The Chicago White Sox defeated the California Angels on the afternoon of September 23, 1978. The loss was especially tough because it put them six games behind the Kansas City Royals with only seven games remaining in the regular season.
The Angels won the following day, and the Royals lost, meaning the Halos’ slim playoff chances were still alive. But the team was feeling far worse after the win than after the loss the day before.
Early that morning, one of their own, 27-year-old outfielder Lyman Bostock had been killed in a drive-by shooting.
Lyman Bostock spent his first three seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) with the Minnesota Twins. A good defensive center fielder, Bostock also blossomed with the bat in 1976, finishing fourth in the American League with a .323 batting average.
Bostock was even better the following season, batting .336, good for second in the American League, behind his friend, teammate, and future Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew.
Bostock’s stellar performance came at the perfect time, as he became a free agent following the 1977 season. California Angels owner Gene Autry outbid the Twins, Yankees, and Padres for Bostock’s services, signing him to a five-year $2.3 million contract.
The Singing Cowboy was singing the praises of his new centerfielder, who he believed was a rising star.
Angels fans, and Bostock himself, however, were soon questioning Autry’s opening his pocketbook.
Bostock was off to an awful start in Anaheim. After batting only .150 for the month of April, he was so displeased with his performance that he offered to return his salary for the month to the team. Autry declined, saying the season was young and the team had faith in the young player.
Bostock’s performance did improve, but still not to his satisfaction. He accepted his pay for May but declined to keep it instead of giving it to various charities.
By summer, however, Bostock was in full swing, hitting .404 in June. Solid performances in July, August, and September followed, and the Angels’ new edition finally believed he was earning his money.
In the September 23 afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park, Bostick had two hits and a walk, but the Angels lost the game 5-4. California’s postseason hopes were on life support and would soon die.
That evening, the Angels centerfielder was also on life support; early the following morning, Lyman Bostock lost his life.
Bostock looked forward to games in Chicago because it allowed him to visit his uncle, Thomas Turner, who lived in Gary, Indiana, only 30 miles away.
After having dinner with relatives at Turner’s home on September 23, Bostock and his uncle went to visit a friend, Joan Hawkins, and her sister, Barbara Smith. Barbara was living with Joan after becoming estranged from her husband, Leonard. She had obtained a temporary restraining order against him four days earlier.
After the group finished dinner and chatted for a while, Thomas agreed to drive Joan and Barbara to their cousin’s house. Lyman Bostock and Barbara Smith rode in the back seat with Joan in the front passenger’s seat.
As the foursome entered the car, Leonard Smith was lurking outside the home and followed them as they departed. At 10:40 p.m., as the group was stopped at the intersection waiting for the light to change, Smith pulled his car alongside them, leaned out the window, and fired a shot into the back seat of Turner’s vehicle.
Smith tried to shoot Barbara, but Bostock was seated between her and the position from where Smith had fired. The bullet hit the ball player in his right temple. He was rushed to the hospital but died two hours later.
Barbara Smith was hospitalized with pellet wounds to her face but recovered.
Barbara Smith identified the shooter as her estranged husband Leonard, and he was arrested at his home.
Leonard Smith told police his ire was intended for Barbara, who he believed had repeatedly been unfaithful. Smith said he flew into a rage when he saw his wife and Bostock get into the back seat of the car together, believing they were on a date. The two, however, had only met when Bostock arrived at Joan’s home.
Smith said he had never met Bostock and did not know that he was a professional baseball player.
Smith was tried twice for Lyman Bostock’s murder, with his lawyers arguing that Barbara Smith’s alleged infidelity had driven him insane. The first trial resulted in a hung jury.
Smith was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the second trial. Psychiatrists declared him no longer mentally ill seven months later, and he was released.
The aftermath of Smith’s trial and verdict caused Indiana to change its insanity laws. The state legislature passed a bill mandating a person found to be insane at the time of the commission of a crime could still be found legally guilty and thus could be sent to prison if he or she was released from psychiatric treatment.
Following his release, Leonard Smith returned to Gary, Indiana, where he resided for the remainder of his life. In his later years, he moved into a high-rise apartment building for senior citizens only a few blocks from where he had shot Lyman Bostock.
Smith never again ran afoul of the law and declined all requests to comment on Lyman Bostock’s killing.
Leonard Smith died in 2010 at age 64.
The entire California Angels team attended Lyman Bostock’s funeral, as did many of his rival team players.
Among those who eulogized the ballplayer they lovingly called “Jibber-Jabber” were his Twins teammate Rod Carew and Angels teammates Bobby Grich and Ken Brett, bother of the future Hall-of-Famer George Brett.
All agreed the California Angel was now another kind of angel.
The Topps Company paid tribute to the slain ballplayer with an “In Memoriam” baseball card in its 1979 edition.
I am a card collector and have this card, as well as several others of Lyman Bostock.
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Lyman Bostock Jr. had baseball in his blood. The son of a former Negro League standout, Bostock began his professional career with the Minnesota Twins in 1975. Two years later, he became one of the first players in major league baseball to cash in on the new era of free agency, signing with the California Angels for more than $2 million—one of the richest contracts in sports history at that time. But Bostock’s true potential would never be known. On September 23, 1978, Bostock was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana. He was just 27 years old.
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