20 years since MLB tragedy

ST. LOUIS – Two decades have passed since the tragedy rocked the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball.

On June 22, 2002, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died from a heart attack in a Chicago hotel. His sudden death came just four days after the Cardinals lost longtime broadcaster Jack Buck at the age of 77.

The Cardinals were set to play the Chicago Cubs in a matinee at Wrigley Field. Team personnel noticed Kile’s absence from pregame warmups. That prompted a delay from the game’s scheduled 12:20 pm start time, and the game was eventually postponed when the Cardinals learned of the tragedy.

During the day, a hotel staff member entered Kile’s hotel room and found him deceased in a bed. An autopsy later revealed Kile died from a heart attack with 90% blockage in two coronary arteries.

FOX 2, which was scheduled to carry the Cardinals-Cubs broadcast that day as part of MLB on FOX’s coverage, learned of Kile’s death during the delay. While another MLB game aired in place of the expected Cardinals-Cubs matchup, FOX 2 ran a crawl that reads: “The Chicago medical examiner confirms St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile has died. The circumstances are not yet known. As a result, today’s Cardinals/Cubs game has been canceled.” Elliott Davis briefly delivered a brief on-air cutaway attached above after FOX 2 confirmed those details on Kile’s death.

Moments later, one-time Cardinal and then-Cubs catcher Joe Giradi held back tears while delivering an emotional message at Wrigley Field:

“I thank you for your patience. We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinals family that the commissioner has canceled the game today. … Please be respectful. You will find out eventually what has happened. I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinals family.”

FOX Sports broadcaster Joe Buck, just days after his father’s death and following Girardi’s announcement, delivered the news about Kile’s death on national television.

“The reason for the delay is the Cardinals and Major League Baseball were attempting to contact the wife of Darryl Kile,” Buck said during the broadcast. “Flynn Kile was notified moments ago that her husband [Darryl Kile] was found dead at his hotel room this morning. Therefore this game has been canceled.”

The Cardinals and Cubs, after discussions with Kile’s family, returned to action one night later. From that point on, the Cardinals wore a “DK57” patch for the remainder of the season in honor of their fallen teammate. The Cardinals also left Kile’s jersey hanging in the dugout for the rest of the season in tribute.

Rallying behind a fallen teammate, the Cardinals finished the 2002 MLB regular season with a 97-65 record and clinched the NL Central division title. Albert Pujols, then in his second season with the Cardinals, carried Kile’s jersey on the field in memory of their fallen pitcher. The Cardinals’ 2002 season ended with a National League Championship series loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Kile went 133-119 with a 4.12 ERA and 1,668 strikeouts over 12 MLB seasons with three MLB teams. That included a 41-24 record, a 3.72 ERA and 421 strikeouts over his final three years with the Cardinals.

“Incredible teammate and person,” said former Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny, who described Kile as a close friend in a 2017 interview with Bally Sports Midwest. “Someone I always mention whenever anybody asks what a teammate looks like. … The way he went about helping to teach, what got to Chris Carpenter, what got to Adam Wainwright and now being passed to the organization is priceless.”

“This guy took me under his wing and really showed me what it was to be a pro, what it meant to be a Cardinal,” said Rick Ankiel in a 2017 segment with Bally Sports Midwest. “He really kept the clubhouse together. An amazing teammate in an amazing way.”

Cardinals rookie Zack Thompson, who debuted on June 3, now wears No. 57. He is the first Cardinals player to wear that number since Kile’s death.

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