It was 1 in the morning and Darrell Porter hustled out of the Cardinal clubhouse. The catcher told reporters how well the rookie pitcher did that night in Game 6. The kid's fast ball jumped like a bass on a tight line. Now it was a one-game World Series, the catcher said, and that last game will be some fun. Excuse me now, he said, gotta get my baby and go home.
A day later Porter would become the Most Valuable Player in the World Series, his eight hits producing five runs, including the fifth in tonight's 6-3 victory over Milwaukee. He has known pain here. Now came the sweetness. "Oh, my goooodness," he shouted, "Lordy, Lordy, I ain't ever had so much fun playin' ball."
Someone at the next locker poured champagne over Porter's head, and the catcher laughed. "Hey, keep that stuff away. It'll get in my pores." And then, from his locker, he pulled out a bottle and held it high. "Non-alcoholic! Oh, gooooodness. I've got me a beautiful wife, a little baby 6 1/2 months old who's gonna be a looker, I haven't had a drink in two years and no pills or pot or whatever. I'm a happy man."
At 1 in the morning the night before, in the silence of a dying night, Porter pulled on a brown sweater. He wore jeans and cowboy boots. There's a Clark Kent look to him: the close-cut hair, the wide-eyed glasses, the square-cut jawline. He's a Missouri kid who grew up in Oklahoma City and carries both places in his brittle little drawl: Arlo Guthrie with a catcher's mitt.
Gotta get my baby, he said, and those are words he said in other places in other times, meaning other things. At 20 he was in the big leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he served four years of hard time before going to Kansas City.
There, Porter made the all-star team four times. He would hit about .275 with 16-18 home runs and 70-80 runs batted in. In 1979 he had his best year: .291, 20 homers, 112 RBI.
Those years, Darrell Porter came wrapped in barbed wire. He was a rolling ball of butcher knives, as Blackie Sherrod said of Charlie Waters, and with the fire-eating fame came the drinking and the drugs. They were his babies then and they owned him and he loved it. He loved it so much he thought it would never end. The wheel would keep on turning, a frictionless momentum machine taking him higher and higher.
Until one day, one day after a thousand such days, Darrell Porter knew it had gone too far. Even today, he doesn't know how he knew. There is no road to Damascus in his story. He just knew. He felt the clubhouse grow silent around him. Baseball players live on the mock insult, the truth disguised as jest. If a guy has had a bad fielding day, someone might slide him a glass ash tray: "Here's your glove, skillet hands."
With the silence came the hurt.
The winter of '79, Porter put himself in a place where they teach you that drugs and alcohol, once you invite them to own you, give you up only in a firefight that scares the hell out of you. Porter made it, he said, because he prayed a lot.
In '80, Porter hit .249 with seven homers and 51 RBI. But the Royals made it to the World Series ("I had a lot on my mind that year besides the World Series. I just didn't enjoy it much," he said tonight). That winter, while on a Caribbean honeymoon cruise with his bride Deanne, he signed with the Cardinals for $650,000 a year.
His numbers here are not good: .224 and .231 with a two-year total of 18 homers and 79 RBI. For $650,000, customers wanted more. Anger at Porter took cruel turns. A ballpark sign: "Porter, Take a Drink -- Please." Above his locker today sat two bottles for a celebration: "Meier's Pink Sparkly Catawba, Non-Alcoholic Grape Juice."
Now it was 1 in the morning -- after Porter hit his first homer in a World Series . . . 10 days after being the MVP in the playoffs -- and Darrell Porter said, "Gotta get my baby and go home. It's past her bedtime."
He walked to a room across from the Cardinal clubhouse. There was a red crib against the far wall. A tiny arm raised from under a pink blanket.
The catcher bent over the crib rail and ever-so-gently picked up the baby. She had a thumb in her mouth. Her eyes came open when her father kissed her cheek, and they fell shut as her mother wrapped her in a green-and-turquoise patchwork blanket.
The Porters headed home through the basement of the stadium where they have heard boos, and Porter carried Lindsay Deanne, and the catcher said, "She is the neatest thing that ever happened to me. The baseball, it's just a stupid ol' fun game and, win or lose this thing, I'm having a blast. It was neat to be the MVP, and I'm glad I'm contributing in the Series. But lookee here."
The catcher turned to show his baby. "How's my punkin? Daddy got you too wrapped up?" He turned a corner of the blanket off her face.
"Happiness is not going to come from playing ball," Porter said. "Sooner or later, the game will humble you, no matter how big a shot you are. You better get your forever kind of happiness somewhere else."
When he quit drugs and alcohol, Porter was a man adrift. "I'd been fairly successful the whole time I was doing drugs. When I stopped doing them, I just struggled. On the field, I couldn't get it going. I thought, 'What in the world am I going to do?'
"The Lord made things like that happen to me," Porter said, now climbing steps to leave the stadium. "God humbled me. I fear Him and I know He loves me and I'm trying now to get to where He wants me. I wouldn't say I've overcome anything yet, but I'm on the right track."
The catcher with his baby in a blanket stepped into the chill of the early morning air. His wife walked beside him, carrying a stroller. A car honked its horn at them as they crossed the street.