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Stone's inability to shake his slump gnawed at him during sleepless nights in the Voorhees, New Jersey, condo where he stayed during the season. He grew paranoid, wondering if the next strikeout or unsuccessful stolen-base attempt would get him shipped out of town. Sweat soaked his sheets. His insomnia spurred one of the few genuine Stonie stories: On one road trip, teammates advised him to start counting sheep -- to which he responded, "They don't have sheep in Pittsburgh."
By midsummer, he was back in Portland, Maine, enduring the epic bus rides that mark minor-league life.
As he bounced back-and-forth from the Phillies to its farm team over the next two seasons, Stone kept quiet. He didn't want to be branded as a less-than-established player with a bad attitude.
"I kept a lot of stuff inside," Stone says now. "I didn't make no waves. I was very naïve. That was my downfall. I trusted a lot of people."
Stone reached his lowest point in 1988, when the Phillies traded him to the Baltimore Orioles. The profoundly awful Orioles started 0-21; Stone had 1 hit in 32 at-bats.
Eager to please, Stone overcompensated on the rare occasions he did get a hit. This led to several base-running blunders. He killed a rally in one game by getting thrown out going from first to third on a grounder, a brazen risk even for someone so swift. In another unprecedented display of recklessness, Stone was thrown out once at every base in the same game. He was still sprinting, but it was as if he were in a corn maze.
He headed to that team's minor-league affiliate in Rochester, New York, to rehabilitate an injured thumb. He never returned to the big team.
When someone asked then-manager Frank Robinson if Stone had been playing hurt, Robinson replied, "I sure hope so."
"He was a negative person," Stone says today. His earnest expression makes Robinson's cutting comment seem unbearably cruel, like a yank on a friendly puppy's tail.
"When a young player has a stretch at the start of his career like Stone had, the question you ask yourself is whether he is genuinely outstanding or whether he is just an ordinary, regular player who played over his head," says Bill James, baseball writer and historian. "Not often does a young player take one step back after another after another. This was what was unusual about Stone's career."
What makes Stone's tale tragic is the likelihood that he was "genuinely outstanding," that, with proper handling, he could have become an amazing player. His rapid descent shattered a romantic baseball illusion, the notion of a backwoods Johnny B. Goode who could swing a bat like he was ringing a bell even as he gawked in wide-eyed wonder at the world outside the diamond.
In the big leagues, such batter savants have a short shelf life. Teams make adjustments, and ability becomes secondary to adaptation. Here was a player who could still outrun all of his teammates and put wood on every batting-practice offering. He competed with inexhaustible abandon during games, as if he were playing a faster-paced sport. Yet he was unable to translate this talent and hard work into something tangible that could keep him in a starting lineup -- or even off the waiver wire. When Baltimore and Texas released him during the same calendar year, Stone's corroding career seemed to have come to an indignant end.