CHICAGO - With 35,000 fans looking on, a baseball team confronted tragedy yesterday.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile, 33, was found dead in his downtown Chicago hotel room shortly before his teammates were to play the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig immediately postponed the game.
Chicago Police Lt. Michael Chasen, commanding officer for Area 3 Homicide, said there were no signs of trauma, forced entry or foul play. "It appears he died in his bed, in his sleep," Chasen said. An autopsy was scheduled for today.
Fans hoping to see a game between two of baseball's biggest rivals were mystified when they arrived at the stadium, because no players were on the field. A few Cubs in street clothes stood in the home dugout. But officials waited to make an announcement about the postponement until they could notify Kile's family in California.
"Our club is just totally staggered, I mean, devastated," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, wiping away tears. "You guys know what a pro he is."
La Russa said the Cardinals and Cubs would play as scheduled tonight, a game Kile was supposed to start. Yesterday's game will be made up later in the season, officials said.
Kile was known for showing up early at the ballpark, so his teammates noticed when he had not arrived two hours before game time. Team officials called the Westin Hotel, where security staff broke into Kile's 11th-floor room and found him lying in bed.
Police said Kile was dressed for sleeping but did not elaborate.
Jim Loomis, the Cardinals' assistant team physician and specialist in internal medicine, estimated Kile had been dead for up to 10 hours. Loomis said Kile had gone out for dinner the night before with his brother, Danny, and returned to his room about 10 p.m.
"He seemed to be fine," Loomis said.
Loomis said Kile showed no health problems during a routine physical in spring training and was not on medication. Kile's father died at 44 after suffering a heart attack and blood clot in his brain in 1993, Loomis added.
Kile's teammates learned of his death shortly before the game was scheduled to start at 2:05 p.m.
"None of us wanted to go on with the game," said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty.
About 30 minutes after the game was scheduled to begin, La Russa emerged from the visitors dugout wearing a bright-red undershirt. He trudged across the field, spoke briefly with Cubs general manager Andy MacPhail and player representative Joe Girardi and walked away.
The Cubs, led by Girardi, then walked onto the field. Standing behind a microphone near the home dugout, Girardi quietly told the crowd the game had been called off because of "a tragedy in the Cardinals family" and asked for prayers. He did not mention Kile's death.
The Cardinals already were grieving the death of broadcaster Jack Buck, their voice since 1954, who died Tuesday at 77 after a long illness. On the night of Buck's death, Kile pitched the Cardinals into first place in the National League's Central Division.
"This has been a very difficult week," Jocketty said. "There will be a real mourning period for the people of St. Louis."
Kile, a 6-foot-5, 212-pound right-hander, was known for competitive fire and a dazzling curveball. He had a 133-119 record in 12 seasons with the Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies and Cardinals. He pitched a no-hitter for Houston in 1993.
Before the 1998 season, he signed with Colorado, where he played one season under Cubs manager Don Baylor.
"He was always a perfect teammate," Baylor said. "Guys like Larry Walker and [Mike] Lansing are going to be devastated. Everybody who played with him felt the same way about him."
Baylor also praised Kile as a dedicated family man. A native of Garden Grove, Calif., Kile spent winters in Englewood, Colo., with his wife, Flynn; 5-year-old twins, son Kannon and daughter Sierra; and infant son, Ryker.
Kile had his two worst seasons in Colorado. Scouts said the light air at Coors Field made his breaking ball less effective.
"But he never, ever complained about the altitude," Baylor recalled. "DK was a very special player.
"I remember last year I saw him on the field at Busch Stadium [in St. Louis] and I thought he was pitching that night. But he was working with [young pitcher] Rick Ankiel, trying to teach him certain things, for a half an hour or 40 minutes."
Kile went 20-9 with a 3.91 ERA in 2000 and helped the Cardinals advance to the NL Championship Series.
He went through shoulder surgery during the off-season and this year was 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA. He won three of his last four starts. "Once you take the ball, you've got a job to do," he said after his last start.
Teddy Greenstein and Shia Kapos are reporters for the Chicago Tribune.