Few figures in the history of baseball were as tragic as Lyman Bostock. He had a wonderful budding career that was cut short. And the reasons for his untimely death had nothing to do with bad choices, excess or even bad health. It was horrible timing.
I remember getting this 3-D Kellogg’s card of Lyman Bostock in 1978. The uniform he had on was a member of the Twins. But the team he was listed as playing with on the back was the California Angels.
In the infancy of free agency, Bostock signed the Angels. After the 1978 season, I never saw another Lyman Bostock card. I didn’t know what had happened. Perhaps it is best I didn’t learn until later.
Bostock was the son of a former Negro League star but he was estranged to his dad. He felt like his father abandoned his family and he was going to be a better man.
By all accounts he was. The Twins drafted him out of Cal State Northridge in 1972. He was a left handed hitting fleet foot centerfielder who could hit. He shot up through the Twins farm system, batting .313 in Double A and .333 in Triple A. After hitting .391 in 22 games at Triple A in 1975, he got the call to Minnesota.
He scored 3 runs in his first game and got 3 hits and a walk in his third game.
On July 28, 1975 in a game against the Kansas City Royals, Bostock got 4 hits, including a pair of doubles, scored 3, and drove in the winning run with a walk off single in the bottom of the ninth.
He was a big leaguer. In 1976, he was an elite hitter. He batted .332 with an OPS of .812 in the first half of the season. Down the stretch, he found himself in a four way battle for the batting title with teammate Rod Carew and a Kansas City duo of Hal McRae and George Brett. He batted .326 in September but came up short. Carew, McRae and Brett all finished within 2 points of each other with Brett barely winning.
Carew said later that Bostock wanted to win the batting title more than he did. The next year, Carew won the AL MVP but his teammate Bostock helped protect him in the lineup.
He played 153 games for the Twins and batted .336 with an OPS of .897. His 12 triples and 14 homers helped his slugging percentage climb to .508 and he added 16 stolen bases to the arsenal. His average was second only to Carew and he found himself in the top ten of on base, runs scored, total bases, doubles, triples, runs created, times on base and, although nobody knew it then, WAR.
Because free agency was different then, Bostock was able to test the waters despite only having 2 1/2 years of service time. Gene Autry, whose aggressiveness in early free agency was underrated, signed him to a multi year deal to join the California Angels.
Bostock became a rich man and right away donated money to build a Sunday school in Birmingham, Alabama. That was evidently the kind of man he was.
Another sign of what kind of man he was was evident when he started playing in California. He got off to a horrible slump. What did he do? He tried to give his salary back for the month, claiming he didn’t earn it.
When Mr. Autry refused, Bostock donated his month’s salary to charity. Think about what kind of man does that. A great hitter and a solid man off the field? Evidently so.
He rebounded. After hitting .147 in April and .261 in May, he hit a whopping .404 in June with an OPS of .890 despite hitting no homers.
The second half of the year he batted .309 with an OPS of .789 to pull of a respectable 1978.
On September 23, 1978, the Angels played the White Sox. After the game, he had dinner at a relative’s home in near by Gary Indiana. After dinner, he got into a car with his uncle and two acquaintances. Bostock was in the rear passenger seat.
Unbeknownst to him, one of the women in the car whom Bostock barely knew, had an estranged husband who was obsessed with her infidelity. When the car stopped at an intersection, the former husband pulled up along side the car and blasted a shotgun at it.
The blast hit Bostock in the head and he was pronounced dead two hours later.
Leonard Smith, the man who shot at the car, was found not guilty for reasons of insanity and served less than two years in a psychiatric hospital.
Amazingly, the Angels played the day after the shooting. They won behind Nolan Ryan’s pitching. The season was over a week later.
Bostock’s former teammate and friendly batting title rival Rod Carew arrived in 1979.
What could his career have been? How many batting titles would he have won in California, a team that turned the corner the very next year? How much would the fabric of baseball have been improved if a potential batting champion who had a big heart and his priorities straight was able to fulfill his potential rather than be a tragic career cut short?
We will never know of course, which makes his tragedy even greater.