What I’m Reading: “Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story” by Darrell Porter with William Deerfield

There were several stories, moments, and observations in Snap Me Perfect! The Darrell Porter Story that made me cringe as I read them. Moments so intimate, so personal, that I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable.

In some ways, that’s the point of this book. Most baseball autobiographies are designed to celebrate a player’s career or provide a glimpse into life on a major-league baseball team. Snap Me Perfect focuses upon Porter’s personal demons and his descent into drugs and alcohol, and the journey he took to bring his life back on track.

Porter starts at the very beginning – not of his own life, but his father’s. After his own rough childhood with an unloving foster family, Porter’s father adopts a hard relationship with his son, driving him to achieve more in sports while showing little if any affection. Porter believes this relationship is at the core of his need to please others and a perpetual battle against self-confidence. This lack of confidence, in turn, made Porter susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse.

Porter shares a variety of stories about the dissolution of his marriage, and of he and his friends driving drunk and starting fights. Perhaps the most terrifying story in the book takes place when Porter – then with the Royals – devolves into paranoia and believes the Royals and Major League Baseball are following him. Carrying a shotgun, Porter has his brother drive him around the city at 2 a.m., following the cars they see because Porter is certain that they are part of the conspiracy. Finally, his brother talks him into returning home, but Porter says that he during this time he would spend hours each night perched at his upstairs window with the shotgun, watching for the MLB representatives that he is certain will try and storm his house.

Baseball serves as a backdrop to Porter’s personal challenges throughout the book. He talks briefly about the Royals’ three American League West championships, and is very complimentary toward Whitey Herzog, who supported him throughout their years together in Kansas City. Porter describes his frustrations following Herzog’s firing from the Royals and his excitement about rejoining Herzog in St. Louis.

However, while the book was written after the championship 1982 season in which Porter won the National League Championship Series and World Series MVP awards, he doesn’t dedicate much time to that season. In fact, in the 259-page hardcover edition, Porter doesn’t sign with the Cardinals as a free agent until page 233.

Porter does describe the challenge he faced in replacing Ted Simmons in St. Louis, and says that the Cardinals’ fans boos made him hate going to the ballpark. Even during the World Series, fans’ preference for Simmons had an impact on him. He even mentions at one point staying in the clubhouse during pre-game introductions so he wouldn’t have to hear Cardinals fans cheer Simmons.

Ultimately, though, as Porter notes in his epilogue, this book isn’t truly about baseball or Porter’s career. It’s about Porter’s personal battle with substance abuse and the feelings of inadequacy that he feels drove that substance abuse. Even as he details the way in which his faith helped him find a new lease on life, he emphasizes that it is a never-ending battle, and admits to drinking a beer during the 1981 players strike.

Though Porter ends his book on a positive note following the World Series title, his second marriage, and the birth of a daughter, it’s bittersweet for readers who know that drug abuse ultimately cost Porter his life. In 2002, Porter was found dead outside his vehicle in a Kansas City suburb. An autopsy found that he had died of a cocaine overdose at the age of 50.

Porter was unable to overcome his substance abuse problems, but that doesn’t invalidate the message behind Snap Me Perfect. If anything, it shows that even as Porter opened up and admitted his issues, sought the root cause of his dependence on drugs and alcohol, and surrounded himself with supportive friends and family, he still was unable to overcome his addiction. Perhaps the only way Porter could have overcome his addictions was to never try drugs or alcohol.

It’s a sad story, but an important one.

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