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Stone had always been a player with flair. He was a fan favorite in Philadelphia because he'd slide into first base during close-call plays or dive in pursuit of balls that were clearly out of his reach. Both approaches might have hurt the team more than they helped, but spectators can always overlook errors born out of irrepressible effort.
Managers aren't nearly as forgiving.
Giles recalls Felske saying, "[Stone is] a fun player to watch, and he can hit some, but you're not going to win a pennant with him playing."
Up until 1990, Stone hadn't had a chance to prove Felske wrong, because he had suited up for exclusively dismal teams. The Boston Red Sox, a solid contender, picked him up that fall. But though he welcomed the opportunity to play in games that could lead to postseason action, his first impression of the city wasn't promising. While he was checking into his hotel, someone stole his Jeep Cherokee, which was filled with all of his possessions, from the parking lot. His introduction to the Red Sox wasn't much better. For a month, he failed to log an at-bat, appearing as a pinch runner without a single steal.
On September 28, 1990, the Red Sox were tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the American League East. Playing in front of a national television audience -- and its largest home crowd in 12 years -- the Sox fumbled a 4-0 lead late in the game, then blew a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the score tied, the Red Sox loaded the bases with one out.
Up stepped Stone.
Blue Jays closer Tom Henke, a fireball dispenser with thick glasses, stared into the on-deck circle, expecting the inevitable announcement of a pinch hitter. Stone peeked back into the dugout, waiting to see who would take his place during the most meaningful at-bat of his career. Manager Joe Morgan waved him into the batting box.
Stone fouled off the first pitch.
He drilled the next one into the outfield, scoring the season-saving run and triggering a massive ovation.
Finally, Stone was, as Sports Illustrated had first dubbed him in 1984, "The Natural." He was Roy Hobbs blasting a shot into the scoreboard.
"I'm on Cloud 10," Stone gushed after the game. This became an instant Stonie story, with some sources inflating the quote to "Cloud 11" by the time it ran the next day. The Boston Globe offered poetic praise: "Stone is one of the last of the innocents, trying to make a name in this graceless age."
When Boston released the last of the innocents in November and failed to invite him to spring training the next year, Stone was shocked. Red Sox fans were still sending him videotapes of his game-winning heroics. But the team itself had forgotten him, deeming the 31-year-old too old to fit into its future plans. To management, Stone's pennant-race contribution was a fluke, a lucky hit from a legendarily luckless player.
Stone returned to Wardell to wait for a call that never came. He settled into a house he had bought the year before and seldom ventured outside its doors. There was no baseball memorabilia surrounding him; the only reminder of his star-crossed career was persistent fan mail from the still-grateful Red Sox faithful.
Stone was paralyzed with regret and anger.
Coming to terms with involuntary retirement from his dream profession, Stone moved on to his secondary childhood obsession and signed on as a police officer in nearby Caruthersville for $16,500 a year.