August 7, 2002
KANSAS CITY — Words of admiration and sorrow pour in as people recall the life of Darrell Porter, the former Kansas City Royal and St. Louis Cardinal baseball player who turned from a life of substance abuse after placing his trust in Jesus Christ.
Porter, 50, was found dead next to his car Monday at La Benite Park. An autopsy Tuesday failed to determine the cause of death.
Porter was a member of First Baptist Church in nearby Blue Springs.
"There have been a lot of tears," pastor Paul Bazalgette told Baptist Press Aug. 7. "There were so many people connected to this fellow. The tears say a lot about the man who is gone."
Porter had reportedly gone out to purchase a newspaper before going to the park to read it. The front end of his car became snagged on a tree stump hidden by grass, which prompted law enforcement authorities to speculate that Porter died in the extreme heat while attempting to free his car. Police said there was no evidence of foul play or drug usage at the scene.
Funeral services are scheduled for Friday (Aug. 9), 3 p.m., at First Baptist Church, Raytown.
"I don’t know how many hundreds of lives he’s touched in the Kansas City area," said Dal Shealy, president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). "Here’s a guy who took a platform as a major league baseball player and used it to reach out to kids."
Former Royals teammate Frank White remembered Porter as a determined competitor on the field and a loving Christian father and community activist off the field.
"He ran the show from behind the plate," White said, recalling how Porter, prior to the 1977 All-Star break and with the Royals 6 ½ games behind Chicago, confronted his teammates in the locker room following a loss in the first game of a doubleheader.
"He challenged everyone to play the way we knew how to play baseball," White said, "and we came back and won 16 games in a row, and then 102 for the year."
Porter, who was the Most Valuable Player in the 1982 National League Championship Series and World Series while playing for St. Louis, caused a stir with his 1984 book, Snap Me Perfect: The Darrell Porter Story, a harrowing description of the portion of his life spent addicted to drugs and alcohol.
"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?"
Substance abuse destroyed his first marriage and paranoia became a fixture in his mind. Porter once said he sat in his darkened home – armed with a baseball bat and a loaded shotgun – awaiting an imagined visit from then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
A few months later Porter heard former Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, a recovering alcoholic who speaks regularly to professional baseball players about the dangers of substance abuse, address the Royals during spring training in 1980. Shortly thereafter Porter acknowledged his problem to teammates and team officials and entered a six-week substance abuse program.
Following his release he related his personal experience with Jesus while sitting on the bed in a New York hotel:
"As if the ceiling opened, I was overwhelmed by the presence of God. I just knew right then that Jesus was who the Bible said He was. I knew there really was a God. Life doesn’t become perfect. But one thing I haven’t been since then is hopeless."
Porter went on to become a spokesman for FCA and active in community affairs.
"He became an upstanding citizen," said fishing pal Whitey Herzog, who managed Porter in both Kansas City and St. Louis. "He was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He talked to a lot of kids programs, and he helped a lot of people."
Porter was also involved with a program called, "Enjoy the Game," which attempted to minimize the adult influence in youth sports.
"Organized sports have gotten out of hand and we realize that so much of the problem is from parents and coaches," Porter said.
A lifetime .247 hitter, Porter played 17 years in the Major Leagues and was known for his toughness. Joe McGuff, former Kansas City Star sports editor, wrote in 1978: "His approach to the game conveys the impression of a Marine hitting the beach or Willie Lanier playing middle linebacker in his prime. Porter’s teammates call him ‘Nerve’ because of his intensity. Whitey Herzog calls him the Royals’ most valuable player."
Porter’s father, Ray, last saw his son in May and told the Associated Press that his son was doing well.
"We were very proud of him. I know he touched a lot of people’s lives and we’re grateful for that."
Porter is survived by his wife, Deanne, and three children – Lindsey, Ryan and Jeff.