Later that day, reports emerged that Porter had been found slumped against his car. It appeared he had succumbed to 100-degree temperatures on August 5 while trying to push his vehicle off a tree stump. My mental image shifted, and I saw him as the victim of fatally bad luck. Porter had tried to push 2 tons of steel in brutal late-day heat and keeled over. Tragic but excusable. It could have been me.
A week later, Jackson County Medical Examiner Thomas Young shattered sympathetic visions when he stated Porter's death was caused by "toxic effects of cocaine."
Porter was found not slumped against his vehicle but facedown in the dirt beside it. His T-shirt was partially removed and hung loosely from his limp neck -- unlike his dignity, which was nowhere to be found. His left trouser leg was soaked with pungent water from his having stumbled into the Missouri River. Porter suffered, Young said, from "excited delirium" as a result of ingesting cocaine. What an oddly joyous name for a cowardly death.
At the funeral, former Royals teammate and good friend Jerry Terrell told mourners what they came to hear. "Darrell is a living, walking miracle of God," Terrell said. Porter is not living -- he is dead. He killed himself when he decided cocaine was more important than his family, his friends, his legacy and his life. Porter is not walking. His body lies prone under 6 feet of dirt, waiting for time to dismantle it. Porter is not a miracle of God. He is a failure, a man on whom God bestowed many talents, only to see Porter abuse and lose them after only five decades.
Terrell didn't know that Porter had been living a lie when he eulogized his former teammate. The coroner's findings were released three days after the funeral. Terrell can be excused for a myopic view of his friend. The media should not.
The Kansas City Star's Joe Posnanski injected a saccharine-laced dose of sentimentality in his column after Porter's drug use became public. "Porter was a good man," wrote Posnanski. "The end doesn't diminish any of that." Sorry, Joe, but the way Porter ended his life not only diminishes his good deeds in life but leaves them cowering in a syringe-strewn alley.
Porter was a white Oklahoman who was easy to like. He looked like many other white Kansas Citians' next-door neighbors and was almost as approachable. He didn't sport tattoos or a do-rag. He spelled his name "Darrell" not "Darryl." The media reported his death as "accidental." All this makes us feel better about the passing of poor Double-Barrel Darrell.
It also shields white folks from the reality that drug addiction is the ultimate equal-opportunity employer. Cocaine and its brothers welcome every gender, race and religion into their clutches and rarely give up on them.
Don't celebrate Porter's tragic life. Don't hang a photo on your child's wall of Porter in his Royals uniform or in his St. Louis Cardinals uniform as the 1982 World Series MVP. Place a picture in your kid's mind of Porter's half-naked torso lying facedown in the dirt as flies hover around his corpse.