If you were a baseball fan in 1977, or if you’re a fan of baseball history, you undoubtedly remember that summer as the season Rod Carew put on one of the greatest pure hitting displays we’ve seen since the end of World War II.
Carew came to the plate 694 times that season and banged out an amazing 231 hits for an almost scary .388 batting average (to win the AL batting crown). He also tacked on 69 walks to record a .449 on-base percentage. Throw in 128 runs, 14 home runs, 100 RBI, 23 stolen bases, and 8+ WAR, and it’s not hard to imagine why he won the American League Most Valuable Player award that fall.
It was an absolutely amazing display.
But do you remember the rest of the story of that long-ago season? The other superstar who toiled alongside Carew for that 1977 Minnesota Twins that finished fourth in the old A.L. West?
The guy who finished runner-up — albeit a distant runner-up — to Carew in the batting race?
It’s understandable if you whiff on those bits of trivia … time is a savage foe who gnaws away the memories that were once so clear, and who packs away all but the brightest and most persistent lights, pushing them to the back of our lifes’ closets under our kids’ old clothes and that pile of faded dreams.
But in that long-ago summer, a young man named Lyman Bostock roamed the outfield for the Twins, starting 83 games in center and 58 in left field. At 26 years of age, Bostock built on the profile of a budding offensive star he’d sowed over the previous two seasons, smacking 14 home runs, scoring 104 runs, driving in 90, stealing 16 bases, and batting a robust .336.
At the end of the year, the Minnesota teammates had finished 1-2 for the batting crown.
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It all came at an opportune time for Bostock, too, as he reached free agency after the season. The Twins either opted not to or were unable to re-sign him, though, and he took his big bat to the California Angels. His relocation — and his bat, naturally — was rewarded with a raise from $20,000 to $450,000.
Bostock’s decade-long trek through the upper reaches of baseball had led him from high school in Los Angeles at Manual Arts down the road to Anaheim, but, though it looks like a short trip on the map, it was a circuitous route. Stops along the way included Cal State Northridge, a 26th-round selection by the Twins in the 1972 June draft, and layovers at Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A in the Twins’ system.
Bostock finally debuted in the Major Leagues early in 1975 and spent the next couple of seasons solidifying himself as a fixture of the team … until he was gone to California.
That first season with the Angels wasn’t what either side had hoped it might be. In 147 games, Bostock hit a solid .296 — solid, but not on par with his .318 career mark entering the season or the upward trajectory expected for a 27-year-old in his prime. His power numbers were down, too, connecting as he did on just five homers and picking up 24 doubles after banging out 36 in 1977 with the Twins.
The silver lining to any disappointment with Bostock’s first-year performance in Anaheim was that the Angels competed for the division title most of he season, eventually finishing tied for second with the Texas Rangers. As usual (it seemed), the Kansas City Royals took the flag.
Plus, he’d surely do better next time around. Maybe the Angels would take the whole thing!
Of course, if you already know anything about Lyman Bostock, you know that his baseball story ends here. Following an afternoon game with the Chicago White Sox, Bostock visited an old friend with his uncle, Thomas Turner. There, Bostock made a couple new friends and left in one of their cars. Before they could get where they were going, the estranged husband of one of the ladies chased down the vehicle and fired his shotgun into the backseat.
Bostock took the brunt of the shot and died a few hours later at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Gary, Indiana.
And just like that, a promising baseball career, and a promising life, were gone.
Baseball cards are of course a gross triviality when considering matters of life and death, but they nonetheless help us remember times gone by and folks who may have faded from our memories.
By the summer of his death, Lyman Bostock had appeared on a handful of Topps cards, and his 1978 card even featured one of those “nifty” custom Topps airbrush jobs to get him in an Angels uniform.
His 1978 Kellogg’s card, issued in packs of cereal that season, dallied with no such conceit. Instead, the Kellogg’s cad shows Bostock kneeling with a bat in his Twins uniform, ready to inflict some more damage on opposing pitchers. The background of the 3-D card shows green turf and infield dirt bleeding into a blur of stands, with any number of nondescript and unidentifiable faces.
They’re all lost to the ages.
But thanks to cards like the bright and groovy 1978 Kellogg’s issue, and to folks with long baseball memories who refuse to forget, we can still remember Lyman Bostock.
We can appreciate the wonderful player he was, even if we’re left to ponder what great feats were left in that wicked bat.
(This is Day 11 of our 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge. Read all of the posts in that series here.)