Thursday, October 12, 2006

Six Degrees of Cory Lidle -- In 1995, I was working at the New York State Assembly. My boss asked me to come up with a draft of a bill that would prevent the two New York Major League Baseball franchises from using the huge, publicly-owned stadiums to stage games using teams made up of replacement players, substituting for the striking major league baseball players (or, was it a lockout? The details grow fuzzy over time, don't they?). Fortunately, the labor dispute was resolved before any games were played using replacement players.

Cory Lidle was one of the players that the New York Mets chose out of their farm system to play for the replacement team. Lidle had always been regarded as an overachiever since his high school days in Covina, CA. But, his timing stunk -- as a young player not yet on the Mets' 40-man roster, he was offered a chance to play in the majors with the replacement team -- and Lidle took the offer.

Because of the labor settlement, Lidle never played any regular season games as a replacement player, He did, however, impress the Mets' coaches. Two years later, Lidle earned a place on the major league roster. Like all the replacement players, Lidle was given the cold shoulder by the union members -- the major league ballplayers at the time. To this day, Lidle has been excluded from enjoying some of the benefits of union membership. Yet, because he was a likable guy, and because he proved he deserved his place at the top level, Lidle was eventually accepted by his colleagues. Indeed, he was admired for his comments about Barry Bonds' dubious records.

Yesterday, Lidle lost his life in a spectacular plane crash in New York City. At the first reports, when the identity of the plane's occupants was not known, I wondered if I had some loose connection to the tragedy. Given the location of the accident, I feared it might involve a building known as River Terrace -- the construction of which my brother had supervised over twenty years ago. As it turned out, the building was farther east and across the street from River Terrace. The story took its strange twist with the news that the plane belonged to the Yankees' pitcher, Cory Lidle.

Had the bill I wrote in 1995 become law, and the labor dispute continued deep into April, Mr. Lidle and his team of fellow replacement Mets would have would up in the courts over their right to play major league games in Shea and Yankee Stadium. Of course, I was delighted that the 'real' major leaguers returned in time to play their season, instead. Cory Lidle was one of a small number of replacement players that became successful major leaguers. They each earned their place there. Cory Lidle was probably the best of them all. His passing is a tragedy that wounds all of baseball and its fans. We are all connected, after all.

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