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September 08, 2006

*Tom Liston's Glory Days

 Tom Liston still has his “glory days.”

 

Not the glory days of high school in 1962, when he was the De La Salle Academy’s star basketball center, baseball pitcher and the tight end who  caught the winning touchdown against  arch rival Rockhurst High School in the waning minutes of the senior-year  game. And could date almost any girl in Kansas City.

 Not his  later glory days of national news media attention and  big money contracts as a professional baseball player with the St. Louis Cardinals and other teams.

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Liston's real glory has little to do with such things.


In 1961, my brother Johnny, and I were kicked out of Rockhurst High School in Kansas City at the end of our junior year.

The Jesuit order of priests ran Rockhurst -- an order admired  and reviled over centuries for its love of the intellect, power, politics and world missionary work.

As with most things, the Jesuits  were matter of fact about our  departure from Rockhurst High School.  We were gone, they told our distraught mother, because of marginal academic performance. ( I still think  we also didn’t quite fit the preppy “Jesuit” persona as two Irish kids from an inner city parish.)

It wasn't  easy changing high schools at the end of the  junior year. But we were accepted at  De La Salle Academy, a Christian Brothers school with a good reputation, and a diverse student body.

We  were welcomed by the Christian Brothers, and by members of the 1962 De La Salle Senior Class as if we’d been there all four years.

And 'class big shot' Tom Liston -- with every reason to ignore us -- did just the opposite. He went out of his way to be friendly and helpful in a low key way.

 

From C-minus students at Rockhurst, the Richmond brothers graduated with honors at De La Salle Academy in 1962.

 

Last week, Johnny (now a successful hospital president)  went back to the 44th reunion of our DeLa Salle graduating class.  There were about eight there  who’d graduated in our class.

 

Among them was a different Tom Liston – someone my brother did not at first recognize, and who candidly talked about  his life of alcoholism and drug addiction after the glory days of national television and major league baseball  ended in his late 20s.

 

 Liston had recently moved back to his old St. James Parish home  in Kansas City.

 

“If you saw him on the street, you’d probably think he was  homeless,” my brother wrote sadly to me in an email today -- Liston's  once impressive 6’-5” frame evidently bent over, his handsome, chiseled good looks of high school no where to be found  in a prematurely aged  face.


Talent, fame and fortune can be wonderful gifts, or difficult  burdens  over  a lifetime.

 

I choose  to remember the Tom Liston who never let athletics or popularity get in the way of being a thoughtful, nice  human being.


 

I bet, if you  think about it, there're a few Tom Listons in your own lifetime.

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* Name Changed

 

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