Donnie had a gun


Donnie Moore interests me for several reasons. He’s known for just one thing, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but there are other things that I wanted to highlight before I get into this, a card from his final season in the major leagues.

Donnie Moore was a Cub from the late 1970s, when I first forged my allegiance to the team. He broke in with the Cubs in 1975, my first season as a fan, and remained with the organization until he was traded to the Cardinals at the end of the 1979 season. I’m certain that I saw him pitch on the TV, when Jack Brickhouse would call the games on WGN-Channel 9. This all by itself would qualify Donnie Moore as a significant player, at least as far as my baseball history is concerned.

But it gets even better than that. After Moore was traded to the Cardinals, he was sent to their triple-A affiliate in Springfield, Illinois in 1980 and 1981. I lived in Springfield at the time, and went to the ballpark to watch games on a regular basis. Many of the players on that team went on to bigger things, either with the Cardinals organization or others. The Redbirds won the American Association’s championship that year, which was still pretty cool, even though I wasn’t really a Cardinals fan.

Moore was traded to the Braves, and then to the Angels, where he had his breakout season in 1985. He was an All-Star, saved 31 games for the Angels, and finished near the top in the American League’s Cy Young and MVP voting for that year. My interest in baseball wasn’t quite what it once had been by 1985, but I remember thinking that Donnie Moore had made good. And I was glad for him, too.

But everybody fixates on the game that changed his life in the 1986 playoffs. There were no rounds of the playoffs back then, it was just one best-of-seven series and then on to the World Series. In 1986, Donnie Moore came into a game in the top of the ninth inning, and the Angels holding a lead over the Boston Red Sox. Moore had to retire one batter to send the Angels into the World Series for the first time in their history. And on a 2-2 count, Moore threw a pitch that changed–and perhaps even ended–his life. Boston’s Dave Henderson hit the pitch out of the park and, even though the game still went on from there before Boston won in the 11th inning, the Angels had suffered the type of devastating setback that teams generally don’t recover from.

Moore was booed by Angels fans every time he took the field after that. He was injured, and that certainly contributed to his career decline, but he forever was identified as the reason why the Angels lost the pennant that year. Never mind that Doug DeCines blew a golden opportunity to win the game in the ninth inning of that same game. Never mind that the team still had two games they could have won after the series went back to Boston. It somehow became all Donnie Moore’s fault.

By the time Moore came back for the 1988 season–his last in the majors–it clearly sucked to be him. You can see it in his eyes, as he delivers a pitch on the front of this card. The shade from the bill of his cap doesn’t hide a fierce look in his eye, and there’s no mistaking the snarl on his face, either. His body was in pain, his ego was smashed to bits, and he probably wished he could just bring back 1985 again. But of course that wasn’t going to happen.

Moore was signed by Kansas City for the 1989 season, and he played for their triple-A affiliate in Omaha that year. But following his release–after appearing in just seven games–his life fell apart and he took his own life on July 18, 1989. Four years earlier he had been on top of the baseball world, and his fall from those heights was as dramatic as could be.

It’s important to note that Moore shot his wife three times before he put the gun to his own head, and ended his own life while in the presence of his young son. I’m not condoning these actions, and I’m glad that his wife survived her wounds, so that the list of fatalities was just Moore himself. Would that we have been so lucky with the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut earlier in the week.

A person who feels desperate, and then gets his hands on a gun, can do a whole lot of damage, without regard to what the consequences of their actions might be. So rather than feeling sorry for Donnie Moore, or Adam Lanza, or any of a long–and ever lengthening–list of people who ended their own lives after first shooting at other people–let’s realize that guns are a problem. There may not be any easy solutions to this problem, but we need to start looking for them, at least.

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