The death of Alan Wiggins at age 32 cast a pall yesterday over the members of the Baltimore Orioles family who knew him. They described him as a tragic young man whose baseball career and life were eroded and destroyed by drug use.
"He was a person and player of enormous potential who showed that for only fleeting moments," said Orioles president Larry Lucchino. "It's sad to see a young man and athlete die at that age. It's stunning."
Manager Frank Robinson said: "Naturally, death always catches you by surprise, especially at such a young age and when you haven't heard about them being sick. I have tremendous sympathy for his family. For a father to be taken away at their ages is very tough."
Coach Elrod Hendricks said: "He was a very intelligent young man. Too bad he had that problem [with drugs]. I've heard so many times a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and this is a classic case."
Wiggins, a second baseman for the Orioles from 1985 to 1987, died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles Sunday night of what was described by hospital spokesman Ron Wise as "pneumonia, tuberculosis and other medical complications."
He had been admitted to the hospital Nov. 29. He is survived by his wife, Angie, and three children, Cassandra, 8; Alan, 5; and Candace, 3.
Only a handful of current Orioles were with the team when the club suspended Wiggins for fighting with outfielder Jim Dwyer and manager Cal Ripken Sr. in 1987.
A month later, Wiggins' baseball career ended with his third suspension for drug use.
"What happened with the drugs and stuff kind of ruined his life," said pitcher Mark Williamson, who, like Wiggins, came to the majors through the San Diego Padres system. "He was sort of a loner, a different sort of player. He had a lot of problems in his life, and he came to Baltimore on a bad note."
Wiggins' best season was 1984, when his 106 runs and club-record 70 stolen bases helped the Padres win the National League championship.
But by April of the next season, he was in a drug rehabilitation center in Minnesota. When he returned, he was traded to the Orioles.
"We gave him a second chance, third chance, whatever you want to call it," Lucchino said. "Ed Williams [then the team's owner] gave him an opportunity to resurrect and rehabilitate. He got a good deal of professional support and attention."
For a time, Wiggins lived with Dr. James McGee, a psychologist appointed by the Williams regime.
"He got as much special care as anyone could get," said assistant general manager Doug Melvin. "He had some ability, but when he started getting into the drug problem, that ability dwindled each year."
Among the players, Hendricks said, only Lee Lacy was friendly with Wiggins and "they had their ups and downs. Alan had strong mood swings."
Shortstop Garry Templeton, who called himself "probably his [Wiggins'] closest friend," didn't realize Wiggins was ill.
Their last contact was almost a year ago, when Wiggins told him he was getting into computers.
"I was really happy for him because it seemed like he was getting his life back together," said Templeton. "He just had a few problems he never could straighten out. I hope he's at rest now."
Former Padres manager and general manager Jack McKeon said: "I don't know what his problem was. He was a good kid, real shy and quiet, but once he had the drug problem, everything turned on him. I was hoping he'd turn himself around."
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said: "I knew he was appreciative that Mr. Williams gave him the chance. This is very shocking to hear this."
Ripken said, "It's a sad thing."
Robinson said: "He was a very bright individual, and you could like the guy. But there was always something there to back you off."
Melvin said the Orioles had not been in touch with Wiggins for a year.