A Great Beginning, A Tragic Ending

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 15, 2005

“We hear about Lyman Bostock. But not as much as we should. He deserves to be more than a footnote, more than a name on a morbid list of ‘Ballplayers Who Died During A Season’. He deserves better, because he might have been among the best”. — Chad Finn, Concord News (2002)

Lyman Bostock Jr.

Lyman Bostock Jr.

NEW HAVEN, CT. (BASN) — He was born in the state of Alabama. A state that has given us such Hall of Famers as Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Lyman Bostock Jr. could have been mentioned in the same breath.

The true tragedy of his short life is one of potential and promise. No one truly knows if Bostock would have become a Hall of Famer. The fact that he wasn’t given the chance to reach that level is a shame.

Born on November 22, 1950 in Birmingham, Bostock was the son of Lyman Bostock, Sr. Lyman Sr. began his career in 1938 as a first baseman with the Brooklyn Royal Giants, and joined the Birmingham Black Barons in 1940.

The one dream Lyman had all the years he played baseball, was a chance to play in the Major Leagues with the white players.

This dream happened not for him, but for his son, Lyman Bostock, Jr., when he was drafted in the 26th round by the Minnesota Twins in the 1972 Amateur Draft.

Lyman Jr. made his Major League debut with the Twins in 1975 playing along side Hall of Famer Rod Carew. In 98 games, Bostock hit a respectable .282 with 29 RBIs in limited play.

In 1976, his first full season in the majors, Bostock finished fourth in the tight American League batting race (.323), just a few points behind his teammate Carew.

George Brett won the AL batting crown that year with a .333 clip. Bostock also received the Calvin R. Griffith Award for the most improved Twin.

After finishing second in the AL in batting in 1977 (a .336 mark that was bested by Carew’s .388 BA), Bostock became one of baseball’s earliest big-money free agents, signing with the California Angels.

Bostock immediately donated $10,000 of his newfound wealth to a church in his native city of Birmingham to rebuild a local church’s Sunday school.

However, things on the field didn’t start well for Bostock in 1978. After batting only .150 for the month of April, Bostock went to team owner Gene Autry and attempted to give back his April salary, saying he hadn’t earned it.

Autry refused, so Bostock announced he would be donating his April salary to charity. Thousands of requests came in for the money, and Bostock went through each of them, trying to determine who needed it the most.

Bostock worked the rest of the season to get his batting average up over .300. On Sept. 23, 1978, with his batting average sitting at .296 after a game with the Chicago White Sox, Bostock visited his uncle in Gary, Indiana.

Sitting in the back seat of his uncle’s car at a stoplight, a man walked up to the car and fired a shotgun blast that killed Bostock.

By some accounts, the gunman was aiming for the woman sitting next to Bostock in the car, and by other accounts, it was a case of mistaken identity.

Tragically, a promising baseball career was ended by a senseless act of violence. A man named Leonard Smith would serve just over 21 months in prison for Bostock’s death.

In fact, Smith was later acquitted of the crime by reason of insanity in June of 1980. He was released from Logansport State Hospital and allowed to return to his home in Gary because doctors said he was no longer mentally ill.

In a career that spanned four seasons and just over 500 games in the majors, Bostock’s career batting average was .311. The number is signifigant because it also matches the career BA of a man who made Bostock’s career possible.

That man’s name is Jackie Roosevelt Robinson.

NOTE: The Baseball Library and Baseball-Reference.com contributed to this story.