Can’t do it.
I lost a friend Wednesday when former A’s pitcher Cory Lidle died in a plane crash in Manhattan. Not an acquaintance. Not a baseball player whose exploits I covered on a daily basis for two years. A friend.
Journalists aren’t supposed to become friends with their subjects, you know. It’s taboo in our business. Potential conflict of interest, potential for compromised objectivity, blah, blah, blah.
But if befriending an athlete who would have become a friend had we to crossed paths elsewhere in life makes me a bad journalist, fine. I’ll wear it. I’m a human being first, and when I meet someone with a similar sense of humor, similar values and a similar personality, I’m not going to deny myself the pleasure of his or her company to simply conform to the unwritten rules of my profession.
Professional athletes aren’t supposed to befriend journalists, either. Another unwritten rule. But for the very reasons outlined above, some of them break it. Not many, mind you. Of the hundreds of baseball players I’ve dealt with as a writer for MLB.com, I consider no more than two or three of them true friends.
Cory Lidle was one of them. He wasn’t a typical pro by any stretch, as evidenced by the classic nickname bestowed upon him in reference to his love of ice cream, cookies and fast food. “Snacks” was forever snacking, like Brad Pitt in “Ocean’s Eleven,” only Cory was as about Hollywood as your next-door neighbor and had a body to match.
But he had a live right arm, a dirty sinker and a nasty disposition on the mound, so he was a pro. And he was the least pretentious pro I’ve ever met. Probably the most honest, too — even when he knew his honesty might get him in trouble.
“Someone asks you a question, you answer it, right?” he once said. “And if you don’t answer it honestly, you’re a phony. I’d rather people called me an a-hole than a phony. Wouldn’t you?”
There was nothing phony about Cory, who most definitely was not an a-hole. He could be bitingly sarcastic, as many ballplayers are, and he was far from perfect, but he knew that about himself and often made light of the fact.
We used to B.S. daily when he was with the A’s, almost never talking about baseball. We hung out quite a bit at night during spring training in Arizona. And after he was traded, we kept in touch.
I spoke to him by phone only a couple of weeks ago, in fact. Called him when the New York Yankees, to whom he was traded to in July, clinched a spot in the playoffs. And I congratulated him. He thanked me and quickly moved the subject off baseball. He asked about my family, and I asked about his young son, Christopher, and his wife, Melanie.
So shortly after I arrived at McAfee Coliseum on Wednesday to cover Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, after the news broke that his plane slammed into an apartment building earlier in the day, I couldn’t think of anything but Christopher and Melanie.
A good woman lost a good man. A young boy lost a good father.
And I lost a friend.
Baseball? Now? Please.
Rest in peace, Snacks.
Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.