A tale layered with tragedy
Reardon's bizarre behavior may be linked with son's 2004 death
By Dan Shaughnessy, Globe Columnist | December 28, 2005
According to the Palm Beach Gardens police, there was no gun in Jeff Reardon's hand when he robbed a jewelry store in a Florida mall the day after Christmas. According to Reardon's lawyer, there is no financial burden, either. The 50-year-old former Red Sox reliever made more than $11 million in his 16-year career and lives in a home on a golf course.
No. It wasn't about money. It wasn't about debt. In all likelihood, it was about loss. Almost two years ago, 20-year-old Shane Reardon, the second of Jeff and Phoebe's three children, died of a drug overdose.
Only those who have experienced such loss can truly know the depth of despair that accompanies the most personal tragedy of them all. Parents who lose a child are an unfortunate club unto themselves. The rest of us never can really know how or what they feel.
So how to explain the sad juxtaposition in Florida yesterday morning? In Tampa, Tony Dungy, the dignified coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was burying his 18-year-old son, who committed suicide last week. Across the state in a Palm Beach Gardens jail, Jeff Reardon -- who at one time had more saves than any other pitcher in the history of baseball -- was posting $5,000 bond and going home to prepare to face a charge of armed robbery.
''There's been an outpouring of support from Jeff's teammates, friends, and neighbors," said Reardon's attorney, Mitch Beers. ''They've come out in droves. Jeff's upset for his fans and feels he let them down."
According to Beers, Reardon was on five antidepressant medications when he walked into the Palm Beach Gardens Mall Monday. It probably all goes back to February of 2004, when Shane Andrew Reardon was found dead in Orlando, Fla.
''Jeff was very distressed after that," said Beers. ''That's one of the problems he's had. People handle things differently. Tony Dungy, maybe this will be easier for him. He's got other things on his mind. He's got his team and all the people who are counting on him. Jeff still has responsibilities, but he's retired. He's had time on his hands to dwell on it."
Reardon also has had medical issues. According to Beers, Reardon underwent an angioplasty last Friday. Three days later, he walked into the mall and handed a note to a clerk in the Hamilton Jewelry Store. According to police, the note demanded cash and said Reardon had a gun. He walked out of the store with an undisclosed amount of cash. Police found him in a nearby restaurant, holding the money. According to Lieutenant David O'Neill, Reardon did not have a gun and did not resist arrest. According to Beers, Reardon has no criminal record. He is under house arrest and must undergo psychological evaluation within seven days.
Reardon was born in Dalton, Mass., and graduated from Wahconah Regional High School in 1973. One of his high school catchers was Dan Duquette. He once fanned 24 batters in a nine-inning high school game. He went to the University of Massachusetts, where he broke Mike Flanagan's records and made it to the UMass Hall of Fame. He broke into the majors with the Mets in 1979, became the best relief pitcher in baseball, and in 1987 retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth inning of Game 7 to win a championship ring with the Twins. He led the majors in saves in the 1980s.
The Red Sox signed him before the 1990 season and his mother told the Globe, ''His boyhood dream was to pitch for the Red Sox. He was always throwing the ball in the house. He was always a pitcher. I remember watching him in the ballyard in the back of the school when he was 6 or 7 years old. He had those baggy pants and he was so cute. He used to talk. 'Someday I'm going to play in the major leagues,' he'd say, and we'd say, 'Yeah, right, Jeff.' "
Reardon pitched three seasons at Fenway Park before finishing his career with the Braves, Reds, and Yankees. Known as the ''Terminator," he ranks sixth in career saves (367).
In September of 1991, Reardon's second season in Boston, Peter Gammons wrote, ''That Tony Fossas is already thinking about driving to Cooperstown, N.Y., years from now to watch Jeff Reardon be inducted into the Hall of Fame says a lot about both people, and while it may be the 21st century before we have figured out Reardon's place in history, if he had not come back from last August's surgery, this old house would have burned down a long time ago."
In 2000, Reardon was summarily rejected by Hall of Fame voters, getting only 24 votes, and failing to register enough support (5 percent) to remain on the ballot. Another closer, Bruce Sutter, is expected to be elected this year. In 2005, Goose Gossage received 285 votes and Lee Smith got 200. Reardon saved more games than Gossage and replaced Smith as the Sox' closer in 1990.
Jeff and Phoebe's first child, Jay, was born in 1980. Shane was born in '83 and Kristi in '87. They'd all been in Florida for more than a decade when Shane died in 2004. Jeff and Phoebe Reardon established a Shane Reardon Memorial Foundation, and last spring Jeff e-mailed Red Sox vice president Dick Bresciani in an effort to spread the word about the foundation in the Red Sox alumni newsletter.
But it's clear that the once-dominant pitcher never got over the death of his son. And why would he? Why would anyone?
The Reardon family continues to connect with Shane and keep his memory alive in part through their local newspaper's obituary guest book. Numerous postings were made around the recent holiday, and on Christmas Day, Phoebe Reardon wrote to Shane to tell him about the family facing their second Christmas without him. She said they lit a candle for him when they opened their gifts and told him that his stocking still hung on the family fireplace.
And a day later, Shane's dad lost his way and did something impossibly stupid, something that made no sense.
No need looking for explanations. It will never make any sense. Jeff Reardon's world stopped making sense in February of 2004. That doesn't make him innocent, only human, a member of small and sad society of parents condemned to live with pain, with no hope to ever patch the holes in their hearts.