NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Darrell Porter, the 1982 World Series Most Valuable Player who later lost his career to drug abuse and then found redemption through faith in Christ, died Aug. 5 in the Kansas City suburb of Sugar Creek.
Porter, 50, was a member of First Baptist Church in nearby Blue Springs, Mo.
“There have been a lot of tears,” pastor Paul Bazalgette told Baptist Press Aug. 7. “There were so many people connected to this fellow. The tears say a lot about the man who is gone.”
Porter was found dead alongside his car around 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5. The car had gone off the right side of the road and become snagged on a tree stump. Authorities said Porter apparently died trying to dislodge the car in 97-degree weather; there were no signs of foul play; and an autopsy failed to determine the cause of death but found no evidence of drug abuse. The Internet’s Big League Heroes website says he died of a heart attack. According to news reports, he had left home to pick up a newspaper and read it in a nearby park.
Porter is survived by his wife Deanne and three children, Lindsey, 20, Jeff, 18, and Ryan, 14, who had joined the Blue Springs church in recent years.
Visitation will be at the church the evening of Aug. 8 and his funeral will be held at First Baptist Church, Raytown, Aug. 9.
Porter was “a very gentle giant of a man” who never acted like a former World Series MVP, Bazalgette said.
“He was a very humble man who seemed completely unaware of his baseball greatness,” the pastor said. “When you met him, he was unaware that he was anything more than a servant of God. … To the people who knew him, he wasn’t what baseball said he was, but what God said he was.”
Bazalgette said he accompanied Porter to a couple of speaking engagements in which the former catcher gave his testimony.
“He never gave his testimony without tears of thankfulness … [for] what Christ had done for him,” the pastor said. “There’s nothing so moving as meeting people who are moved by the gospel.”
Described as a leading spokesman for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in a Kansas City Star article about his death, the newspaper noted that his friends were remembering “the man who worked tirelessly to prevent others from repeating his mistakes. They remember the family man who cared more about Little League than the major leagues.”
Dal Shealy, FCA president, told the Star, “I don’t know how many hundreds of lives he’s touched in the Kansas City area. Here’s a guy who took a platform as a major-league baseball player and used it to reach out to kids.”
Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock wrote that Porter, in 1980, was “one of the first professional athletes to admit his drug dependency, seek help and join what we now refer to as the ‘God Squad.'” Checking into an Arizona drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, at the time, “took a significant amount of courage,” Whitlock wrote Aug. 7.
Porter later chronicled his struggles and his faith in a 1984 autobiography, “Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story.”
In addition to boosting the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1982 World Series title and being named MVP, Porter won the same honor in the league championship series that year.
Porter also played in two other World Series, one with the Cardinals in 1980 and one with the Kansas City Royals in 1977, and he was a two-time All Star during 17 seasons.
He broke into the major leagues with the Cardinals in 1971, after being the top draft pick, and was traded to the Royals after the ’76 season. He spent two seasons with the Texas Rangers before retiring in 1987. A collection of Porter’s baseball cards can be viewed on the Internet at www.darrellporter.com.
Porter began facing up to his drug problems in 1980 when former pitcher Don Newcombe, who works with alcoholics and drug addicts, spoke to the Royals during spring training. Although maintaining his reputation as a rifle-armed catcher, he had become a heavy cocaine user, violence-prone and paranoid, and his first marriage had been wrecked.
“[Newcombe] gave us about 10 questions and if you answered three of the questions with ‘yes,’ you probably had a problem with drugs or alcohol,” Porter told students at Kansas City (Kan.) Community College in 2001, according to an Aug. 6 Associated Press story. “I answered every one of them `yes.'”
Drugs “eventually destroyed my career and almost my life,” Porter told the students. “I never came back and played at the same level again and I was only 28 years old.”
After his rehab treatment, Porter found even greater strength in the faith he had first embraced as a boy. The Kansas City Star recounted Porter’s experience as he was seated on a bed in a New York hotel: “As if the ceiling opened, I was overwhelmed by the presence of God. I just knew right then that Jesus was who the Bible said he was. I knew there really was a God.
“Life doesn’t become perfect,” Porter added. “But one thing I haven’t been since then is hopeless.”
At the time of his death, Porter had a weekly radio program and was hoping to join the Royals broadcasting team.
“Some former players come in and think, ‘I can do it,’ without doing the work. He wasn’t like that at all,” Ryan Lefebvre, one of the Royals announcers, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It was really inspiring to see him go at it the way he did.”
Porter’s brother Jimmy told the AP, “I’m about 180 degrees opposite from [Darrell]. He was a wonderful brother and friend and truly was a tremendous inspiration, not just because of the rehab and getting his life together, but because of the kind of person he was.”