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A Star Is Gone: The 2002 Astros Cope With Loss

On June 22, 2002, Jeff Bagwell found out one of his closest friends was gone. Not like when he found out his friend was gone in 1998, because then, Darryl Kile had just signed as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies. On that morning in the dog days of June, Bagwell got the news that Kile had passed away sometime in the night due to a coronary blockage.

Bagwell, Kile, Craig Biggio and Ken Caminiti had been the faces of those Astros teams in the mid-90's. Kile was the last Astros pitcher to throw a no-hitter by himself (since Houston combined for that no-hitter against the Yankees in 2003). He was instrumental in getting that 1997 team to the postseason for the first time since '86. He went 19-7 that season with a 2.57 ERA, 205 strikeouts in 255 innings and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.

A dispute with ownership over money forced Kile to leave for Colorado in the midst of some acrimony. In his first start back in Houston, fans booed him mercilessly, bringing signs declaring he only cared about money. It was hard seeing the best pitcher on a young team leave so soon, but baseball is nothing if not a business. 

Kile flamed out a bit in Colorado, as his big, sweeping curve ball didn't break quite as much in that thin mountain air. He was traded to St. Louis in the winter before the 2000 season and again had a breakout performance. In 2000, Kile went 20-9 with a 3.79 ERA and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting again. Except, it wasn't the same. He was doing it for the enemy, the dreaded St. Louis Cardinals. This was before the Pujols Home Run, before the Jeff Kent Game or Game 7 in 2004. The Cards were rivals, but the Reds were probably the biggest threat to Houston's division title hold.

Kile helped the Cards win the division in 2000, as Houston had its first 90 loss season since Kile was a rookie in 1991. If ever there was a player Houston fans could be bitter about, it was DK.

That's what made the summer of 2002 resonate so much with me. Instead of stoking the flames of rivalry, of forgetting Kile's brief legacy with the team, tributes poured in. Bagwell, Biggio and Brad Ausmus flew across country to be at his memorial service on June 24. The team put a plaque of Kile under the 1997 NL Central Division title banner hanging on the wall at Minute Maid Park that simply read "DK." It stands as a tribute to the man who meant so much to his teammates.

That's why the Astros and Cardinals got together to create the Darryl Kile Good Guy award, which goes to the Astros or Cardinals player each season who best exemplifies Kile's traits of "a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man." Bagwell, fittingly, was the first recipient in 2003.

For all the things said about Drayton McLane over the years, one of his best qualities is that he prized character. That never showed more than how the team handled DK's unfortunate passing. I can only hope that our next owner can do the same.