As you all know, the Angels story most prominent on the national sports news scene this week was the Angels’ handling of Mike Trout’s new contract, which will pay him $510,000 this year, which is only $20,000 above the league minimum. Many people think that is pretty chintzy considering the year he just had. I feel that is pretty chintzy, especially when you consider that the Angels are promoting Trout heavily in their marketing this year. Many who have commented on this issue think that our phenom has handled this wrinkle in the Angels’ universe with a lot of class. He doesn’t appear to be angry, he is excited about the upcoming season, and he says that he’s confident everything will work out for him in the end.
That made me think of another Angel who also dealt with his salary issue with a lot of class. That Angel was outfielder Lymon Bostock, who was also a young player with phenomenal talent. In 1976, however, Bostock was playing for the Minnesota Twins. It was only his second year in the majors, yet Bostock ended up 4th in the American League in batting average that year. He hit .323 to league leader George Brett’s .333 average. In 1977 his .336 batting average was the second highest in the American League, behind only teammate Rod Carew’s mark of .388. Not only could Bostock rake at the plate, but he was also an asset in the outfield, where his speed allowed him to track down fly balls that other outfielders couldn’t get to.
The end of the 1977 season seemed like it was to be Bostock’s last with the Twins because he had just become something that was relatively new to baseball at the time – a free agent. Bostock was looking to improve upon the $20,000 a year he had been making with the Twins by offering his services to other teams. Of course many teams were interested. One of which was the Yankees–who courted him heavily–but Bostock chose the Angels, who rewarded him with a five-year, $2.25 million contract, making him one of the highest paid players in baseball. He was easily the highest paid player on the 1978 Angels squad, earning $450,000 that year. Angels superstar pitcher Nolan Ryan was only making $200,000 that year.
But when the 1978 baseball season started, the weight of the expectations that come with signing a huge free agent contract seemed to affect Bostock’s performance at the plate. On April 30, he went 0-for-4 in a game versus the Blue Jays, dropping his season batting average to a miserable .147.
Bostock was frustrated and embarrassed, but his sense of right and wrong was strong. He went to the owner of the Angels, Gene Autry, and told him to take back his April paycheck. “I don’t feel that I’ve done enough for this month,” he said. “If I can’t perform to my capability, then I don’t deserve the money.” Autry was touched by this gesture, but he insisted that Bostock keep his April check for $36,000. Bostock then decided to donate it all to charity.
Something clicked then for Lymon Bostock because when the calendar turned to May, he was able to regain the form that made him one of the best hitters in the American League and keep it for the rest of the season, raising his average all the way up to .296, tops on the Angels that year.
Unfortunately, however, this story does not have a happy ending because with seven games to go in the regular season, Bostock’s life was taken from him. After a loss in Chicago to the White Sox, Bostock and his uncle went to visit one of Lymon’s friends, a young woman named Joan Hawkins. After the visit, Lymon and his uncle were giving Joan and her sister Barbara a ride to their cousin’s house when Barbara’s estranged husband (whom Barbara had filed a restraining order against) pulled up alongside Lymon’s uncle’s car and opened fire. His intention was to kill his wife, but Lymon, whom he had never met before, was dead instead.
So here’s to remembering Lymon Bostock, a great baseball player with a lot of class.