- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

NEW YORK — Cory Lidle’s baseball career was decidedly nondescript. A journeyman in the truest sense of the word, the right-hander pitched for seven organizations in nine major league seasons.

Sadly, Lidle now will be remembered more for the circumstances surrounding his death than for anything he ever did on a baseball field.

Lidle was one of two people aboard the small, private airplane that crashed into a Manhattan high-rise apartment building yesterday. It was not immediately known whether the 34-year-old, a student pilot with 75 hours of flying experience, was at the helm of the Cirrus SR20 when it veered off course and slammed into a residential building on New York’s Upper East Side. Officials did confirm, though, that the plane was registered to Lidle and that the New York Yankees hurler and his flight instructor were killed in the accident.

“All of baseball is shocked and terribly saddened by the sudden and tragic passing of Cory Lidle,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. “He leaves a young wife, Melanie, and a young son, Christopher. Our hearts go out to them on this terrible day.”

Lidle’s death cast a pall over both of the sport’s League Championship Series. A host of former teammates and coaches remembered Lidle as a competitor, free spirit and friend while struggling to balance their grief with the task of preparing for a game.

“It’s horrific,” said New York Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, who spent two seasons with Lidle in Oakland. “I wish I had words. I have no words. I just have very strong emotions. It’s just sadder than sad. There’s no words to describe a loss of somebody that you spent some very special times with.”

Lidle began his career with the Mets in 1997 as a reliever and spot starter, but he enjoyed his best season in 2001 with the Athletics, going 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA. He spent just two seasons in Oakland but left a lasting impression with his teammates.

“I just remember his playful spirit,” Oakland left-hander Barry Zito said before Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. “He was kind of like a boy when he came out and played ball. He just always had a good time.”

Former teammates said Lidle often talked about learning how to fly, but he only began earning his license in recent years while with the Philadelphia Phillies. He purchased the four-seat plane and as recently as Sunday talked about his hobby with reporters, telling them he planned a leisurely flight home to California while stressing the aircraft was safe.

“The whole plane has a parachute on it,” he told the New York Times last month. “Ninety-nine percent of pilots that go up never have engine failure, and the 1 percent that do usually land it. But if you’re up in the air and something goes wrong, you pull that parachute, and the whole plane goes down slowly.”

Officials had not determined the cause of yesterday’s crash, though they did confirm that the plane took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey at 2:30 p.m., circled the Statue of Liberty and then turned north up the East River. Around 2:45 p.m., it crashed into 30th and 31st floors of a high-rise Manhattan apartment building, sending flames and smoke high into the sky.

Many players from the Mets and St. Louis Cardinals already had arrived at Shea Stadium for Game 1 of the NLCS, which was postponed because of rain, and were watching the events unfold on clubhouse televisions when word first broke that Lidle was on board.

“When they finally confirmed it was him, it’s sad. It’s really sad,” said New York first baseman Carlos Delgado, who played with Lidle in Toronto. “It’s tragic because a member of the baseball family passed away.”

There were several eerie coincidences to yesterday’s crash. Mets third base coach Manny Acta lives in the building that was struck. Acta, who could be a candidate for the Washington Nationals’ managerial job, would not say which floor he lives on but said he left home around 2 p.m., less than an hour before the incident. He was unsure whether he would be able to get back into his unit last night.

The building, known as the Belaire, is across the street from the hospital where Cardinals pitcher Mark Mulder had shoulder surgery only a week ago.

“It just kind of gave me goose bumps,” said Mulder, a teammate of Lidle’s in Oakland. “It’s unbelievable. I can’t imagine what his wife and son … I feel terrible.”

Born March 22, 1972 in Hollywood, Calif., Lidle wasn’t always popular with his teammates. Some still harbored resentment toward him for crossing picket lines and becoming a replacement player in 1995 while major leaguers were on strike. He also took some heat from former Phillies teammates for negative comments he made upon being dealt to the Yankees at the July 31 trade deadline.

Acquired by New York to help bolster a beleaguered pitching staff, Lidle had little impact. He went 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA in 10 appearances and pitched just 11/3 innings during Saturday’s season-ending loss to the Detroit Tigers. He had a 82-72 career record and 4.57 ERA.

Pitching statistics, though, felt trivial yesterday.

“Right now, I am really in a state of shock, as I am sure the entire MLB family is,” said Yankees slugger Jason Giambi, who was also Lidle’s high school teammate. “My thoughts are with Cory’s relatives and the loved ones of the others who were injured or killed in this plane crash. I have known Cory and his wife, Melanie, for over 18 years and watched his son grow up. We played high school ball together and have remained close throughout our careers. We were excited to be reunited in New York this year, and I am just devastated to hear this news.”

Staff writer Thom Loverro contributed to this article from Oakland, Calif.

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