseball's most famous team in the world's largest media market, using his passion for the sky as a way to lift himself out of the crucible of being a Yankee in New York City, if only for a time. The vast wealth of Munson and Lidle allowed them to indulge their hobby. Their vast wealth allowed them to fly their planes with little air experience. Their vast wealth might have killed them.

Lidle wasn't a Yankee in the sense that Munson was a Yankee. Munson was the captain of two world championship teams, the rocksteady catcher who handled the masterpieces of Ron Guidry. Lidle was a journeyman pitcher who came to the Yankees from Philadelphia in July. The Yankees were his seventh team.

Losing Munson in a midseason plane crash was a terrifying shock. It ripped out the heart and soul of the team, and they never really recovered until their next World Series title in 1996.
Losing Lidle is more a tragedy to the baseball community at large. You don't spend time with seven different teams without meeting a lot of people.

Reaction poured out over the airwaves Wednesday evening.

It's just sadder than sad," Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson told reporters. "It's horrific. It's almost unbelievable. It's a surreal moment."

Peterson was Lidle's pitching coach during his time with the Athletics.

"This is a terrible and shocking tragedy that has stunned the entire Yankees organization," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement released to the media Wednesday.

It's just not right. On the same day that Lidle died, Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson was charged in connection with an altercation outside an Indianapolis night club. Jackson reportedly was punched, hit by a car and fired warning shots in the air from a gun he was carrying.

While other athletes spend their free time smoking pot, getting into altercations at night clubs, recklessly riding motorcycles, shooting up steroids and abusing their women, Lidle was spending his free time trying to find peace in the one place where it always is: in the sky, hundreds and thousands of feet above the din of civilization. For that, he paid with his life.

"No matter what's going on in your life, when you get up in that plane, everything's gone," he told Comcast SportsNet in April.

Next April, he won't be in uniform. And there will only be an empty locker in Yankee Stadium that once bore his name.

Out in California, there is now a widow and a child without a father.

All it took was one second and a wrong turn in the October sky.

1 comment:

POJO_Risin said...

You know, I was going to post something on Lidle, then chose not to. Much like you, I saw Munson all over again. And much like you, I immediately thought of his family. I think that comes with the teritory when you have a family of your own.

So many times, athletes have hobbies that we all wish that we COULD have. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that we like sports so much. Their professions are our hobbies. Their hobbies are our dreams.

Lidle's was one that brought him peace. To many others, like Jackson, have hobbies that put them in jail.

This goes out to Lidle and his family, and it's not much. I feel your pain, and hope that you can find solace that so many people thought so much of Cory Lidle.

Erik, your blog may be one of the best on the internet. I only hope I can scratch some of that surface.