REMEMBERING : LYMAN BOSTOCK : 10 Years Ago Tonight, Angel Outfielder Was Gunned Down in Gary, Ind.
Ten years ago tonight, in Gary, Ind., Lyman Bostock stepped into the wrong car with the wrong woman at the wrong time.
If he hadn’t, maybe the Angels would have more to show for the last decade than just three failed attempts in the American League playoffs.
If he hadn’t, maybe Bostock would have lived out Earl Weaver’s 1978 prediction that the Angel outfielder would “win four batting titles in the next seven years.”
If he hadn’t, maybe we would all remember Bostock, a career .311 hitter, for the time he slumped through a horrendous April, walked into the office of General Manager Buzzie Bavasi and actually offered to return his salary for that month.
That would be part of the legend of Lyman: The perennial All-Star, the potential Hall of Famer, who once donated a month’s pay to charity because he thought he didn’t deserve it.
Instead, the image Lyman Bostock left with us is one of shotgun pellets and broken glass, of blood and tears and a major league career that was silenced before the shouting could really begin.
On the night of Sept. 23, 1978, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Jackson in downtown Gary, Bostock was gunned down in the back seat of his uncle’s car. He was hit by a shotgun blast apparently intended for Barbara Smith, the woman seated next to him.
The trigger was pulled by Leonard Smith, a 31-year-old unemployed steelworker and Barbara’s estranged husband. According to police reports, he and Barbara had argued and fought earlier that day.
Earlier that night, Bostock had met Barbara Smith at a dinner party at the home of his uncle, Ed Turner. Afterward, the three of them, along with Smith’s sister, Joan Hawkins, got into Turner’s car and began to drive to Hawkins’ home.
Bostock never got there.
En route, a car driven by Leonard Smith pulled up alongside Turner’s. A brief chase ensued, with Turner running several red lights in an attempt to elude Smith, police said.
But then Turner ran into congestion and was forced to stop. Smith stopped, too, and stepped out of his car with a small-gauge shotgun.
Smith fired one shot, point-blank, into the back seat of Turner’s car.
Barbara Smith was wounded in the neck by one shotgun pellet.
The rest of the blast caught Bostock in the right side of the head.
Less than 3 hours later, Bostock was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
Sgt. Charles Highsmith, a Gary policeman, told reporters the next day: “Lyman was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Only 10 months earlier, they had said just the opposite about Lyman Bostock. At 27, he was just reaching his athletic prime after having hit .282, .323 and .336 in 3 seasons with the Minnesota Twins. He was also a free agent, back when it was a good thing to be a free agent, in the pre-collusion days when owners would clobber one another with their money bags in a mad scramble for baseball’s top talent.
In November 1977, the Angels outbid the New York Yankees and the San Diego Padres for the rights to Bostock, agreeing to pay the outfielder the then-outrageous sum of $2.25 million for 5 years.
“He was a tremendous acquisition,” remembered Brian Downing, the Angel designated hitter who played with Bostock during the 1978 season. “A great signing. . . . He was a real solid hitter, always making contact, hitting the ball all over the ballpark.
“It doesn’t take a genius to state that he would’ve been an outstanding Angel for years to come.”
But by the end of his first month as an Angel, playing under the microscope of fans wanting a quick payoff for Gene Autry’s money, Bostock was batting .147. He had 2 hits in his first 38 at-bats.
He began to press, to the point where he told reporters: “The tension was so tight, it was like blowing up a balloon as tight as you can and then deflating it, having it drop back to nothing. I was really hallucinating. I felt myself standing outside my body up there at the plate, then jumping back into it just before the pitch. Everything was just a big glare in front of my face.”
Midway through the slump, a humiliated Bostock offered to return his April salary to Autry. “I feel I’m receiving money and I should produce,” Bostock said. “I want to give him his money’s worth.”
Autry, through Bavasi, declined the offer--baseball regulations also prohibit it--but Bavasi recalled the discussion he had with Bostock over it.
“He came into my office and told me he was reluctant to take his salary,” Bavasi said. “He said, ‘I’m not doing my job.’ But I told him, ‘I won’t let you do that.’
“And he says, ‘Why not?’
“So I told him, ‘What if you hit .600 next month? You’re sure as hell not getting any more money out of me.’ ”
Bavasi laughs at the recollection, but at the time, he professed shock over Bostock’s not-so-modest proposal.
“That floored me,” Bavasi said. “I never knew a .200 hitter who didn’t think he deserved a raise. I never heard of a ballplayer wanting to give $40,000 away.”
Bostock, however, eventually did give the money away, donating a month’s pay to charity.
“That showed the type of integrity he had,” Downing said. “He was one of the first wave of free agents, and there was a lot of pressure on the big-money guys. When he didn’t get the results he wanted the first month, the fans were booing him, really hammering him.
"(Donating the money) was how he dealt with it. He had a lot of personal pride. He got off to a horrendous start, but he fought so hard to get out of it.”
And Bostock did get out of it. By late September, he was again closing in on .300. After the Angels’ afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park that Sept. 23, Bostock was batting .296 with 5 home runs, 71 RBIs and 24 doubles in 568 at-bats.
He would never get his 569th.
Angel broadcaster Ken Brett was a pitcher and player representative for the 1978 Angels. He remembers walking into the lobby of the Water Tower Hyatt, the team hotel in Chicago, on the night of Sept. 23, punching an elevator button and watching the doors open.
“There was Don Baylor, looking like he’d seen a ghost,” Brett recalled. “He said, ‘Lyman’s been shot. It doesn’t look good.’
“Freddie Frederico (the Angels’ trainer) was going to drive him to the hospital. Everybody else went up to Freddie’s room and waited to hear something. Ten minutes later, Freddie called us and said, ‘Lyman hasn’t got a chance. All they can do is make him comfortable before he dies.’ ”
Brett remembers Jim Fregosi, the gruff manager of that Angel club, breaking down and crying.
“Jimmy got real emotional about it,” Brett said. “Lyman was one of his guys. He’d been with him through all the ups and downs.
“At the funeral, Jimmy was supposed to do the eulogy, but he came up to me and said, ‘I just can’t do it.’ As the player’s rep, he asked me to do it. So I did.”
An excerpt from that eulogy:
“We called him Jibber Jabber because he enlivened every clubhouse scene, chasing tension, drawing laughter in the darkest hour of defeat,” Brett said. “When winning wasn’t in the plan, Lyman knew the sun would come up the next morning. . . .
“There’s only one consolation: We’re all better persons for having him touch our lives.”
Bostock was survived by his wife, Yuovene, his mother, Annie, and his father, also Lyman Bostock, who had been a great Negro League ballplayer in the 1940s.
Leonard Smith was charged with first-degree murder, but not convicted. He was tried twice, the first trial ending in a hung jury, the second resulting in a verdict of “not responsible by reason of insanity.” Smith spent 7 months in an Indiana state mental hospital and was released on June 19, 1980--less than 22 months after Bostock’s shooting.
The Smith case proved so controversial that it led the Indiana state legislature to change its homicide law in 1980. The new law allows juries a verdict of “guilty but mentally ill,” carrying a sentence requiring both imprisonment and mental treatment.
But that provided little consolation for those who had known, and played with, Lyman Bostock.
Said Downing: “I hate to talk in would’ve and could’ve, but he definitely would’ve gone down as one of this franchise’s greatest players. We won the division the next year, and you add Bostock to that lineup we had in ’79 and, oh my, it would’ve been staggering.”
Added Bavasi: “He was destined to go into the Hall of Fame. He was that good. He was like Rod Carew with more power. He could run and throw and hit. He could do everything an All-Star’s supposed to do.
“I feel the same way about that young man as I did about Roberto Clemente when I was with the Dodgers. We had Clemente, but lost him to Pittsburgh in the minor league draft. What do you think would’ve happened to the Dodgers if they had kept him? Same thing with the Angels and Lyman Bostock.”
If only Bostock hadn’t met Barbara Smith. If only Bostock hadn’t stepped into Ed Turner’s car.
If only, Bavasi suggests, Bostock would have spent the night of Sept. 23, 1978, in the Water Tower Hyatt, with the rest of his Angel teammates.
“Bostock didn’t stay at the hotel when he was in Chicago,” Bavasi said. “He stayed at his relatives’ home. That’s normally a violation of club rules, but he received permission from the manager and the traveling secretary to stay with his cousins.
“If he hadn’t, he would’ve stayed in the hotel and none of this would’ve happened.”
And 10 years later?
“He’d have still been playing for the Angels today.”