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Toughest save

Grief-stricken Reardon tries to pull himself together

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Jeff Reardon plunged into darkness after his 20-year-old son died of an accidental drug overdose in February 2004. His mind tormented with pain, guilt, and suicidal thoughts, the former All-Star reliever for the Red Sox shut himself in a bedroom and blotted out the sun with hurricane shutters.

"I was in that room all the time," says Reardon, 51. "For months I wouldn't come out of there. It's still a struggle not to go back in there."

Reardon, a Dalton, Mass., native who pitched for Boston from 1990-92 and became baseball's all-time saves leader in '92 (he's now No. 6 on the list), couldn't save his son. And he couldn't save himself.

In fact, the greatest save in Reardon's life may have been made by a trucker who was driving 70 m.p.h. down the Bee Line Highway in Florida last December.

"I pulled over and parked on the side of the road, got out and walked in front of a semi truck," says Reardon, matter-of-factly. "The thing swerved and missed me, and then for some reason I came home and told my wife." She took him to a mental hospital for treatment.

The man nicknamed "The Terminator" had lost the one thing he had had an abundance of all his life: control.

On Dec. 26, 2005, just three days after undergoing an angioplasty, Reardon strolled into Hamilton Jewelers in the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens and presented a sloppily scrawled note that said, "I have a gun. Please place $100 bills and jewelry in this bag and no one will get hurt. Thank you."

Reardon shrugs. "When I did the robbery, it came out of nowhere," he says. "It was the day after Christmas. I said I was going to go to the mall to get a coffee maker. So, from saying that, somehow I ended up robbing the store. And I don't even know why. That time of my life I don't remember, the robbery included. I don't remember making the note."

Reardon says he needed neither money nor jewelry. He wears three gaudy baseball rings, one symbolizing the Twins' victory in the 1987 World Series. He made $11.5 million in his 16-year career with the Mets, Expos, Twins, Red Sox, Braves, Reds, and Yankees. The four-time All-Star finished with a 73-77 record, 367 saves, and a 3.16 ERA.

But Reardon insists he was psychotic -- under the influence of 12 antidepressants, mood stabilizers, heart medications, and antibiotics -- when he committed the robbery.

"Something with the medication kicked in that day," he says. "I was going to different doctors, but they knew what I was on. I said, 'You sure it's all right? I'm taking this and this.' They said 'Oh yeah.' But it wasn't."

With $170 in a green Hamilton Jewelers bag, he approached a security guard in the mall parking lot.

"I walked up to him and said, 'Hey, I think I've done something stupid. I robbed a store.' He goes, 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'I'm on a lot of medications. I feel like I've screwed up. But I've got a bag here that says Hamilton Jewelers, there's cash in there.'

"He called the police. Supposedly, the police pulled their guns on me, 'cause I wouldn't put my hands up. But I don't remember that, either. The psychiatrist told me, 'You might have been trying to commit suicide by having them shoot you.'

"That's how depressed I was. I didn't care about living at all. And yes, I have two [other] kids, and I think the world of them. But at that time, depression is a scary thing."

Innocent by insanity
Reardon was promptly arrested. He immediately apologized, telling police he "flipped on his medications." His disheveled arrest picture was splashed all across the newspapers.

"He was in a terrible, terrible depression," says his wife of 29 years, Phebe, a Newton, Mass., native. "The only good thing that came of the robbery is that it got Jeff some help."

Said Reardon, "I don't even remember that I spent a night in jail. When I see the clips on TV of me shackled, I don't remember any of that."

He was released the next day on a $5,000 bond. In August, a judge found Reardon innocent by reason of insanity after court-appointed psychiatrists testified that he was in a psychotic state because of the medications.

Between the time of his arrest and his trial, Reardon spent a month in a mental hospital receiving electroshock therapy three times a week. He is now taking only two medications, along with monthly shock treatments.

"I hate going," he says. "Before, I didn't care if I went under and didn't wake up. If they didn't pull me out, who cares? That's how I felt for a long time."

His doctors are optimistic.

"They say, 'Oh, you're like 100 percent better,' but I'm still depressed," says Reardon, who has begun to exercise again. "It's almost like it's a struggle to do everything. The pain never goes away. To tell the truth, the day is so long for me since Shane died. I don't know what to do. A day to me seems like a week."

Reardon says he recently penned a letter of apology to the jewelry store saleswoman. She did not reply.

James Silfies, regional director for Hamilton Jewelers, acknowledges the company received the letter, but the saleswoman declined to be interviewed.

"It was an unfortunate incident," said Silfies. "We wish him the very best."

Troubled road to tragedy
Reardon says Shane, the middle of his three children, was nothing like him. He was very outgoing. He was into music, very creative, and always smiling. They shared a love of Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd. Shane wanted to be a rapper.

"He was actually just the opposite of me, even though I was a ballplayer," Reardon says. "I wasn't real popular or happy-go-lucky. He had a great personality. He was very caring and very loving. He had like 20 best friends."

In high school, when Shane started getting into trouble with drugs, Reardon sent him to Swift River, an exclusive therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens in Western Massachusetts.

"I was anti-drugs, big-time," says Reardon. "Even when I went to UMass in the '70s. It's kind of weird how Shane ended up."

Reardon says that when his son graduated from Swift River with honors, he was off drugs. He enrolled in Full Sail, a school in Winter Park, Fla., that offered music programs.

But what happened next haunts Reardon.

At Christmas in 2003, Shane and an old friend from his drug-using days convinced Reardon they were both clean and would live together at Full Sail.

"He said he was straight and off drugs," Reardon says. "Because we are nice people, we believed him. Two months later, our son is dead. I'm always going to feel guilty about that. He was into drugs big-time."

Reardon says Shane's roommate found him unconscious but breathing on the couch, dragged him to the shower, but failed to revive him and left. By the time he returned, Shane had turned blue.

The roommate told police he thought Shane was drunk. An autopsy determined that he died of a lethal dose of methadone, a synthetic narcotic used to treat heroin users.

"They could've called 911 at any time, they had plenty of time to save him," says Reardon.

Phebe says she had a premonition of Shane's death.

"The night Shane died, I took a nap and I dreamed he died," she says. "I got up all sweaty and shaking. It was 6 p.m. I called him, but of course he didn't answer. He was unconscious at the time, and I got the call four hours later. How's that for spooky?"

The Reardons sold their lakeside Berkshire home, where they spent summers together, and Reardon gave away their belongings.

It held too many memories of their energetic son, making campfires, setting off fireworks, and water-tubing around the lake.

"It hurt to be up there without him," says Reardon.

Trying to reconnect
The Reardons have a guest book permanently set up for Shane Reardon on Legacy.com and a foundation in his name. Reardon logs in every day and has written 25 messages to Shane. "It makes me feel better," he says.

Sometimes, he reads the hundreds of messages and weeps. It is a very public place for a very private man.

Reardon writes that he would trade places with Shane "in a heartbeat."

He also writes things that rip at a man's soul.

"Please come home. We need you with us," he wrote on what would have been Shane's 21st birthday.

Shane's tombstone has a picture of him in his favorite blue suit, smiling. Reardon says messages and souvenirs from friends always surround it.

Since he retired from baseball in 1994, Reardon had spent most of his time playing golf and fishing, but that stopped when Shane died.

Now his oldest son, Jay, is trying to get him back out on the links. And he's talking about baseball again.

"I don't think [Jonathan] Papelbon should be a starter," says Reardon, referencing the young Sox pitcher. "You got a gutsy closer like him that can deal with that pressure every night, you keep him right there."

He's also reestablishing some friendships.

"Actually, we [recently] went out to eat with some of the guys I played with for the first time since our son died. So at least now I'm getting out of the house all the time."

But that creates problems for Reardon, who previously went unrecognized around town.

"It bothers the hell out of me that I did it because it's been awfully embarrassing for me," he acknowledges. "I get embarrassed when people recognize me now. It ain't from baseball. I can tell.

"When I go to the Publix -- I do this to stay busy -- I can see the guy whispering in his wife's ear. I know what he's saying, 'That's the guy that robbed the jewelry store, the ballplayer.' He ain't saying, 'That's the guy that saved 370 games.' "

Ask Reardon if he is nuts, and he laughs.

"I'm perfectly normal; they made me nuts," he says. "That's why I didn't mind getting a charge of insanity." He bristles at people who say he got star treatment from the court system.

"I think it was just the opposite," he contends. "I think they kept it going because I was a baseball star.

"I had no gun. Twelve medications. People get off of murders because of medications. Yes, it was wrong, and I admit that, and I feel very bad about doing that. But anybody who thinks I got preferential treatment is full of it.

"I didn't have to work since I retired. I got $170 in the robbery. I had like $600 in my wallet. Look at this house, it's all paid for with Boston Red Sox money."

Tarnished collection
Reardon's trophy room looks like a wing of the Hall of Fame. Signed Reardon uniforms -- from his Montreal days to his final season, with the Yankees -- line the wall. Trophies and photos freeze moments of joy.

There's a photo combo of a young Roger Clemens dumping Gatorade on Reardon after he surpassed Rollie Fingers as the all-time saves leader and then lifting him on his shoulders.

"Oh yeah, I remember that game," says Reardon. "It was a 1-0 game against the Yankees [June 15, 1992]. I pitched the last inning. Roger, [Tom] Brunansky, Matt Young put me on their shoulders. Roger actually wanted to carry me around the field. I said, 'No, just take me to my wife in the seats.' "

There's former President Reagan welcoming the champion Twins at the White House, and a dapper Reardon standing over his shoulder.

There's a signed picture of Ted Williams waving a Red Sox cap to the Fenway faithful.

"Back then, the other ballplayers weren't that impressed with old- timers," Reardon says. "It was Ted Williams Day. Me and Wade [Boggs] were the only ones out there. Ted sat next to us before he went on the field. He said, 'Hey, Reardon, let me borrow your hat.' He's stuffing it in his back pocket, he's sitting all over it.

"I said, 'What the hell is he doing with my hat? That's my game hat.' Then he went out and pulled it out and waved it. Williams was famous for not tipping his hat. It was kind of great."

Reardon was the first player to save 30 games five consecutive seasons. He was on the 2000 Hall of Fame ballot but fell one vote short of the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot.

"Compare my numbers to Rollie, [Bruce] Sutter and [Rich] Gossage," he says.

There's Reardon and Shane riding in the Twins World Series parade in Minneapolis.

"He loved to go in the clubhouse, and Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven loved him," Reardon remembers. "Carl Pohlad, the owner of the Twins, used to have a table of candy -- it was like trick or treat every night. Bert used to pick up Shane and turn him upside-down and shake him and all the candy would come out. Shane had the look to him, that smile and all.

"All of this really meant so much to me, and now to me it doesn't really mean anything at all."

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