Edinson Volquez’s father Daniel died of heart disease yesterday, hours before Edinson started Game 1 of the World Series. It seems that Volquez did not know about his father’s death as he pitched six innings, but there were a lot of conflicting reports.
It is tough to know what to do in this situation in the social media age. A single tweet can spread like wildfire, and indeed reports of Daniel Volquez’s death reached millions in the time it took Edinson to get a single out. Fox decided not to mention Daniel Volquez’s death on air, fearing that Edinson didn’t know and would find out in the middle of the game from TVs in the clubhouse. We witnessed a structurally if not emotionally similar situation earlier this season when Wilmer Flores learned he had been traded from fans in the middle of a game, tears streaming down his face as he stayed in the game. (As it turned out the trade had fallen apart because the Mets had concerns over a physical.)
Twenty-five years ago, it was much easier to avoid hearing life-changing information, and that’s just what Detroit Pistons guard Joe Dumars III intentionally did. During the middle of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, Dumars’s father—Joe Dumars Jr.— got very sick, and was admitted to the intensive care unit in his hometown of Natchitoches, La.
As the playoffs wore on and the Pistons defeated the Chicago Bulls, Dumars and his wife Debbie came up with a plan in the unfortunate event of Dumars Jr.’s death. If it happened the day of a game, he didn’t want to be told.
And wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what happened.
About 90 minutes before the pivotal Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, with the series tied 1-1, Dumars Jr. died. Coach Chuck Daly, assistant Brendan Malone, and team captain Isiah Thomas were all informed, but nobody told Dumars. He went out and lit the Blazers up for 33 points and five assists in a 15-point win. Here’s what happened next, from the Los Angeles Times:
His wife Debbie, who had called team officials earlier in the day to inform them, was called back just after the game. The Pistons took a moment to celebrate the win, and Coach Chuck Daly grabbed Dumars and took him to an office just outside the locker room.
Debbie, still on the phone, broke the news to Joe. Without changing out of his uniform, he went to the waiting limo and on to the airport. Owner Bill Davidson’s plane was scheduled to go to Detroit to pick up Debbie, and then on to Louisiana. They followed the plan.
For the three who knew about Dumars Jr.’s death, it made for an incredibly strange and awkward game:
“You were looking at a guy who was real happy,” Thomas said. “But you knew all of the sudden in the next hour his world was going to be shattered.”
Daly had trouble sitting through the game knowing about that next hour.
“I was inclined to want to talk to him a little bit,” Daly said, “but his wife said that’s not what they wanted to do.”
Malone had trouble watching.
“I would just look at him and feel sad,” he said. “I would say to myself, ‘Here’s a guy having his best playoff game of the year. At the end, that euphoria is going to be—what’s the word?—blown out the door.’”
Dumars seemed to recover just fine from his father’s death, as two days later he dropped 26 points in a Game 4 win. The Pistons won the NBA Finals in five games.
It’s certainly not how I would handle the potential death of my own father, but we all deal with death and grief differently. Even if one wanted to implement the Dumars plan in 2015, though, it would be impossible. Our world just doesn’t work that way anymore.
Photos via AP