Pitching Relief

Two articles caught my eye recently, dealing with Red SOx pitcers and the physicians and psychologists keeping them on the field.

In today's Boston Globe, there's a discussion with noted sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, on why he thinks Matt Clement will successfully return to the mound after being beaned in the head by a line drive:
"A lot of it has to do with where you've been hit, believe it or not," said Dorfman, who has worked with the Athletics and Marlins and is now on the staff of sports agent Scott Boras.

"I was watching on TV when Matt was hit and the first thing I said to myself was, 'I think he'll be all right, it was on the side of the head.'

"Look, you can't predict the future. How people respond is up to them individually. But what I mean when I say it was better that he was hit on the side of the head is that it allows a guy the idea that essentially, he got out off the way. Of course, that's almost absurd in a sense, but he was turning out of the way of the ball. When you're hit flush in the face, that's a different story."

Interesting, that a split-second response, barely effective, might save him from debilitating fear down the road. I would have thought the severity of the injury (in this case, luckily, minor) would play a larger role.

Also, from a few weeks ago, the LA Times had good report of Dr. Bill Morgan's dismissal from the Red Sox last fall (if you can stomach some of the sportswriter's overwrought style). The best part of the piece was the physician's perspective in watching Game 6:
While others were writing off the season, however, Morgan was having a brainstorm. Instead of fixing Schilling's ankle, he wondered, what if it were somehow possible to temporarily freeze its malfunction? What if the dislocated tendon could be held fast to the bone, just to keep the thing from flicking back and forth?

An intriguing idea. Just one small problem. It had never been done before. In the annals of medicine, in the annals of ankles, the procedure Morgan proposed was unprecedented, the surgical equivalent of coming back from 0-3. "I've never thought of doing it myself, nor have I ever read of someone else doing it," says Dr. Robert Leach, professor of orthopedics at Boston University Medical School and former team doctor for the Boston Celtics.

Morgan ran his idea by Schilling and found the pitcher willing. Nervous but willing. "I walked in the training room," Schilling recalls, "and Doc looked at me and said, 'Let me throw this at you.' It was a last gasp. We'd exhausted all our options. It was either this or I didn't pitch. I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was done."

Once Schilling—and Sox officials—agreed to the procedure, Morgan decided he'd better practice first. He needed to make sure the procedure was even feasible, that the tissue around a human ankle bone was soft enough to be penetrated by sutures. With time running out on the season, Morgan performed a dry run on a dead body.

The practice surgery worked. Sort of. There was no way to really test it because there was no way to send the dead guy out to face the Yankees. Then, turning from corpse to ace, in a remote training room far below Fenway Park, Morgan knitted Schilling's ankle with five or six deep O-shaped stitches.

Schilling's teammates, meanwhile, partly inspired by the specter of their comrade laid out on a makeshift operating table, managed two wins against the Yankees, staying alive until Schilling could take the ball again.

October 19, 2004. Game 6. Cameras zoomed in on Schilling's ankle and millions of Americans saw the sock slowly turn red, as Schilling's face turned white. "I was scared to death," Schilling says. Tentatively, perilously, he stood propped on his Morgan-repaired joint, peering at New York's batters over the webbing of his glove.

Fans everywhere held their breath. Morgan, watching on a TV in the clubhouse, held his breath, too. Some bleeding was normal, he knew, but what he looked for, what he dreaded, was blood on the sock that appeared "frank," or dark red, which would mean the sutures had torn.

Everyone in the Sox organization had a lot at stake that night, but Morgan and Schilling were risking the most. They both knew that if Schilling's tendon ruptured, if infection set in, if any number of things went wrong, Schilling could fall to the ground like a man shot with a deer rifle. More, he might never heal properly. He might date the end of his brilliant career from that night, that game, that unprecedented procedure.

A great look behind the events of that week. But some details are missing from the larger picture: though he touched upon Morgan's drinking, the the writer should have informed readers about Morgan's driving record. More importantly, the reporter neglected to mention the Red Sox management's principle of non-sentimentality. Hell, they traded the high-energy Cabrera and even Dave Roberts, who stole second base and began the greatest turnaround in sports history. Both these guys became fast fan favorites, performed above and beyond expectations, and certainly didn't cost much.