Pirates' Leyland mourns loss of first boss Barger

December 10, 1992|By Amy Niedzielka | Amy Niedzielka,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Patrick Leyland is only a year old, so h could not understand yesterday why his father had begun to sob. Patrick's dad Jim is the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Leyland had his winter coat on and was ready to leave for the Pittsburgh airport. He was going to visit the man who would be the godfather of his second child, due in July.

The man, one of his best friends, was very, very sick. Before he could go, though, the phone rang and the news came. Carl Barger, president of the expansion Florida Marlins, was dead after collapsing at the winter meetings.

"Carl was one of the closest friends I had, and this breaks my heart because of that friendship," Leyland said in a statement. "But also I know how excited he was that, after such a long wait and so much work, he was going to get to see his team play."

Not five minutes after Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski had, with red eyes, announced the death of the Marlins president yesterday, the Pittsburgh Pirates put out a release expressing their sadness. Leyland, who managed in Pittsburgh under Barger for nearly six years, had one of his own sent out.

"I'm sure in a couple days I'll be able to talk to you," he said in a broken voice over the phone last night. "I'm just not talking to anybody now."

Leyland might have been hurting the most, but he was far from the only person stung by the news.

"It's a very sad day for baseball," New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said from his Tampa office. "He was a fan's guy, I'll tell you that. He always had a smile on his face. He was a nice man, but a very, very capable man."

Dodgers general manager Fred Claire remembers Barger as an energetic leader who loved the game.

"He was highly respected," Claire said. "He was someone who served the game well. He was involved in minor-league baseball, involved with the Pirates, then the Marlins. He was a very strong person and as far as his desire to help, he was tireless."

Barger's death made even baseball's huge problems seem insignificant.

"When something like this happens, you realize how unimportant everything is that doesn't have to do with health," Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. "It is scary."

Katie Leyland met her husband at the airport to tell him about Barger, who had collapsed at the Louisville hotel Jim had just left.

"He stood there wondering if he should get back on the plane," Katie said.

Instead, the Leylands drove home to wait for an update on Barger's condition. Barger's fiancee, Maureen Mulvihill, joined them and Leyland and Mulvihill arranged a charter flight to Louisville. They didn't make it out the door.

Barger and Leyland talked three or four times a week over the phone. When Barger visited Pittsburgh, which was frequently, he liked to get his hair cut at the same barber shop from his Pirates days, then drop by Leyland's house for breakfast.

Sometimes it was just coffee. Barger's schedule was so packed, he didn't always have time to eat.

Barger passed out at Leyland's house over breakfast last year. That time, though scary, the collapse was merely a reaction to a change in high blood pressure medicine.

"Carl was very hard driving," Katie Leyland said. "He was busy all the time but he was full of energy, full of life. He smokes like a fiend and drinks like a fish, but that was just Carl."

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