Former major league catcher Darrell Porter dead at 50

Tuesday, August 6th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Police said major-league catcher Darrell Porter may have been trying to free his stuck car when he died Monday in a park near Kansas City.

Porter, 50, was a catcher for four major league teams and the most valuable player of the 1982 World Series while with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was found dead late Monday afternoon next to his car in La Benite Park in Sugar Creek, a Kansas City suburb.

An autopsy was conducted Tuesday morning. But the cause and manor of death were not available, pending further investigation and lab work, said Jackson County medical examiner Dr. Thomas Young. He added that there was no indication of foul play.

Sugar Creek police chief Herb Soule said Porter had told his wife that he was going to buy a paper and go to the park. When he entered the park, his car went off the right side of the road and got caught on a tree stump that wasn't easily visible because of the tall grass, Soule.

``I'm sure he was trying to push (the car) off, and I'm sure with the high temperature the heat got to him,'' Soule said.

A passing motorist first spotted Porter lying next to his car. Police arrived and found Porter dead.

Porter lived in Lee's Summit, another Kansas City suburb, according to driver's license records.

Porter grew up in Oklahoma City, where he was an all-state quarterback at Southeast High School in 1969 and the state's baseball player of the year in 1970. He signed to play football at Oklahoma but chose baseball.

He broke into the majors in 1971 with the Milwaukee Brewers, who traded him to the Royals after the 1976 season. He was an All-Star twice in his four years with Kansas City.

In his best season for the Royals he hit .291 and drove in 112 runs in 1979.

But during spring training the following year Porter checked himself in to a drug-and-alcohol rehabilitation center. He returned to the team but his production dropped, with his average falling to .249, but he was still a key factor in helping the Royals reach the World Series for the first time. They lost to Philadelphia in six games.

Porter chronicled his fight with addiction and recovery from it in a 1984 book, ``Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story.''

Former teammate Frank White remembered Porter as a serious and determined player, good to his family, involved in the community and a good Christian.

``He ran the show from behind the plate,'' said White, now the special assistant to the general manager for the Royals, who was in Omaha watching the Royal's Triple-A team. ``When we picked him up from Milwaukee, he solidified our team and became a major player on our team in terms of a leader. He controlled the pitching staff and ran the pitching staff. He was a fiery leader.''

Porter filed for free agency after the 1980 season and St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog, who had managed him at Kansas City, snapped him up for the Cardinals.

Porter, taking the place of Ted Simmons who had been traded to Milwaukee, struggled in his first two seasons at St. Louis but played an important role in 1982 when the Cardinals won the World Series for the ninth time, beating the Brewers in seven games.

Porter was the MVP of both the National League Championship Series and the World Series. He had eight hits against the Brewer, including a homer, and drove in five runs.

He played in his third World Series when the Cardinals lost to the Royals in 1985. Porter then spent two seasons with the Texas Rangers before retiring from baseball in 1987.

In 17 big league seasons he hit .247 with 188 home runs and 826 RBIs.

John Wathan, a former Royals manager who had been a teammate of Porter's at Kansas City, told The Kansas City Star he saw him three or four weeks ago at an alumni function and he seemed fine and in good spirits.

``It was shocking, Darrell was only 50 years old and a longtime friend,'' Wathan said. ``He went through a lot of adversity early in his career, got beyond that and became a great team player. But beyond that, he was a great family man and he worked with charities, worked with children, was a very caring man.''

``I'll just have a lot of great memories about him.''

Recently Porter had shown interest in getting into baseball broadcasting. He was at the Royals' spring training camp this year and during the team's last homestand spent time in the broadcast booth to get some pointers from the team's radio team of Denny Matthews and Ryan LeFebvre.

``Just last Wednesday we were sitting with him in the booth,'' Lefebvre said. ``He was jotting down notes, observing and asking questions. I don't know how to describe it. It's unbelievable.''

Porter's hard work at play-by-play impressed Lefebvre. He worked a couple of games during spring training and did three of four practice games on his own. Lefebvre said he even bought his own equipment and brought it to Kauffman Stadium to do games.

``He really wanted to learn the ins and outs of play by play, he wasn't just being an analyst,'' Lefebvre said. ``It was very inspiring to see him go at it the way he did. Some former players come in and think, `I can do that,' without doing the work. He wasn't like that at all.''

Stewart, who had scouted Porter for the Royals while he was in the minor leagues and with the Brewers, said he became a key member of the team.

``He was a very important part of that ballclub that bought the Royals their first American League championship,'' said Stewart. ``He brought so much to our club.''