This piece was originally published in the February, 1990 issue of GQ. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.
First, he pointed the gun at his own head.
“What? In front of your kids?” she said.
Then, he pointed it at her head. “You’re not going to do that,” she said. The first shot went through her neck. She tried to run, but he pursued her from the kitchen to the laundry room, firing two shots that missed and two that pierced her chest. “Donnie was a hunter,” says Tonya Moore. “He shot me just like he’d shoot game. The first shot was to the head, the second to the heart.”
The three bullets passed right through her. Wearing a white skirt and a white blouse, bleeding from six holes, she stumbled toward the garage, crawled out a door and climbed onto the backseat of the Mercedes Donnie Moore had bought after signing a $3 million contract to pitch for the California Angels. It was probably before their 17-year-old daughter, Demetria, pulled the car out of the driveway and sped madly for the hospital that Donnie, with 10-year-old Donnie II watching, put the last bullet in his own head. Seven-year-old Ronnie straddled his father’s body to dial 911 and scream: “My dad’s been shot!”
In the emergency room, Tonya was told “It’s a miracle, but you’re going to be all right.” The bullets had just missed her arteries, organs and spine; the worst damage was a collapsed lung. She recovered quickly, though not quickly enough to attend Donnie’s funeral in Lubbock, Texas. The last time she saw him was when they wheeled his body into a special room at the hospital. She told Donnie she forgave him. She said goodbye. She asked him “Why?”
The events of July 18, 1989, left most of those who knew Donnie Moore stunned beyond words. In fact, some members of his family still don’t accept Tonya’s version of what happened. But words did not fail Moore’s agent, David Pinter. When the story broke, with Tonya unavailable for comment, he focused attention on the infamous home run Dave Henderson had hit off Moore when the California Angels were just one strike away from the 1986 World Series. “I think insanity set in,” said Pinter. “He could not live with himself after Henderson hit the home run.”
The home run placed Moore in the select company of baseball’s all-time goats, alongside Fred Merkle and Mickey Owen and Ralph Branca. And yet, even before he killed himself, Moore stood out. Most dramatic home runs seem to be remembered more for the batters who hit them than for the pitchers who surrender them. Even Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” is remembered—outside of Brooklyn, anyway—more as Thomson’s triumph than as Branca’s failure. But that moment in October of 1986 has always belonged to Donnie Moore.
Perhaps it was because so many people were pulling for the Angels. Neither the team nor its beloved owner, Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy, nor its star-crossed manager, Gene Mauch—who, with the ’64 Phillies and the ’82 Angels, had already managed two of baseball’s most notorious collapses—had ever been to a World Series. The Angels were the sentimental favorites in 1986—until Donnie Moore gave up a home run to a nobody, a benchwarmer.
Last summer, when Moore went from baseball tragedy to human tragedy, it was easy to place the blame. Of course, there was the home run. There were also the media and the fans who never forgave him, and the Angels front office, which, despite the team’s beneficent owner, is famous for coldly discarding its veterans. It all added up. “Who killed Donnie Moore?” asked Pinter. “Baseball killed Donnie Moore.”
But none of baseball’s other tragedies—not Merkle, not Owen, not Branca—committed suicide. Why Moore? Why didn’t he, like Branca, end up re-creating his infamous moment in countless old-timer games? Pinter didn’t have an answer for that. But those who knew Moore best—Tonya, his family, a few friends—believe his troubles began long before he signed with the Angels, long before he became an all-star relief pitcher, long before anyone had heard of Dave Henderson. “Donnie,” says Tonya, “was no angel.”
The daughter of a black mother and an American Indian father, Tonya Moore is tall and slender, with an exquisitely beautiful face. She met Donnie in Lubbock, where her mother had a little joint on the outskirts of town and a long line of boyfriends, some of whom took advantage of her pretty daughter. It was a secret Tonya kept for many years.
At her mother’s place there was food and booze and music, and although Tonya only helped out, she sometimes sensed that people in town looked at her funny. The place was in a rural area known as Yellow House Canyon, just down the hill from a cluster of small one-story tract homes where the Moore family still lives, and just above the river where Donnie learned to fish and hunt.
Donnie’s father, Conaway, drives a truck, making long freight runs every night and returning in the morning. His mother, Willie, is a housekeeper for a prominent family on the other side of Lubbock. When Tonya was a teenager, Donnie came down the hill to her mother’s place almost every day. At first, Tonya couldn’t stand him, but by the time they were 16, they were high school sweethearts who went to different schools.
They were married in secret a year after graduation. The only family member who stood with them before the judge was their one-and-a-half-year-old girl, Demetria. Two days later, they left their daughter with Moore’s parents and set off for Bradenton, Fla., and a professional baseball career. In an interview with Cosmopolitan two years ago, Tonya talked about the “Secrets of a Successful Marriage”:
“When Donnie goes on the road,” she told the magazine, “the first night is hard, but you can’t be a crybaby. To keep things working, I make it real interesting when he comes home. Some baseball wives will leave the car at the ballpark for their husbands. I always pick him up, even if it’s four in the morning. I’ll throw on a little coat with nothing on underneath. It’s never boring! And I always cook for Donnie after a game—even if it’s midnight. That’s just what I do. I enjoy it. I do everything for him but pitch.”
There was a time when no one questioned Donnie Moore’s toughness. He was the only black student and the only kid who didn’t wear cowboy boots at a high school of 2,000 students attended mostly by the sons and daughters of Lubbock’s doctors and lawyers. But he could stand on home plate and throw a ball over the outfield fence, and he was voted one of the most popular students in his senior class.
It was the opportunity to pitch for Monterey High School baseball coach Bobby Moegle that convinced Moore to leave his school and his friends in East Lubbock. They would call him a traitor, but even then Moore was telling people he would do whatever it took to pitch in the big leagues. Once a minor leaguer himself, Moegle had built one of the best baseball programs in Texas by stressing discipline, 2–0 curveballs and the number three sign. At Monterey, one finger meant fastball, but three fingers meant fastball up and in, a pitch no Plainsman ever threw with more enthusiasm than Moore. Back then he was thin and wiry, with a good fastball and a curve that he could throw for strikes regardless of the count. High school hitters do not see many 2–0 curveballs. They did not hit many of Moore’s.
Three years in a row, pitching and batting third, Moore carried the Plainsmen to the state tournament in Austin. His junior year, pitching in relief, he gave up a double that cost Monterey the state championship game. The next year, however, he hit .400 playing the outfield, won 18 games pitching, striking out 222 in 132 innings, and took his team back to Austin. He started and won the semifinal game and then Moegle brought him into the final with the score tied. In the last inning, up 2–1 , Moore got the jitters. He gave up a leadoff single and walked two to load the bases with one out. It so happened Moegle was preoccupied just then with a bullpen catcher who’d taken a fastball in the nose. “I look up,” remembers Moegle, “and here’s Donnie standing on the foul line wiggling his finger for me to come out. He says, ‘I’m nervous.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m a little bit nervous, too.’ He didn’t know we had Evans over in the dugout with a broken nose and blood everywhere. There wasn’t much I could do for him.”
Young and alone, Moore took a deep breath, struck out the next two batters and learned to love pitching with the game on the line. The next year, he won 18 games for nearby Ranger Junior College and took the team to the national championship. After Moore pitched a shutout in the tournament semifinal, Ranger coach Jack Allen gathered his players on the team bus and told them they were going to have to decide who would pitch the next night. Moore stood up. “Son,” said the coach, “you pitched tonight, and you’ve already pitched in every ball game we’ve had here.”
“You’ve got an option,” said Donnie. “You can pitch me or fight me.”
“Well,” said Allen, “I’m not about to fight you.”
Moore threw a two-hit shutout. He had been drafted out of high school by the Boston Red Sox as an outfielder but had passed up the offer and gone to Ranger JC to prove he could pitch. “Ranger,” says Doug Gassaway, who scouted Moore for the Philadelphia Phillies, “is just a little old hole in the wall on the way to West Texas. We call it the ‘asshole of the world.’ To go out there, you’ve gotta love the game of baseball.” After one year, the Chicago Cubs signed Moore as a pitcher.
He remains the only black man ever to play baseball for Monterey. Neither his parents nor his former teammates can remember him complaining about a single racial incident, even though he was among boys who years later, years after he had become an All-Star and they had become men, would remember that “Donnie was real friendly with the white girls.”
Once, there was a fight in the hallway. “This one particular guy,” says Tom Ellis, a former teammate who still lives in Lubbock, “Donnie’d been talking to his girlfriend, and the guy didn’t like it.” There was another fight at a local motel where Moore and his teammates hung out and drank beer. This time, Moore got into it with a teammate he’d never gotten along with, one who may still have resented the time Donnie urinated in his cowboy boot. The fight ended with Moore being pushed through a plate glass window. The other boy, a scrub, was thrown off the team; Donnie, the star, may have run a few extra laps. He did, however, suffer a wrenched elbow in the fracas. He kept it to himself, says Jimmy Shankle, the team’s catcher, but “he pitched through pain all year long.”
Today, almost anyone in Lubbock will tell you the best baseball player ever to come out of the city was Donnie Moore. Coach Moegle can’t even persuade his current players to let him redo the school’s lockerless locker room; they want to dress where Donnie Moore dressed. “He was a symbol for us at Monterey,” says Shankle. “He was a big leaguer. I can remember watching him on TV in the All-Star Game. Boy, I was proud. Even when he was with St. Louis, Atlanta and the Cubs, I knew how he was going and what his ERA was.”
“I loved Donnie Moore like a son,” says Jack Allen, who has left Ranger. “Today, I have an extreme amount of difficulty realizing the truth of what has happened, because it just wasn’t Donnie.”
Short-limbed and thick-muscled, Moore didn’t look like a pitcher—he looked like Redd Foxx’s sitcom son, Lamont Sanford—but he threw hard and tight. In 1984, his manager with the Atlanta Braves, Joe Torre, brought him in to pitch the ninth inning of a vicious beanball war with the San Diego Padres. On the mound, Torre handed him the ball and told him to get an out. “He looked me right in the eye,” says Torre, “and I knew he wasn’t going to do that. I knew he was going to hit Graig Nettles. And he did. First pitch. And then he just took his glove off and waited for Nettles to come out after him. So he had the right attitude for a pitcher.”
After signing with the Cubs in 1973, it took Moore just two years to reach the major leagues. He relied too much on his fastball to be a starter, however, and he bounced back and forth between the minors and the majors for almost 10 years. He became a reliever, developed an off-speed pitch—the split-fingered fastball—and stuck for good in 1984 when he saved 16 games for the Braves.
That winter, California selected him in a special free agent compensation draft, and Gene Mauch told him he would be the Angels’ stopper. Mauch also turned him over to Bob Boone, a respected catcher and Stanford grad. With Boone, Moore stopped worrying about what he was throwing and concentrated on how he was throwing it. He never shook Boone off. “As the situation got tougher,” says the catcher, now with the Kansas City Royals, “his ability to make the pitch got better. If the bases are loaded and the game is on the line, with a 3–2 count on the hitter, there’s not many people I can ask to throw a split-fingered fastball—it’s the toughest pitch to control—but I would do that routinely with Donnie.”
For one season, 1985, Moore was as good a relief pitcher as there was in baseball. No one doubted that he had the perfect makeup to be a stopper. He always wanted the ball, and he wanted it with the game on the line. In fact, the Angels found that he was less effective when he had a big lead. Blowing away hitters with his fastball, embarrassing them with splitters that dove into the dirt, he saved 31 games. He was the only Angel selected for the All-Star Game and, with his parents in the stands, he pitched two perfect innings. On the night Moore broke the team record for saves, Mauch said, “He threw two innings last night, and he’s out there throwing 96 [miles per hour] tonight. He’s just amazing.” His Angel teammates voted him their most valuable player.
In the big leagues, Moore kept to himself. He was liked, a guy you could fool around with, but he was a family man who usually went straight home after games. “I’ll tell you one thing,” says Gene Mauch, who retired two seasons later without his World Series and who has otherwise refused to comment on Moore’s death. “He was a good guy. He was a good guy.”
“When he came here,” says Rod Carew, the future Hall of Famer who played first base for California that year, “we just became instant friends. Sometimes I would ask him, ‘Where do you want me?’ and he’d say, ‘Play where you want. Just go back to first base and relax. It’ll be over soon.’”
After the ’85 season, the Angels signed Moore to a three-year, $3 million contract. He and Tonya bought an $850,000 house with a pool and a lake, and Donnie stocked the lake with catfish.
On a stunningly clear Sunday afternoon in October 1986, more than 64,000 people came out to Anaheim’s Big A stadium hoping to see the California Angels win their first pennant. Before the game, Moore, who’d been pitching in pain, was told he probably wouldn’t have to throw that day. While he was dressing, he spoke to a reporter. “The job I do is not easy,” he said, “but I thrive on it. I can handle failure. That’s one thing most people have a hard time doing. If you can go out and take all the glory, then the days you’re a goat you’ve got to handle that, too.”
The subject of failure had come up only because he’d been nagged by injuries since spring training. If he pitched too much, his shoulder and ribs hurt; if he pitched too little, he wasn’t sharp. For the first time, he heard boos. Still, he pitched well the second half of the season, the Angels got hot, and he finished with 21 saves, including the division clincher. He also saved game three of the playoffs—despite balking home a run and getting hit hard. When the Angels rallied to win a wild 11-inning Game 4 and took a 3-1 lead over Boston, Moore scheduled two cortisone shots for after Game 5. Mauch planned to rest him until the World Series.
ABC’s Game 5 telecast opened with highlights from the previous night’s Angels victory and an interview with Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, who recounted some of the team’s past failures. “We need to prove to people—the fans, the media—all over baseball, all over the country,” said Jackson, one of Moore’s closest friends on the team, “that we can close the deal.”
Boston took an early lead, but the Angels went ahead when Bobby Grich hit a long fly ball that Red Sox center fielder Dave Henderson caught and then knocked over the fence. It was a ball Henderson—who entered the game only because starting center fielder Tony Armas sprained his ankle—should have caught, one that would not have cleared the wall without his help. The Angels led 5–2 going into the top of the ninth.
Bill Buckner led off with a single. Starting pitcher Mike Witt struck out Jim Rice and then threw a nasty, two-strike curveball, low and away, that Don Baylor inexplicably muscled over the left field wall. The Red Sox still trailed, 5–4, and Witt got Dwight Evans to pop out, but that brought up catcher Rich Gedman, the only player who’d hit Witt hard all day. Mauch called in lefty reliever Gary Lucas, who had struck out Gedman the night before. This time, Lucas hit him with his first pitch. That sent the tying run to first base and Mauch back to the bull pen. “And the drama keeps building,” said ABC sportscaster Al Michaels. “Here comes Moore.”
The gate swung open, and Donnie Moore trotted in. By the time he reached the mound, the grounds crew, preparing for a pennant celebration, had already formed a protective ring around the field, policemen in motorcycle helmets had filled the dugouts, California’s Gary Pettis had been voted most valuable player of the playoffs and, in the Angels clubhouse, the batboys were popping champagne corks. Standing next to each other on the California dugout steps were Gene Mauch and Reggie Jackson. The Angels needed one out. Dave Henderson stepped into the batter’s box. “This,” said Michaels, “has been a wonderful game.”
After a ball, Moore blew two fastballs past Henderson, who took the first and swung late at the second, overpowered and overmatched. It was the moment all pitchers dream about. One more strike and Anaheim Stadium would erupt; Moore’s teammates would be leaping into his arms. In the dugout, Reggie Jackson folded his cap and put away his glasses. ABC’s handheld camera zoomed in on Tonya for a reaction shot. The fans, screaming wildly, rose to their feet as Moore looked for Boone’s sign.
One finger. Moore threw a fastball in the dirt to even the count. He looked in again. Boone, concerned that Henderson might be measuring the fastball, wiggled four fingers, and Moore threw his off-speed pitch, the split-finger. Henderson fouled it off. Back to the fastball. Again, Henderson fouled the pitch off, but now Boone could see he had it timed. The crowd was still screaming. Moore glared in. Four fingers. Without hesitating, he rocked back and launched the split-fingered fastball that would change his life. “To left field and deep,” cried Michaels, his voice grinding, “Downing goes back and it’s gone! Unbelievable!”
The ball landed eight rows beyond the left field wall. While Henderson leapt, pirouetted and skipped around the bases, Boone remained in his crouch, glove extended, awaiting the pitch that never reached him. At first base, Henderson passed Bobby Grich, also frozen, hands on his knees, eyes focused eight rows deep. At third base, he passed Doug DeCinces, whose knees had buckled, leaving him in a catcher’s squat. “You’re looking at one for the ages here,” said Michaels, as the Sox swarmed Henderson. “Anaheim Stadium was one strike away from fantasyland. Now the Red Sox lead 6–5.” Moore got the last out of the inning and walked slowly to the dugout, the boos raining from above. Never again would he take the mound in his home park without being booed. Reggie pulled out his glasses.
And the epic proceeded. Staggered but valiant, the Angels tied the score in the bottom of the ninth and even loaded the bases with one out against young Steve Crawford, but DeCinces and Grich failed to drive home the run that would have made Moore the winning pitcher. In the top of the 10th, still shaky, he worked out of a first-and-third jam. In the bottom of the inning, Jim Rice leapt to catch a Gary Pettis drive at the top of the fence. “If you’re just tuning in,” said Michaels, “too bad.”
In the 11th, Moore hit Baylor with an inside fastball, and the Red Sox loaded the bases with nobody out. It was Henderson who hit the first pitch into center field for a sacrifice fly. When Moore was removed, the boos exploded. In the dugout, Gene Mauch patted Moore on the backside. In the bottom of the 11th, the Angels succumbed. They would return to Boston to get blown out twice. The Red Sox would go to the World Series.
It had not been that bad a pitch, just up a little, and there had been other failures—Lucas’s hitting Gedman, DeCinces’s pop-up—but all eyes were on Moore. After the game, he offered no alibis and made no mention of the two cortisone shots, one to his ribs, one to his shoulder, he was about to receive. He did wonder if he should have thrown a fastball. “Maybe if I had tried to blow it past him,” he said, “we’d be drinking champagne now.”
The man who called the pitch sees it differently. “The fact is, he didn’t throw a very good pitch,” says Boone today. “I know in my heart that if it had been a good one, his good one, Henderson wouldn’t have gotten the hit. He would have struck him out.”
That night, with all his family in from Lubbock, Moore was disconsolate, and he drank too much. “I sent my mother to her room,” says Tonya. “I said, ‘Mama, no matter what you hear, do not come out of this room.’”
The following spring, the first thing Moore was asked about was the pitch. “More than likely,” he said, “I’ll think about that until the day I die.”
Baseball was never the same for him. It may have been the pitch, but it was also the ribs and the shoulder, the boos and the cortisone. For the next two years, he was never healthy and never certain why not. He even tried acupuncture. When he could throw, he was mostly erratic and occasionally horrific. The first four times he pitched in 1988, he blew leads in the opponents’ final at bats. The newspapers referred to him as the Angels’ “alleged” closer.
Fans showed up at games wearing shirts that suggested graphically what the Angels could do with Donnie Moore. He was both the best and the most hated relief pitcher the team had ever had. Moore knew what was happening: “They figure, ‘Here’s a guy making so much money, he’s paid to go out there even with all the pain and agony.’ But it’s the exact opposite. For all I went through that they didn’t see, I earned every penny I got.”
His teammates watched him withdraw. He started to snap at the press, and there were times when he drank too much on team flights. Again, Moore seemed to understand: “For the most part,” he said, “I’ve always been a positive person. Last year, I became a negative person. I walked around with a chip on my shoulder. Every little thing bothered me…. I always seemed to be irritated, even at little things around the house.”
Both his wife and the front office began to lose patience. Around the clubhouse, everyone knew he and Tonya were having problems. And the Angels, unable to determine precisely what ailed Moore, began to wonder if he really wanted to play—even though he’d been shooting his body full of cortisone for two years. In September of ’87, when the Angels fell out of the pennant race, general manager Mike Port lashed out at Moore. “Instead of whining about hurting his rib cage,” said Port, “he should have been out there earning his money. What do we pay him $1 million for? He’s supposed to be in shape. We should be getting our money’s worth.”
“When I read that,” says Rod Carew, whom the Angels had let go by then, “I just felt like decking Mike Port.” To Angels fans, however, Port’s comments validated their own suspicions, and the boos multiplied, every one a reminder of Dave Henderson. Moore began to respond. Before long, the hunting enthusiast was shooting more birds inside Anaheim Stadium than outside. “A human being can only take so much,” says Tonya. “I’ll never forgive the fans for what they did to my husband. Never, ever. I hope they’re suffering now.”
Port will no longer talk about Moore for the record. Privately, however—according to a member of the Angels front office who would not allow himself to be identified—he says he was misquoted, that he was upset with Moore for not working harder on his rehabilitation, not for not pitching. Still, Port made no attempt to clarify his comments, either publicly or privately to Moore—not even several months later, when doctors found a spur on Moore’s spine that required five hours of surgery. But not even the back operation solved Moore’s problems. He pitched poorly, he had other injuries, and toward the end of the ‘88 season the Angels took him off the disabled list—without waiting to see if he’d recovered—and gave him his release. “I can still pitch,” he said.
That fall he went hunting with Boston first baseman Bill Buckner, who, thanks to Moore and the Angels, had gotten the chance to miss the ground ball that had cost the Red Sox the ’86 World Series. On a ranch near Anaheim, the two goats huddled in the bushes and shot birds. They didn’t get many, says Buckner, and by unspoken agreement neither mentioned their postseason misfortunes. The following March, on the advice of Bob Boone, the Kansas City Royals signed Moore and sent him to their Triple A team in Omaha. One of his buddies on the team was Steve Crawford, the winning pitcher in the Henderson game.
Moore had a tough time readjusting to life in the minors, and, not surprisingly, he took some good natured abuse. Invariably, he would respond by reminding the bush leaguers of the $3 million he’d made. Once, when Moore was bragging about his old contract, Crawford went to his locker and pulled out a T-shirt from the 1986 World Series. “I stuck it right in front of his face,” says Crawford. “I mean, it just buckled him.”
Moore never again had the kind of success that would have allowed him to forget the home run. On certain nights the splitter would dive, but Moore didn’t have the arm strength, and he was pitching stiffly, unable to follow through. Perhaps, as he continued to recover from the back surgery, it would have come, but he was 35, and the Royals decided they’d seen enough. On June 12, they released him. “He went around telling everybody goodbye and good luck,” says Crawford, a fellow fisherman. “The last thing I told him as he walked off was ‘Donnie, keep a tight line.’”
That night, in a hotel bar, Moore met Kevin Coffman, a prospect in the Cubs organization who’d just pitched against Omaha. Moore told Coffman, a hard thrower with control problems, that he thought he could help him. They talked until four in the morning. “He started grabbing my arm,” said Coffman. “He must have done it five or six times. He said, ‘You’ve got the power, I’ve got the control. I’ll give you all the control.’ And he started rubbing my arm, kind of like he was transferring something to me.”
When Moore returned home to California, Tonya moved out. She still did the family laundry, but she took her own apartment nearby and wondered when he would stop taking out his frustrations on her. “I knew all hell was going to break loose when he got released,” she says. “I knew my life was going to be miserable.”
Flush with gazebos, fountain, tennis courts, swimming pools and nude statues, Peralta Hills, where the police patrol by helicopter, sits high above Anaheim. Most homes there, including the Moores’, are worth well over $1 million.
With Tonya away and Donnie depressed, a layer of algae formed on the lake and threatened the catfish. There was a big tax bill due, some investments had soured, and Moore’s agent, David Pinter, claimed Moore owed him $75,000. Those familiar with the family finances, however, insist the situation was not that bleak—Moore was overextended, not broke. He would, however, have to sell his dream house.
Over the years, he’d told some people that when his career ended he wanted to coach. He and Tonya had also considered some post-baseball investments, including buying a Popeyes chicken franchise or opening a mortuary. But no one, not even his friends and advisers, wanted to be the first to acknowledge that Donnie’s career might really be over. The night before the shooting, Moore called his friend and former teammate Reggie Jackson. They talked about Moore’s baseball and marital problems, and apparently Moore asked to borrow $10,000. Jackson declines to comment now, but according to Moore’s lawyer, Reggie said no.
On the morning of July 18, 1989, a prospective buyer was supposed to look at the house, and Tonya came over to help. When the buyer failed to show, Donnie and Tonya began an argument that lasted all morning. “They’re both kind of the same,” Demetria would say later. “Whatever they say, they think it’s right. I think that’s why they mostly argued a lot.” Early in the afternoon, Moore talked to Pinter about contacting the Houston Astros or maybe playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. Things had been calm for several hours when Tonya got ready to leave. It was then that she looked up and saw Donnie with a gun she recognized immediately: It was the semiautomatic .45 she’d given him for Christmas.
The police would find no suicide note and no evidence he’d been drinking. On Moore’s bed were some letters requesting autographs, a baseball from the 1985 All-Star Game and a ball signed by Reggie Jackson.
The Angels front office held a meeting to decide whether to have a moment of silence for Moore before the next game. It was deemed “not appropriate.” The press wrote about Dave Henderson and Ralph Branca and a recent study of the 77 major-league ballplayers who had committed suicide. Almost half were pitchers. “I think,” said the study’s researcher, “that says something about the pressure of the position.”
Toward the end, says Tonya, Donnie did mention suicide, but she didn’t take it seriously: “People don’t always do what they say they’re going to do.”
Rod Carew, who lived nearby, remembers times when he would pass Moore on the street. “I just pulled my car right in front of his,” says Carew. “He said, ‘You’re a crazy nigger.’ I said, ‘It’s the only time I can stop you. Come on. Let’s go over and sit down and b.s. a little bit. Let’s talk.’ He’d say, ‘Well, I’ll be right back.’ But he would never come back.”
Says Randall Johnson, Moore’s attorney, “Reggie Jackson asked me: ‘You were his friend. Where were you when all this happened?’ I said, ‘Reggie, you were his friend. Where were you?’”
David Pinter, whose career as an agent ended with Moore’s death, has said he repeatedly asked him to get psychiatric help. Though he says he lost interest in being an agent when his players kept firing him, Pinter, who has returned full-time to his business selling guardrails, still hopes to do a Donnie Moore book or screenplay. Asked to talk about Moore, he now responds: “How much are you going to pay me?”
As the choir began to sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” the Reverend Charles Tanner flipped a switch on his pulpit and the fluorescent lights in the big cross behind him flickered on. He performed the funeral service at the Hope Deliverance Temple in East Lubbock before a standing-room-only crowd.
“You know,” said Tanner, a tall man who was Donnie Moore’s uncle, “it was just a few days ago that a stoooorm began to brew in the Moore family.” Three men with camcorders moved about the church. The ceiling fans were on, but it was hot, and women in white gowns, with white gloves and little white fans, stood by the front pew, fanning Donnie’s parents.
“I want to say to the Moore family and the Tanner family,” said the reverend, “Donnie loved his family!”
“Yes!” said the mourners, clapping and cheering.
“Donnie loved his mother!”
“I want to say to my brother-in-law, ‘You were a good father. You taught him the right way.’… Say yes.”
“I want to say to my sister, ‘Hold your head up!’… Say yes.”
“One of these days, it’ll all be over. You gotta forget about that dark Tuesday… In due time, you will wipe the tears from your eyes.”
The pallbearers stepped forward, took a bouquet off the casket and flipped open the lid. The camcorders moved in for close-ups. Donnie, in a white shirt and dark suit, showed no trace of his wound. One by one, friends and relatives filed by to pay their respects. Some couldn’t look. Some took quick, pained glances. Others hugged or kissed him. One woman stopped to snap a Polaroid. Another patted him on the chest, shook her head and then started to sob. “You didn’t do this,” she cried. “I know you didn’t. It’s gonna be proven. You didn’t do it.” As the men helped the woman to the back of the church, she shrieked hysterically “He didn’t do it!”
There are a lot of people in Lubbock who will tell you that Tonya Moore was a little more “fast lane” than Donnie. Elsie Pearl White, one of Donnie’s aunts, has said Tonya always seemed to be hiding something from him. “I believe he was an outsider in his own house,” she said. “This stuff needs to be turned around. She’s trying to smooth it over and make herself look like an angel.” In their grief, unable to accept the horror of what happened, the Moores have searched desperately for answers. One of Donnie’s cousins, Beryl Evans, has said he thinks Tonya might have had somebody in the house who “raised up from behind the bar or the kitchen table, put his arm around Donnie’s neck, put the gun behind his ear and shot him.” The Anaheim police do not take that theory seriously.
Even so, the Reverend Tanner has encouraged Donnie’s parents to hire a private investigator to make sure they have the full story. “I know Donnie loved his kids,” says Tanner. “He loved life. He loved his family. And he loved his wife. What drove him to want to kill her? If it was all because of Dave Henderson, what made him want to shoot her? There had to be something to make him go that far. I will never, ever believe that it was baseball.”
Tonya Moore spent more than two months in what her friends politely call a “trauma center.” “I was in a mental hospital,” she says. “I was in a loony hospital. So what?”
It doesn’t show. With her loosely curled hair falling to her shoulders, she still looks like a model. Physically, she’s healthy; emotionally, she’s struggling. By habit, she still turns to the sports section first, still reads the box scores, still watches games on TV. But the realization that her baseball life is over has brought her here, to a nondescript hotel room in Memphis, Tenn., for a business convention. She has a family to support—the two boys, after months in the trauma center, still require therapy—and she has enlisted with a company called the National Safety Association to sell water purifiers. “It works like Amway,” she says.
Tonya knows her in-laws have been talking about her, and she’s got something to say, something she would have preferred to keep private. Wearing a dark business suit, sitting cross-legged in a stiff-backed hotel room chair, she speaks calmly, sometimes barely audibly, until her anger flashes.
“I understand that his parents are hurt,” she says. “I know they lost their only son, but they still had a daughter. Now they haven’t even got that. Instead of trying to judge me and think I’m some kind of bitch-whore-slut, which they always thought in the first place just because my mama ran a joint, what they should have been doing was watching their son’s shit.
“Anybody that knew me and Donnie knew what was going on in our life. They knew. To this day, Donnie’s parents haven’t asked me what happened that day. They have not asked my kids. But they go around asking everybody else. Everybody wants to know what happened that day. Why don’t they ask me?”
No, says Tonya, she did not have anyone hiding behind the bar; she did not kill the father of her children. “They loved their father dearly,” she says. “My kids are in the cuckoo house now, trying to deal with what happened to them. My kids are going through hell.”
No, she says, she was not having an affair. “If I was going to, I’d have left him first—you know, divorce, sign the papers. We were still married. We were trying to work it out, but it was like… I couldn’t stay at home. He was taking it out on me.”
The first time Donnie beat her, says Tonya, was when they were 19: “He beat me to a pulp.” Tonya’s mother took her to Donnie’s house and warned his mother this had better not happen again. But it did. Tonya could never believe how quickly and violently his mood could change. “Are you the same person,” she would wonder, “who was here a minute ago?”
Sometimes his outbursts were prompted by jealousy. She stopped wearing bikinis, and she stopped seeing male friends. Other times, it was just because he was depressed—like the night of the Henderson home run. No one could tell, she says, because he never hit her face.
“I watch a lot of Phil Donahue and, what’s her name, Oprah. What I don’t understand is how people sit there and say ‘Why didn’t you call the cops? Why did you take the abuse?’ I know why I stayed there. Donnie needed me. I wasn’t going anywhere. He needed me. So I was there. I’ve been with him since we were 16. He was a very sweet guy. I loved Donnie very much. And he loved me very, very much. He didn’t quite know how to show it, you know? He was a real sweet guy. Anything and everything that I wanted, I could have. No questions asked. I could hock the house for whatever I wanted. I didn’t need or want for anything… Sometimes I wonder what his childhood was like, whether he had a secret like mine.
“I used to have a little guilt, but then I thought, Uh-uh. Even, even, EVEN if we were getting a divorce, people get divorces every day. Just because a woman asks a man for a divorce, that doesn’t give him the right to kill me. Men and women have misunderstandings every day. That does not give a man the right to pick up a gun. Men and women have affairs every day. That doesn’t give him the right to pick up a gun. Period. Even if that was [the case], which it wasn’t. You know, I got my ass beat, but I didn’t pick up a gun.
“When I got shot, we weren’t arguing. That was over for two hours. He said what he had to say, and I said what I had to say: ‘If you’re trying to work things out, why are you doing the same thing you’ve always done to me? That’s not going to work.’ I was waiting on my daughter to come get me. When she walked in the door, I said, ‘Okay, let’s get the hell out of here.’ And there he was.
“Donnie was the kind of guy—if he couldn’t have me, no one was going to have me.”
Donnie Moore’s parents still live in the same home in Yellow House Canyon, just down the road from an overgrown basketball court and a pink American Legion hall: Booker T. Washington Post 808. Outside the house is Conaway Moore’s red Chevy pickup and the giant satellite dish he bought so they could see Donnie’s games. Donnie used to call all the time and ask “Did you watch me tonight?”
The front door leads into the living room, which is small, comfortable and mostly brown. There is a lamp made out of a Donnie Moore signature Louisville Slugger, and two bookcases full of his gloves, baseball cards and press photos. There’s a Donnie Moore doll in an Atlanta Braves uniform, and a small pyramid of autographed baseballs. Everywhere there are pictures of Donnie and the family, including a beautiful shot from family day at Anaheim Stadium—Donnie with Tonya and Demetria, looking like sisters, and little Donnie and Ronnie, wearing Angels uniforms. Not many people know it, but Ronnie was named after his uncle, Donnie’s older brother, who was run over by a truck when he was very young. The Moores have been through this before. “I don’t talk about it too good,” says his mother, Willie, “so I don’t say too much.”
Conaway went right back to work, but driving a truck at night has gotten harder. Sometimes he gets so worked up, all the questions and everything running through his mind, that he forgets to pull over for his breaks. A couple of times now, he’s caught himself nodding off at the wheel. Little Donnie called him the other night, full of questions about baseball and Lubbock and his father. He’s just turned 11, but some people think he’s got talent, and it has occurred to Conaway that Monterey might be the place for him. “I told him,” says Conaway, picking up a Donnie Moore autographed ball, the one Donnie used to get his 31st save, “that he could take the same school bus right out here that his daddy took.”