- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif. — The biggest burden Eric Chavez faced when he woke up yesterday was his team’s loss to the Detroit Tigers the night before in the first game of the American League Championship Series.

Before he left home, the Oakland Athletics third baseman heard something about a crash in New York. It was, they said, a helicopter.

When Chavez walked into the clubhouse at McAfee Coliseum in the afternoon to prepare for Game 2, he learned it was a small plane and that it had crashed into a building.

Then he learned Cory Lidle, a former teammate with whom he had shared good times, was aboard that plane.

And then neither Chavez nor anybody else wanted to talk about Game 1, Game 2 or any other game in this ALCS.

“It’s kind of unbelievable at this point,” said Chavez, who played with Lidle on the A’s in 2001 and 2002. “It’s going to be so hard to think about the game, but we are going to have to. We get reminded how valuable life is constantly.”

We also get reminded constantly about how imperfect we all are as human beings.

The 34-year-old Lidle, who had just pitched for the New York Yankees in their division series against the Tigers, died yesterday when that small plane inexplicably veered from its path up the East River, turned up 72nd Street in the Upper East Side and crashed into the 30th and 31st floors of a high-rise.

It was not clear whether Lidle, a new pilot, was flying the plane.

The tragedy hit hard in New York, a city still raw from the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center more than five years ago. It also is a city that never will forget the tragedy of Yankees catcher and leader Thurman Munson dying in a small plane crash in 1979 near his home in Canton, Ohio.

The tragedy hit hard, too, in Oakland, where Lidle played for two seasons. The A’s were one of seven teams for which Lidle pitched over the course of his spotty and controversial major league career.

“Cory was a free spirit,” Chavez said. “We got along great when he was here. We hung out a lot. We went to a lot of dinners with him and his wife and me and my wife. … It’s weird.

“It’s tough for everybody in the baseball world, especially somebody that you knew.”

It will be tougher for some than for others because Lidle broke into the game in a way that made him an enemy for life in the eyes of a few players: He was a replacement player for the owners during the 1994-95 strike.

That kept him outside the brotherhood for as long as he played, though it lost at least some of its impact in the clubhouse as the years passed.

Still, you won’t see the Major League Baseball Players Association holding any tributes for Cory Lidle.

“From a union standpoint, I know they don’t get the respect or whatever. But from a player’s standpoint, they’re just good guys trying to make a living for themselves,” A’s pitcher Barry Zito said. “A lot of those guys who did cross the line were pressured by their organizations in a major way. I think there’s an individual story attached to every one of them. We couldn’t make any assumptions about him or about his character.”

Lidle didn’t go out of his way to win friends over, either.

After he was traded from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Yankees, he said of the Phillies that “on the days I’m pitching, it’s almost a coin flip as to know if the guys behind me are going to be there to play 100 percent. … I felt I got caught up kind of going into the clubhouse nonchalantly sometimes because all of the other guys in the clubhouse didn’t go there with one goal in mind.”

Phillies pitcher Arthur Rhodes responded by calling Lidle a “scab.”

“It still hurts my feelings,” Rhodes said. “Once you cross the picket line, you cross the line. And everybody knows it.”

Rhodes also said Lidle spent too much time gambling and flying his airplane.

Chavez acknowledged Lidle had some issues.

“He was gutsy and very outspoken,” Chavez said. “The thing with Arthur and the Phillies, Arthur was pretty outspoken about Cory. But from what I hear, Cory made a good imprint on the Yankees. You talk to people, you get some different answers. But I knew Cory from the good Cory.”

The good Cory, Chavez said, was “kind of like a boy when he came out and played ball. He just always had a good time.”

There was a moment of silence for Lidle at McAfee Coliseum before Game 2 last night.

Then the players went out and played ball, just like boys do, leaving behind in the clubhouse the television image of a flaming building and plane wreckage scattered on the streets of New York, where Cory Lidle’s passport was found.

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