Cory and Kevin Lidle

Kevin Lidle with Salt Lake in 2001
Cory Lidle with Tampa Bay in 2000
Kevin Lidle’s baseball career was in the shadow of his brother, but Cory’s tragic death placed Kevin on a national stage.

Kevin Lidle was virtually indistinguishable from his twin brother Cory, but until a tragic plane crash yesterday few people outside of professional baseball had ever heard of him.

It fell to Kevin to represent the Lidle family last night on CNN’s Larry King Live. Kevin, who is now a baseball instructor in Lakeland, Florida, heard of Cory’s death when a friend called him after seeing the news on television.

Kevin was a journeyman player like his brother, only his career odyssey was at the minor league level. In the early years, neither looked like he’d ever see the big leagues.

After attending South Hills High School in West Covina and Mt. San Antonio College in nearby Walnut, both towns in east Los Angeles County, Kevin was drafted in the 24th round of the June 1992 draft by the Detroit Tigers.

Cory had become a pro ballplayer two years before, but wasn’t even drafted. He signed out of South Hills with the Twins as an undrafted free agent, but was released in April 1993. After a stint in independent ball, Cory was signed in September 1993 by the Brewers. He was traded in January 1996 to the Mets and reached the majors with them in 1997, posting a 3.53 ERA in 54 games, mostly as a reliever.

Arizona selected Cory in the November 1997 expansion draft, but he suffered an elbow injury and underwent “Tommy John” surgery that scuttled most of the 1998 and 1999 seasons for him. In October 1998, still recovering from the operation, Cory was claimed on waivers by Tampa Bay, where he returned to the majors for parts of 1999 and 2000.

Kevin, meanwhile, spent six seasons in the Tigers’ system before the Rockies selected him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. Granted free agency next fall, Kevin went on to work for the Padres and Indians before he was released in April 2000. Kevin signed with Somerset of the independent Atlantic League, which was where the Angels found him in June 2000.

Kevin was signed to replace his high school teammate, Shawn Wooten, who’d been promoted from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Edmonton. Shawn was a journeyman story in his own right, having played for the Tigers in the minors and for independent Moose Jaw in the Prairie League before the Angels signed him in February 1997. “Woot” eventually reached the major leagues, and was part of the Anaheim Angels’ world championship ballclub in 2002.

In 2001, Kevin began the year with Triple-A Salt Lake but was released in July. He was signed by the Cardinals, who released him at season’s end. His original team, the Detroit Tigers, called and asked if he might want to pitch. Kevin had appeared in emergency relief several times over his career, including ten games in 1998. This would prolong his career, so Kevin said yes. But after posting a 5.84 ERA in 23 games (including 13 starts) for Erie (now a Tigers affiliate), he was released at season’s end.

Kevin briefly found himself back in independent ball with Somerset in 2005 — 23 games as a catcher, three games as a pitcher — before calling it a career.

Cory was traded in January 2001 to Oakland, where he blossomed. He was 13-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 2001, and 8-10 with a 3.89 ERA in 2002. But he was traded to Toronto, where he toiled for a year, granted free agency, signed with Cincinnati, eventually was picked up on waivers by Philadelphia, and there he remained until he was traded in late July to the Yankees.

The Lidles and Wooten were part of a remarkable baseball program at South Hills. Jason and Jeremy Giambi were their teammates, as was pitcher Aaron Small. Cory and Jason were reunited with the Yankees. He just missed Aaron, who’d been demoted by the Yankees to Triple-A Columbus in late June.

Jeremy Giambi’s last season was 2004, a minor league stint with the Dodgers. He was in camp with the Chicago White Sox in March 2005 when his name was linked to the breaking steroid abuse scandal. His brother Jason admitted using steroids too.

Shawn Wooten continues to toil in the minors. Granted free agency in December 2003, Woot signed with the Phillies but was granted free agency a year later. He signed with the Red Sox in January 2005, but they let him go in October. The Twins picked him up for 2006 and assigned him to Triple-A Rochester, where he hit. 253 this year in 104 games with six homers. He caught and DH’d for the Red Wings.

Cory’s death became a nationwide news story, and shone a spotlight on the unique relationship between the Lidles, the Giambis, and Wooten. Their local paper, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, has a story about the reaction at South Hills and how their alumni had played such a prominent role in one of the more successful baseball programs in Southern California at that time.

For me personally, it recalled the brief time I got to know Kevin, his friendship with Shawn, and how they were just regular guys living the life of baseball journeymen hoping they’d one day get a break.

As much as we focus on top prospects, the reality is that the journeymen really are the life and blood of the profession. The prospects need teammates, and in particular pitchers need experienced catchers who can call their games, study their mechanics, minimize defensive mistakes and groom them for the next step on the ladder to the majors. Bull Durham was entertainment, but the relationship between journeyman Crash Davis and prospect Nook LaLoosh was all too real.

Kevin and Woot were the Crash Davis for many pitching prospects over the years. It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy to bring them to light.

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