Darrell R Porter

Darrell R Porter

Darrell Porter, 1952-2002 Ex-catcher found dead Oklahoman overcame substance abuse during a long career in which he was named World Series MVP in 1982.

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The odd circumstances surrounding the death of former major-league catcher Darrell Porter offer one final twist in a complex life in which he achieved personal redemption from years of heavy substance abuse.

    Porter, 50, was found dead next to his car at 5:26 p.m. Monday at La Benite Park along the Missouri River. An autopsy Tuesday failed to determine the cause of death.

    Authorities hoped to learn more from a toxicology report but said no evidence was found at the scene to suggest foul play or involvement with drug or alcohol use. The front end of Porter's car was snagged on a tree stump, which prompted police to speculate Porter had succumbed to the heat while trying to free it.

    "I just want Kansas City to know that Darrell was a man full of love and integrity," said Bill Stutz, a longtime friend and business partner. "He came through a lot of obstacles because of his faith."

    Porter created a national sensation in 1980 by becoming one of the first high-profile athletes to acknowledge his addiction to drugs and alcohol. His 1984 book, "Snap Me Perfect," offered a harrowing portrait of a man driven to the edge.

    "My right hand was throbbing," he wrote. "The knuckles were bruised and bleeding. Staggering to my feet, I looked around and saw the mirror was splattered with blood.

    "Bloody paper towels were thrown everywhere. [A friend] opened another toilet door and found a guy about my age sprawled half-unconscious on the toilet seat holding a blood-soaked paper towel against his mouth. He looked terrified.

    "I drove back to Kansas City, worrying all the way about the guy in the men's room. `Who was that guy, anyway? Why did I hit him?' "

    An all-state quarterback in his native Oklahoma, Porter was a first-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. Despite his fast track into substance abuse, he reached the majors barely over a year later because of a cannon-like throwing arm that erased would-be basestealers.

    By 1973, Porter was in the majors for good. He was also deep into chemical dependency.

    "I guess I was schizoid," he said. "Baseball was one world and partying was another."

    A trade on Dec. 6, 1976, brought Porter to the Kansas City Royals. His toughness melded perfectly with a young, aggressive team that would reach the postseason six times over the next nine years.By 1979, he was a legitimate MVP candidate after batting .291 with 20 homers and 112 RBIs. At the time, he was consuming more than a gram of cocaine a day.

    Porter could feel his personal demons taking hold. Substance abuse wrecked his first marriage, and his paranoia reached such heights, he once said, that he used to sit in the dark at his house awaiting a personal visit from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

    The next March, Porter was ready to listen to former Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, a reformed alcoholic who made regular trips to spring camps to preach the benefits of a reformed lifestyle.

    Porter announced his addiction before teammates and team officials and departed for the Meadows, a therapeutic clinic in Wickenburg, Ariz. He spent six weeks there.

    But the reformed Porter just wasn't the same player.

    Porter batted just .249 in the regular season and only .125 in the postseason as the Royals, fresh from finally beating the Yankees, lost the World Series to Philadelphia.

    He then jilted the Royals to reunite with manager Whitey Herzog in St. Louis for $3.5 million over five years.

    The move was not popular in St. Louis because Porter was replacing a longtime fan favorite in catcher Ted Simmons.

    Discontent sharpened when Porter failed to regain his 1979 form. By mid-1982, he was a frequent target for fan abuse in St. Louis.

    But there was one brief spell when everything fell into place, and it occurred at the best possible time.

    After finishing with mediocre numbers in 1982, Porter led the Cardinals to a championship as the MVP for both the NL playoffs and the World Series.

    Porter spent three more years with the Cardinals but his production continued to slip.

    "I'd been fairly successful the whole time I was doing drugs," Porter observed at one point. "When I stopped doing them, I just struggled. God humbled me. I fear Him and I know He loves me."

    He and the Cardinals returned to the World Series in 1985, this time meeting the Royals.

    Kansas City won the Series in seven games. Porter had just two hits in 15 at-bats and was released by the Cardinals less than a month later. He signed with Texas, where he spent two disappointing years before retiring.

    Porter was ready to spend time at home with wife Deanne and a family that grew to include three children--Lindsey, Ryan and Jeff.

    Porter returned to Kansas City, became active in the community, spent time with his family and continued his love of fishing. He lived just a few miles from Kauffman Stadium but seldom made it out to the park.

    "Too many Little League games going on," he said, "to get to the big-league games."

    Darrell Porter's sad final chapter It hurts to know he didn't win

      We wanted to believe. We always want to believe in the power of people. We want to believe that men can hit all those home runs without injections of juice. We want to believe that hard criminals can turn their lives around. We want to believe that, with willpower and hope, anything is possible.

      We wanted to believe Darrell Porter when he said he quit cocaine.

      And that's why Monday's news landed like a kick to the stomach. Drug tests revealed that Porter died last week of toxic effects of cocaine. Investigators found clues that painted an awful final scene, one where Porter, in a state of excited delirium set off by cocaine, drove his car off the road at La Benite Park in Sugar Creek, smashed into a tree stump, got out of his car, went to the Missouri River, dunked his left leg, went back to the car and died in the heat.

      It was such a senseless way for a good man to die.

      And Porter was a good man. He touched so many people through baseball, through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, through his writing. The end doesn't diminish any of that. But the end does tell the saddest story, the one of a man who found God, worked with children, loved to fish, cherished his family but still could not summon the power to beat cocaine.

      People always underestimate cocaine. Scientists have done experiments with laboratory animals and found that they would press a metal bar 10,000 times for one shot of cocaine. Ten thousand times. More than once, I saw David Thompson speak to children about his cocaine habit.

      "Do you know me?" he asked. The kids shook their heads.

      "Do you know Michael Jordan?" he asked next, and they all raised their hands, jumped up and down, stuck out their tongues, pretended to dunk.

      "Well," he said, "before I took drugs, I was Michael Jordan's hero."

      And when those kids asked him why – "Why didn't you just quit cocaine?" – his shoulder slumped, and he looked at the ground, and he said, "I wasn't strong enough to quit. Few people are strong enough to quit."

      That's all we are left with when looking at Darrell Porter. His story has been told and retold the past week. He was a gifted athlete, recruited to play quarterback at Oklahoma. Instead, he played baseball, and at times he played it as well as anybody. He took out second basemen on double-play grounders. He crashed into catchers on close plays at the plate. He played through the most intense kinds of pain. He had a great eye. He was a World Series MVP once.

      At night, he partied. "I guess I was schizoid," he wrote in his book Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story. "Baseball was one world and partying was another."

      He partied as if the world would end. One night, on a car ride from Denver, he did seven grams of cocaine. On another, he brutally beat up a man and, even minutes later, could not remember why. One entire winter, he mostly sat in his house, clutching a shotgun, convinced that baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn was going to burst in to get him.

      "This was the end result of the beautiful cocaine high?" he wrote in his book. "To be dead inside? To be unable to feel either joy or sorrow, to feel only hopeless fear? I hated drugs. Hated them! They had promised me happiness, ecstasy, but instead they plunged me into a living hell."

      He quit. At least that's what he told everyone. Maybe that's what he believed, too. He confessed his sins. He found religion. He quit playing baseball and instead watched his children play. He talked to people about changing their lives. He even worked to become a baseball announcer, another new life chapter at age 50.

      But, all along, Porter could not shake cocaine. Maybe he quit for a long while before his demons clutched him again. That happens with cocaine. Maybe he lived a double life for many years, as he did when he played baseball. That happens, too. We'll never really know.

      We can only know that cocaine got him in the end.

      "Cocaine," David Thompson told those kids, "usually wins."

      This last week, many people have written or called so they could tell their Darrell Porter story. He did touch many people. One remembers a huge collision at first base against the White Sox and another remembers a handshake at the mall and another remembers being inspired when Porter spoke.

      They all wanted so much to believe in Darrell Porter. Not just the ballplayer. They wanted to believe in a tough Missouri man who stared down his demons and turned around his life.

      Monday's news took that away. Darrell Porter did not beat cocaine. Cocaine beat him. Cocaine usually wins. Darrell Porter, in the end, was human. That's all. It's just that we wanted him to be so much more than that.