The Cards were 11-5 in Morris's starts before Kile's death. They were 4-4 in his starts since that dreadful day in Chicago, which came only four days after the death of beloved broadcaster Jack Buck, 77. The players learned about Kile's death from La Russa, who broke the news to them in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field about 30 minutes before they were scheduled to play the Cubs. At the time La Russa knew only that Kile had been found dead in his hotel room. (An autopsy later determined that he died from acute hardening of the arteries around his heart.) After telling the players, the shaken manager retreated to his tiny office. Then Cubs team president Andy MacPhail suddenly walked in.
"What are we going to do about the game?" MacPhail asked. "It's a national TV game. There are a lot of people in the stands."
"Andy," La Russa said, "my team is in no condition to play. Go look at them."
MacPhail walked down the short hallway into the clubhouse, where players were weeping and shaking their heads in disbelief. MacPhail turned around and reentered La Russa's office. "You're right," he said. "There's no way."
Among the most shaken players was Morris, who blossomed into a 22-game winner last year with the help of Kile, becoming the franchise's biggest winner since Bob Gibson. In the week following Kile's death a mournful Morris lost 20 pounds. "After that you forget about all the little things—like eating," says Morris, who has since regained the weight.
Kile was not only a reliable pitcher but also a respected teammate who regularly counseled young players. "He wasn't the kind of leader who spoke up just to hear the sound of his voice," outfielder Albert Pujols says. "He was a quiet leader who would take players aside and help them. I remember this year in Seattle, I made a mistake in the outfield. He came up to me and said, 'Don't worry about it. That was a tough line drive. Next time you'll do it.' "
St. Louis lost five of seven games immediately after Kile's death. "Those first games were really tough," first baseman Tino Martinez says. "We were going through the motions. We came in, put on our uniforms, went out and played, and whatever happened, happened. We didn't really care. But then we hit a certain point where we had to find a way to have fun playing baseball again."
On July 28 the Cardinals scored six runs in the ninth inning to stun the Cubs 10-9. "That was the first time I saw them really enjoy themselves again," La Russa says. The next day, while flying to Florida, many of them erupted with shouts of joy upon hearing that St. Louis had obtained Rolen, the AU-Star third baseman who was bent on leaving Philadelphia as a free agent after the season. Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, burnishing his reputation as a shrewd trader, made the deal without disturbing the core of the team or yielding a premium prospect. In addition to Bud Smith, a slight and soft-tossing lefty, he gave up Placido Polanco, a utility player with little power, and Mike Timlin, a journeyman reliever.
Since 1997 Jocketty has traded for Mark McGwire, Edgar Renteria, Kile, Fernando Vi�a, Jim Edmonds, Will Clark, Williams and Rolen without giving up a frontline player. (The best of the departed bunch are Anaheim Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy and Rockies closer Jose Jimenez.) McGwire, Renteria, Kile, Vi�a and Edmonds all signed contract extensions to stay in St. Louis after their trades, largely because of the team's famed fan support and its pronounced commitment to staying competitive. The Cardinals figure Rolen will want to stay too.
"Let the fans in St. Louis do their magic," Jocketty says, alluding to the enormous ovations they gave McGwire upon his arrival in 1997. Forgoing free agency, McGwire signed six weeks after his trade from the Oakland A's.