Tragedy in Manhattan

Word came out of New York today of a tragic airplane accident that took the life of New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle. Lidle had pitched four days earlier in the American League Divisional series against the Detroit Tigers. After being eliminated from the play-offs he had gone to Yankee Stadium to pack up his things before going to California. He would be a free agent and expected several teams to vie for his services. Given the limited depth of starting pitching, Lidle would probably have been able to get a two or three year contract for around $3 million per year. Before the trade deadline several teams had enquired about trading for Lidle and he ended up being dealt with Bobby Abreu from the Philadelphia Phillies to the New York Yankees where he helped down the stretch pitching his way onto the post season roster. Cory Lidle was piloting the plane through rain and hazy weather. Eye witnesses have said they saw the plane flying erratically as if it was having some type of mechanical trouble. Shortly before impact a distress signal was received from the plane but before a response could be given it struck an apartment building in Manhattan approximately 5 blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Lidle and a passenger on the plane were both killed. He leaves behind his wife Melanie and their son Christopher.

In November 1997, I attended the Expansion Draft held at the Phoenix Civic Plaza in downtown Phoenix. This is where the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would select players from the rosters of the other 28 Major League Baseball franchises. These players along with whatever free agents were signed would form the inaugural season rosters for the two new franchises. Baseball in a rare stroke of genius held a party for the fans on the outdoor plaza with sports announcers and big screen televisions where we could watch each selection. As you entered the area you were given draft cards where you could write down the picks and follow along. My friend George Taylor and I went down to the event as we wanted to see each of the selections made. I had done a lot of research and thought I knew which direction the Diamondbacks should go focusing on pitching and athletic players rather than overpriced and aging stars. I watched as Jerry Colangelo called the coin toss and won giving Tampa Bay the first pick and giving the Diamondbacks the second and third pick. After that the picks would rotate between teams. Each franchise could protect 5 players after which the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks could select 1 player from each. Once a player was selected from a franchise, they could then protect 3 more players and a franchise could be selected only once per round. I watched as Tampa Bay selected Tony Saunders as the first overall pick. The Diamondbacks selected Brian Anderson and Jeff Suppan with picks 2 and 3 respectively. This was going according to plan. After each pick we would compare notes and make value judgments as to whether the pick was good or bad. In many cases we would have to research on the fly since many of the names were unfamiliar to the average fan. Midway through the first round the Diamondbacks selected Cory Lidle from the New York Mets. Everyone in the audience in unison yelled, “WHO?” I stated that based on my research he was a middle reliever or potential fifth starter and that he was a good value pick since he had a lively breaking ball. The guy sitting next to me looked over nodding and said, “Thank you”. I was kind of confused since he had not talked to me for the first 12 picks so I asked why he was thanking me. He said, “You said some very nice things about me and I appreciated it.” I must have looked very confused so he continued, “I’m Cory Lidle”. We started to talk and he said he was in town because several of his friends were playing in the Arizona Fall League. He went on to say he was very shocked that he was selected since the Mets had told him that he was being protected. The crowd slowly caught wind of our conversation and before long Cory was taken from the crowd to the stage where he was interviewed by the sportscasters. From that moment I began to watch Cory Lidle a little closer.

In Spring 1998 Cory suffered an arm injury which took him out for the entire season. He never pitched a regular season game for the Diamondbacks. At the end of the season Arizona placed him on waivers hoping that no one would claim him and they would place Lidle on the Tucson AAA roster where he could continue rehabilitation. He was to be invited to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee to a much improved team that would include Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Matt Williams, Steve Finley, and Brian Anderson. The plan did not quite work as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays claimed Lidle off waivers. In 1999 after a lengthy rehabilitation he appeared in 5 games. The next season he pitched in 31 games 11 of which he was a starter. After the 2000 season, Lidle went to Oakland where he pitched for 2 years including his career best in 2001. Cory Lidle was best described as a journeyman. He was a great back-end rotation guy who would keep his team in the game and give them a chance to win. He was a great guy and his relaxed attitude made you think of him as just an average guy who happened to play baseball. He was like your neighbor who you just hang out with because he was fun to be around. Cory will definitely be missed.

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