I have done a lot of dumb things in my life, but one of the most regrettable- most reprehensible- things among that long list happened at the expense of a friendship and a circle of friends.
It was 1992, I was twenty-three years old and was involved in a singles bowling league. One night after bowling, I went to the bar with my best friend's girlfriend and her best friend. When it came time to leave, the girls gave me a ride home and as we were approaching my duplex, Kristen (the best friend) said she had just remembered she was supposed to give a friend a ride somewhere- could Kellie (my best friend's girlfriend) wait at my place for her to come back? Innocently enough, and like a lamb being led to the slaughter, I said "sure"- not thinking anything of it. We sat and talked and when it was time for her to leave, we went to give each other a friendly hug- which led to a kiss. It was the beginning of a relationship in which about half of our time together was spent in secret. Obviously, it was also the end of a relationship once my best friend's brother saw us together. I will never forget the first time Tony saw me after the discovery- the look he gave. It was more of hurt, of betrayal, than anger. I felt like Judas.
A little over a year later, there was a knock at my door as I sat watching Sports Center. I remember feeling a little irrated because they were in the middle of the story of a boating accident that had killed Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews earlier that day. It was Tony, who came over to talk about things. I had written him an apology letter a year earlier, after discovering they were trying to work things out. I also told him to be careful- that if she had done it to him once, chances are she would do it again. This evening, he extended grace by saying he had forgiven me and that I was right- that it had happened again.
Rick Manning's career didn't turn out as many had expected following a successful rookie campaign and an even better sophomore season in 1976. He was never the same after injuring his back in a game at the Seattle Kingdome on June 4, 1977. Manning had sustained the injury while sliding head-first into second on an attempted steal. He finished the game and played in three more before the pain became so severe that he had difficulty even running. The centerfielder would wear a back brace for six weeks before later x-rays revealed a broken vertebra. Young Cleveland pitcher Dennis Eckersley ( Manning's best friend and roommate while on the road) invited him to stay at his home while rehabbing. Problem was that Eck was married at the time and, being a professional athlete, spent a lot of time on the road. It was during this time that Manning and Eck's wife (Denise) began an adulterous affair (the two eventually married). Apparently the team found out about it before the pitcher did and decided that one of the players had to go. Banking on a full recovery to his pre-injury level of performance (and let's face it, Rick wouldn't have much trade value at that point), Cleveland shipped Eckersley off to Boston on March 30, 1978- just days before the start of the regular season. We all know Eck's story- the successes and the failures, but what became of Manning? He never did attain that level of success again, although he did have a few decent years- with both Cleveland and Milwaukee. Following his retirement he became a color commentator for Cleveland Indians broadcasts.
And, he had been the recipient of grace, as well. In Dennis Eckersley's Hall of Fame induction speech, he acknowledged not only ex-wife Denise ("I thank you for the stability you gave me at that time; you grounded me and helped me get to the big leagues") but Manning, also- naming him as one of the good friends he made in Cleveland.