My arm felt great that night," Tommy John recalls. "Oh, I'd had pain off and on, but a pitcher has to be able to distinguish between ordinary pain and real soreness. You wouldn't pitch much if you had to be 100% every time out. Pain is something you live with. But this night there was none. In fact, I hadn't had any real problems with my arm since I had bone chips removed in '72. And, of course, I'd been pitching very well."
John had won 13 games and lost only three as he prepared to face Montreal at Dodger Stadium on the night of July 17, 1974. In the 2½ seasons he had pitched for the Dodgers, he had won 40 and lost 15, for a remarkable percentage of .727. At 31 he was at the very height of his powers, and with Los Angeles leading its division by 5½ games and playing superbly, he could envision not only his first 20-win season, but also his first appearance in the league playoffs and the World Series.
In the third inning, with the Dodgers leading 4-0, John faced the righthand-hitting Hal Breeden with runners on first and second and nobody out. John needed a double-play ball, an infield grounder from Breeden, so with one strike and one ball on the hitter, he elected to throw his best pitch, a sinking fastball. "I was definitely not trying to overthrow the ball," says John. "Some people said that because I had not been picked for the All Star Game I was trying to prove something by throwing extra hard. But that just isn't true. The ball sinks better when it isn't thrown at full speed, and I wanted to throw him a good sinker."
John has a smooth motion and an orthodox three-quarter overhand delivery. Nothing seemed unusual about his wind-up on the next pitch to Breeden, although John concedes his body may have been too far ahead of his arm at that critical moment when the ball is released. But at the time everything seemed to be going smoothly. Then, "right at the point where I put force on the pitch, the point where my arm is back and bent, something happened. It felt as if I had left my arm someplace else. It was as if my body continued to go forward and my left arm had just flown out to rightfield, independent of the rest of me. I heard this thudding sound in my elbow, then I felt a sharp pain. My fingers started to tingle. The ball got to the plate somehow, high and away. I threw one more pitch, at about half speed, and felt the same sensation. That pitch was even higher and farther away. I walked off the mound and met Walter Alston coming out of the dugout. 'You better get somebody,' I told him. 'I just hurt my arm.' "
Steve Busby was 25 and in only his third full major league season in the summer of 1975, but he had already thrown two no-hitters and been a big winner, with 22 victories in '74. He would win another 18 in '75, despite what he now recognizes as "a gradual erosion process in the back of my right shoulder." The symptoms became evident in late June of that year, when Busby's record was 11-5.
"I had pitched a lot of innings already—about 160—and was throwing every fourth day. It was then I began to feel these pains in the back of my shoulder. There had been pain before, but always in the front—tendinitis. To compensate for this new pain, I was altering my pitching motion slightly, and that was causing me mechanical problems.
"On the 25th of June I threw 12 innings in Anaheim and won 6-2, but I struggled for the last seven. It was really a chore to throw. The next time I pitched was July 1 against Texas. Normally I recuperate fast between starts, but this day I just couldn't throw well. I was having strength problems: I couldn't grip the ball well and I had a lessened ability to snap my wrist. I couldn't even make a tight fist. Whitey Herzog took over as manager in late July, and he told me it looked as if I was favoring something. It's a difficult thing to say, that your arm is sore. You hate to admit it in public. It's a point of ego, of pride. And you don't want to give your opponents a psychological edge. So I pitched on through the middle of September with very little success."
Herzog persuaded Busby to skip his last three starts and to see a doctor. On Oct. 7, 1975 Busby, a native of Southern California, was examined by Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Los Angeles-area orthopedist who, with his partner. Dr. Frank Jobe, has the preeminent sports medical practice in the country. Dr. Kerlan, who had treated Busby for a shoulder strain when the pitcher was 15, prescribed rest, injections to remove fluid, ice treatments and gradual rehabilitation.
Busby began an exercise program in November, convinced that his ills had been brought on by nothing more than bad pitching habits. He throws with a modified corkscrew motion that if not properly timed can leave his arm out of synch with the rest of his body and thereby under dangerous stress. He worked tirelessly, if cautiously, to correct his supposed bad habits, but the soreness persisted. When the Royals broke from spring training to open the 1976 season in Chicago, Busby stayed behind in Florida lo work out some more kinks. He rejoined the team during its first home stand, and on April 18 lost to Cleveland 6-0. After five starts, he was placed on the 21-day disabled list. Again he worked to rehabilitate himself, concentrating now on distance throwing—up to 300 feet—to restore strength and durability to his right arm. He rejoined the team and pitched reasonably well through June, although the soreness in his arm was becoming more and more acute. But it wasn't until July 6 in Yankee Stadium that the pain significantly affected his throwing.
"I was really terrible in that game," he recalls. "Gravity dictated what the ball did. Somehow I got through seven innings, but I walked the first two hitters in the eighth and Whitey took me out. It was not a major league performance. In July Dr. Kerlan ordered me to have a shoulder arthrogram. Dye is injected into the joint, and if it leaks out into the surrounding tissue, there is a problem—and it showed that I had a tear in the rotator cuff. Rest wouldn't help an injury that serious. If I were to pitch again, I would have to have surgery."
The two injuries—one a sudden breakdown of the left elbow, the other a "gradual erosion" of the right shoulder—are not as unrelated as they seem. Both fall under the umbrella classification of "sore arm," and both have the same primary cause—too much throwing. Any such injury, according to Dr. Jobe, "is a prime example of the end result of long-term stress on the arm. We call it the Overuse Syndrome. If a person throws very hard for a long period of time, the body responds with an inflammatory reaction. This can cause a scar, calcification, degeneration and rupture of the ligaments. The difference between throwing a ball hard enough to get a major league hitter out and hurting the arm is infinitesimal."
The sore arm is endemic to pitching. As a race driver fears a crash, so a pitcher fears that fateful twinge in the elbow or shoulder. A career can end with a snap of the wrist. The effort involved in throwing a baseball hard 100 times or more in the space of two or three hours literally tears at bone and muscle. The pitcher is, therefore, a creature apart. Other players can function with sore arms, but the pitcher who cannot throw is finished. His arm has a life—and death—separate from the rest of him.
Some of the game's finest pitchers have had their athletic lives ended prematurely by a failing arm. "I pitched against guys in the minors I thought were surefire," says John. "Then I never heard of them again—sore arms." In 1950, Paul Pettit, a fireballing lefthander, was signed out of a Southern California high school by the Pirates for a then-record bonus of $100,000. But Pettit hurt his arm before he won a major league game, and his lifetime record is 1-2 for parts of two seasons. He finished as a minor league first baseman.
There have been few more auspicious debuts than Karl Spooner's. In his first game with the Dodgers, in September of 1954, the lefthanded Spooner, 23, shut out the Giants on three hits and struck out 15. In his next appearance, on the final day of the season, he shut out the Pirates and struck out 12. He hurt his arm the next spring and lasted but one more year in the majors.
The two most notable sore arms in baseball history belonged to earlier heroes. In 1912 Smokey Joe Wood had a season that stands comparison with the best of Matty's, the Big Train's or anyone else's. Wood won 34 that year and lost five. He struck out 258 batters in 344 innings, had 10 shutouts, completed 35 of 38 starts, had an earned run average of 1.91 and stopped a Walter Johnson 16-game winning streak. That 1-0 victory was the 14th in a Wood winning streak that also eventually reached 16. Asked to compare his fastball to Smokey Joe's, Johnson replied, "Listen, my friend, there's no man alive can throw harder than Smokey Joe Wood." In the World Series that year Wood beat the Giants three times, defeating Christy Mathewson in the last game.
Wood recalled this transcendent season in Lawrence S. Ritter's The Glory of Their Times: "So there I was after the 1912 season—including the World Series, I'd won 37 games and lost only six, struck out 279 men in days when the boys didn't strike out much and I'd beaten Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson one after the other. And do you know how old I was? Well, I was 23 years old, that's all. The brightest future ahead of me that anybody could imagine in their wildest dreams. And do you know something else? That was it. That was it, right then and there. My arm went bad the next year, and all my dreams came tumbling down around my ears like a damn house of cards. The next five years, seems like it was nothing but one long terrible nightmare."
Wood fell fielding a ground ball in the spring of 1913 and fractured the thumb on his pitching hand. His hand was in a cast for several weeks, and he apparently tried to pitch too soon after it was removed, for he instantly felt "a terrific amount of pain in my right shoulder." He visited "hundreds of doctors" over the next three years, but his arm never came back. After trying to pitch, he said, "I couldn't lift my arm as high as my belt. Had to use my left hand to put my right into my coat pocket. And if I'd go to a movie in the evening, I couldn't get my right arm up high enough to put it on the armrest." Wood retired from baseball in 1916, at the age of 27, and then came back the following year as an outfielder and utility man, going hitless in 10 games. He quit for good in 1922, a courageous, ill-fated figure, destined at 33 to be regarded as a relic. "I'd hear fathers tell their kids, 'See that guy over there? That's Smokey Joe Wood. Used to be a great pitcher long time ago.' "
Dizzy Dean was 26 when he started for the National League in the 1937 All-Star Game. In his first five full major league seasons, Dean had won 18, 20, 30, 28 and 24 games for the Cardinals. He had struck out 17 batters in a game and had beaten Detroit twice in the 1934 Series. His '34 season was nearly the equal of Wood's in 1912. He was 30-7, with an earned run average of 2.66 and a league-leading strikeout total of 195. By 1937 he was the game's most flamboyant personality, a hillbilly braggadocio who made good on his most preposterous boasts, a Country and Western singer, a practical joker and, with it all, a young man of considerable charm.
Dean challenged the hitters, strength to strength, his fastball against their power. In the first inning of the '37 All-Star Game, he had won the challenge against the mighty Lou Gehrig, striking him out swinging. In the third, he lost. Gehrig drove one of Dean's fastballs over the rightfield fence for a two-run homer. Anxious to erase this embarrassment with another strikeout, Dean challenged the next hitter, Earl Averill of Cleveland, with his "high hard one." Baseball would have been the better had Averill also hit a homer. Instead, he slugged a vicious liner directly at Dean. The ball struck him on the big toe of his left foot and caromed into the glove of Second Baseman Billy Herman, who threw Averill out to retire the side. His three-inning assignment completed, Dean limped into the dugout, scarcely aware that his brilliant career had effectively ended.
Even so minor an injury as a broken toe requires time to heal, but Dean—and, it would seem, his employers—refused to take it seriously. With splints on his foot and wearing an oversized Chaplinesque shoe, Dean was back in action in two weeks. He was a comic figure, but a tragic one, too. "I ain't able to ease up a minute," he said years later in explaining what happened in his first game back. "Bein' a righthander, I come down with all my weight on my left leg, and every pitch is killin' me. Pain is stabbin' clean up to my hip. Because of this, I change my natural style and don't follow through with my body, so's I don't have to tromp down on my hurt foot. Instead, I cut a fast one loose jes' throwin' with my arm. As the ball left my hand, there was a loud crack in my shoulder, and my arm went numb down to my fingers. Nobody knowed it then, but Ol' Diz' great arm was never goin' to be the same again after that one pitch."
His injury was eventually diagnosed as an inflammation of the deltoid muscle at the point of insertion with the humerus—the bone of the upper arm. Dean had won 12 games at the All-Star break. He won one more that season and was traded the following April to the Cubs, for whom he won but 16 games in four years before he retired at 30. Of his pitching in those final humiliating seasons, Dean, ever the phrasemaker, was to say, "I couldn't break a pane of glass."
Dean also added to the lexicon of sports medicine. The "Dizzy Dean Syndrome" involves creating a second injury by favoring a first. Alas, Ol' Diz and Smokey Joe were as much victims of their time as of bad breaks (thumb and toe) and poor judgment. It is inconceivable that today any team physician would permit either of them to pitch so soon after his injury. There is also every chance that modern surgical techniques might have restored both pitchers to something approaching their former skills. The sore arm has hardly gone the way of smallpox, but it is not incurable.
"Ten to 15 years ago you didn't see many major league pitchers with scars on their arms," says Dr. Jobe. "Now you see quite a few. The players recognize that what they have is a career. Their earning capacity is so very high that they are more willing to take the risk of surgery. They are beginning to understand something about the importance of sports medicine. And I think doctors now have a better understanding of what a pitcher's arm must do. More surgeons know the game; the Baseball Physicians' Association has contributed to the exchange of knowledge and to more meticulous techniques and care.
"In the old days there was a tendency to bring a pitcher back too soon. Now we know the value of proper rest and rehabilitation, and we are working on preventative measures all the time. We are analyzing the pitcher's motion from a scientific standpoint—step by step with high-speed cameras. We'd like to find out what makes up a pitching motion, how much body, how much arm. Good body mechanics are extremely important—the position of the arm, the transfer of the weight, bringing the trunk around at the proper time. A good pitching coach can help avert injuries."
Sports medicine is scarcely a new field. The late Dr. George E. Bennett of Baltimore was treating ballplayers as early as 1910, and two of his articles, "The Prevention and Treatment of Athletic Injuries" (American Physical Education Review, May 1925) and "Shoulder and Elbow Lesions of the Professional Baseball Pitcher" (Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 16, 1941) are still considered important. Dr. Don O'Donoghue of the University of Oklahoma was practicing sports medicine in the early 1930s, and Dr. Kerlan himself began in 1947.
But it has been only recently that sports medicine has become a recognized discipline of its own. There are knee men now, and back men and neck men and foot men. Dr. Jobe, 52, a friendly, copper-haired orthopedist, is the ranking arm man. He has been associated since 1964 with Dr. Kerlan, who no longer performs surgery but is an invaluable diagnostician, and has been the Dodgers' team physician since 1968. But Dr. Jobe's patients are referred to him from virtually every major league team, a fact he dismisses as a mere accident of geography. "Most ballplayers seem to live in Southern California, and that is where I practice," he says. Dr. Jobe has operated on more than 100 pitching arms, including those of John, Busby, Gary Nolan, Geoff Zahn, John D'Acquisto, Bill Travers, Mike Caldwell and, early this season, Wayne Garland. "Most of the things I do can be performed by any competent orthopedic surgeon," he insists. "I've been fortunate enough to have some rather well-known patients." But as John, his most notable patient, has said, "When your Mercedes-Benz breaks down, you don't take it to the corner garage. When your arm breaks down, you don't go to any doctor. You go to Dr. Jobe."
The first of the two operations Dr. Jobe performed on John was hailed, in baseball circles at least, as a medical first. Actually, Dr. Jobe says it represented "fairly common orthopedic procedure," although he concedes that "to my knowledge, this was the first time it had been used with a pitcher." That makes John's recovery a considerable medical triumph, because it is safe to assume that none of the other patients who have undergone this "fairly common orthopedic procedure" have subsequently put anywhere near the amount of stress on his renewed limb as John has on his.
In throwing that fateful pitch to Breeden, John ruptured the medial collateral ligament of the elbow, which performs the function, in Dr. Jobe's words, of "keeping the elbow from flying apart." Thus John was not being entirely fanciful when he said he had the sense that his arm was taking leave of his body. "It is a short, stubby ligament," Dr. Jobe says, "and when I went to repair it, because of the long years of wear, there 'was nothing left to repair. I had to look elsewhere for a substitute." He found it in the palmaris longus tendon of John's right wrist, which no more than 75% of us have and which does little more than bring wrinkles to the palm of the hand.
Dr. Jobe asked Dr. Herbert Stark, a specialist in hand and wrist surgery, to assist during the operation on John's arm, which took place on Sept. 25, 1974. The tendon from the pitcher's right wrist was transferred to his left elbow and asked to disguise itself as a ligament. A tendon attaches bone to muscle; a ligament connects bone to bone. "The real worry," says Dr. Jobe, "was whether the body would accept it as a substitute."
John's body was deceived, and the tendon became part of the left elbow. Unfortunately, additional surgery was needed to arrest nerve deterioration in the afflicted area. The more critical operation to reposition the nerve in the elbow was performed on Dec. 18. John's pitching arm had been under the knife twice within three months, and the prognosis was unpromising. "Dr. Jobe advised me to look for something to do outside of baseball," John recalls. "He told me he didn't think I'd ever pitch again."
John does not look like a medical miracle. He is a tall, blue-eyed, brown-haired Hoosier-turned-Californian. His brimming self-confidence is softened somewhat by a slight, affecting stammer. But John is also a realist, and he knows how near his career was to ending and how his life might have been changed. He is 35 now, and still pitching, contrary to what most people predicted four years ago. Sprawled across a chair in the living room of his ranch-style house, hard by the 9th tee of the Yorba Linda Country Club, he recently recalled the most trying period of his life.
"The second operation was the real kicker," he said. "If the first hadn't succeeded, I would have been able to lead a normal life, I just wouldn't have been able to pitch. If the second had failed, I would have had a hand like a claw. I wouldn't have been able to open doors, swing a golf club. I would have had to learn how to do some things righthanded. But God must have been looking out for me, because that nerve damage kept me from pitching in 1975, and that was the best thing that could have happened to my arm. I was in a cast for 16 weeks. When I got out of it, I couldn't grip a baseball. I couldn't pinch a clothespin. I was told by a neurologist that a nerve grows an inch a month, and I had about 16 inches of nerve to regenerate."
John would not accept Dr. Jobe's forecast. "I told him, 'You're a great doctor and I believe in you. But you're wrong. I will come back. You did an excellent job inside my arm. Now it's up to me. I know how much pain my body can stand—and it's quite a bit. I know how hard I can work, and if it takes 18 hours a day, I'll do it. I will come back.' "
His comeback was one of the most astonishing in the history of sports, the stuff that Jimmy Stewart-June Allyson movies were made of. And John's wife Sally did play a role familiar to connoisseurs of old films.
"Sally got out her old softball glove and started playing catch with me in the front yard as soon as I was able to throw," says John. Lobbing the ball no more than 30 feet to his wife was the best John could manage in the first stages of his arduous rehabilitation. He had so little use of his fingers that he could not get his thumb on the ball, and, says Sally, "his forearm was no bigger around than mine." With a withered arm and a clawlike hand, John reported to the Dodgers' spring training camp in 1975. His teammates were staggered by his appearance. "He couldn't throw a ball from here to that chair," says Don Sutton, gesturing to a folding chair in the Dodger clubhouse no more than 15 feet away.
John began his spring training by awkwardly throwing balls against a concrete wall, fielding the rebounds and throwing again. He could have been a city kid playing catch with himself against a stoop. This ritual completed, he would put his rebuilt elbow in ice, as if he had just completed nine innings. Gradually he increased the distance from 30 to 75 feet. He worked with weights to strengthen atrophied muscles, and he ran. And ran. John took up jogging some 10 years ago, and he now runs as many as eight miles daily. His legs, so vital to his pitching, have never been a problem.
When the Dodgers broke camp, John stayed behind, throwing against the wall and running. When he joined them 10 days into the season, he felt confident enough to try throwing to another human being, bullpen Catcher Mark Cresse. Red Adams, the pitching coach, offered counsel, though he was among those who saw little chance of John's pitching again. "It was a bleak-looking situation," Adams says, remembering John's pathetic efforts. "What worried me was his hand. He had trouble even holding the ball. But his undying faith was remarkable."
To grip the ball properly, John had to tape the first two fingers of his left hand together and then, with his right hand, force his left thumb onto the ball and mold the claw to the correct size. He was like a man with a mechanical hand. Remarkably, his pitching motion was unaltered, so there seemed little chance of his further damaging his arm. By June, John felt encouraged enough to try throwing batting practice. "It took all that time just to throw hard enough to pitch B.P.," says John, "but I didn't do so badly. Of course, I didn't throw a lot of strikes."
"If he was ever discouraged, he masked it well," says teammate Steve Garvey. "A lot of guys would've been embarrassed to do what he did. There were days when he wasn't close to the plate."
John traveled with the team, pitching batting practice every day for 15 minutes and throwing for another half hour or more to Adams or Cresse in the bullpen. His arm was stronger, but the nerve controlling his fingers was still not responding. John realized that if he could not regain full use of his hand, his hopes for pitching again would be dashed. "Then one day in July it happened," he says. "I was preparing to throw when I discovered I could bend my fingers. I hadn't been able to do that since the first operation in September. I knew then it was just a matter of time. I had cleared the biggest hurdle."
He did not regain complete use of the hand until February of 1976, less than a month before spring training. This time, however, he went to Vero Beach confident of making the team. He had tested his fingers in the Arizona Instructional League and had pitched well against rookies. Now he had to convince Alston that he was once again major league material. Alston and the other Dodgers noticed that, against all odds, John was putting some pop onto his fastball. Pity was supplanted by respect. He was activated for the 1976 season.
In his first start, on April 16 in Atlanta, he hung a curveball to Darrell Evans, who hit it for a three-run homer. John did not give up another run in the five innings he pitched. He threw seven shutout innings against Houston in his second start, and in his third—which was also his first at Dodger Stadium in nearly two years—he had a shutout working against the Pirates into the eighth inning. But he gave up a double and a single and was taken out. As he returned to the dugout the fans rose to cheer and applaud him. Tommy John was back.
He won 10 games in 1976 and had a 3.09 earned run average. He was the winner of the National League Comeback Player of the Year award. Last season he became a 20-game winner for the first time, pitched in his first playoff and World Series games and finished second to Steve Carlton in the Cy Young Award voting. This year he has won 12 games. Teammates and opponents contend that he is a far better pitcher now than he was before he hurt his arm. "I know they had to graft a new arm on John," says Pete Rose, exaggerating a bit, "but did they have to give him Sandy Koufax'?"
Steve Busby suffered from the Impingement Syndrome, in which the rotator cuff does not slide smoothly on the top of the shoulder. His swollen right rotator cuff muscle was being pinched between the acromion (the outer extension of the shoulder blade) and the humerus. He also had bone spurs on the back of the shoulder and some deterioration of the shoulder socket. Dr. Jobe operated on Busby on July 19, 1976. To create room for the pinched muscle, he shaved off a thin slice of bone from underneath the acromion on top of Busby's shoulder. A small portion of the deltoid muscle was peeled back in the process and then reattached. Once again Dr. Jobe's prognosis was gloomy. Busby, too, was advised to seek employment elsewhere. Rotator cuff injuries had ended the careers of the Yankees' Mel Stottlemyre, the Mets' George Stone, the Dodgers' Don Drysdale and Ron Perranoski, a relief pitcher for four different teams. In fact, no pitcher was known to have sufficiently recovered from significant rotator cuff damage to play again in the majors. Nonetheless, like John before him, Busby was not about to pack it in.
Busby did not attempt to throw a ball for four months, until November of 1976, when he began playing catch in his yard. Last year, he reported early to spring training and found he could throw well enough to pitch batting practice, although with discomfort. His muscles were not recovering as they should, and he was sore after even the lightest workout. He was returned to the disabled list on April 1, reinstated on May 4 and then assigned to Kansas City's Class A Daytona Beach farm team for additional conditioning. He pitched in only one game in 1977, for Daytona Beach, allowing five runs in three innings. At midseason he returned to Southern California, where he is one of John's neighbors in Yorba Linda, and on Aug. 8 he underwent surgery again, this time for a high school knee injury that had been acting up.
In November 1977 Busby began working out with a number of other convalescent players—notably, Fred Lynn, Frank Tanana and Bobby Grich—at the Los Angeles Rams' training quarters in Long Beach. He was in excellent shape when he reported for spring training this year, and his early efforts were heartening. "Every time out something seemed to improve," he says, "and it all culminated when Whitey told me I'd made the club. I felt I could contribute."
Busby started against Cleveland on April 9 and did not allow a run in 5‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, giving up two hits and walking three. It was an encouraging beginning. "But in my next start everything began to fall apart," he says. "I was losing velocity and control. One of my pitches was clocked at only 55 miles an hour. I felt embarrassed. I threw as poorly as I can remember anyone throwing in the major leagues. My arm felt good, but the ball just wasn't going anywhere." He pitched only 10⅖ innings in four starts for the Royals, allowing 12 runs on 14 hits and 10 walks. His earned run average was 10.12.
On April 28 Herzog told Busby he had been optioned to the Royals' Triple A team in Omaha. "I had considered the possibility," Busby says. "I knew I had to do something, but when Whitey told me, it was very difficult to take." Busby debated with himself for two days whether he wanted to keep on struggling, with no guarantees he could ever come back to what he had been. He decided to go to Omaha. "I don't want to prolong this thing," he says. "If there is progress to be made, it should be made reasonably soon. If I don't have the ability to pitch anymore, we should find out."
Bill Fischer, the Royals' minor league pitching instructor, fiddled with the videotape machine in the visiting manager's office at Denver's Mile High Stadium. "This will show it," he mumbled. "It's just a little mechanical thing in his motion. If Buzz still had a sore arm, he wouldn't be throwing the way he is. Hell, the other night he had more velocity on his breaking ball than on his fastball. If his arm was still hurting, it'd be just the opposite. No way he could throw the way he's throwing if his arm was bad. You can't hide a sore arm."
Busby had survived only 3‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings against the Denver Bears two nights earlier. He had given up six earned runs. It was the worst showing of what was proving to be an erratic minor league season. In his previous appearance, he had shut out Evansville for eight innings, allowing only two hits and throwing 92 pitches before leaving the game. The Royals want him to throw no more than 100 pitches per outing until he has established the durability of his rebuilt shoulder. Bus by, affable in good times and bad, was not entirely displeased with what he had accomplished since being sent down. He had seen, he said, "possibilities."
Fischer had the machine functioning. A pitcher winding up flickered onto the screen. "Buzz, come in here," Fischer called into the clubhouse. Busby stepped into the room, looking worried. He is a handsome young man with a tanned, boyish face that would seem puckish save for an air of solemnity. If leading men ever come back, Busby has a future.
"Now watch this, Buzz," Fischer said, directing Busby's attention to the image on the screen. "See where you're breaking your hands? Too late, too late. And in the wrong position. They're not out in front of your body where they should be. They're off to the side and down too low. It's slowing your arm down. Your body is going forward while your arm is still going back. You're throwing off-balance. Your arm is rushing to catch up. That's why you're losing power and coming in high all the time."
Fischer smiled proudly. "You're right," said Busby, watching his tiny self on the screen. "It looks like a minor thing, but it's had major consequences. I guess I'm suffering from a kind of mental rustiness. It's back to fundamentals for me, back to learning what I learned in the Little Leagues. In all those months I wasn't pitching, I not only forgot some of my bad habits, I forgot good ones too."
"Sure, sure," said Fischer. "If you haven't pitched in two years, your memory fails. C'mon, let's go throw a few."
It was late afternoon, several hours before the game that night between Denver and Omaha, and the great stadium, in the fall the site of Broncomania, was empty. Tier upon tier of red, yellow, green, blue and orange seats rose up above the two men as they walked across the green turf in earnest conversation. Omaha Manager John Sullivan was waiting for them in the visitors' bullpen. "O.K., Buzz," he said, "let's have a look."
Catcher Art Kusnyer squatted behind the plate, and Busby, looking a little unsure about what was expected of him, stepped onto the mound. "Tell me if I'm doing it again," he said. He went into his motion and once again separated his right hand from his glove near his right hip. Fischer rushed forward. "Look, it's like you're a quarterback," he said, dropping back as if to pass, left arm bent in front of him. "You break your throwing hand away and keep the other one out front. You've developed a little swing there off to the side. Get those hands out in front of you. When your knee comes up, the hands go away."
Busby threw again. This time his hands broke at his chest. "That's too soon, isn't it?" he inquired. "Not much. Do it again," said Fischer.
Busby began to work smoothly now, his body moving rhythmically, his hands separating in front of him. He was throwing at three-quarter speed, but the ball was exploding in Kusnyer's mitt.
"That's it! That's it!" Fischer called out in encouragement.
Busby threw for 12 minutes, the pitches faster and more accurate near the end of the workout. He stopped, wiped his brow with his pitching hand—a feat he could not perform during much of 1976—and announced himself satisfied. "I think it's coming along," he said. And he trotted off to shag fly balls.
"I just know that's the answer," said Fischer, walking briskly toward the batting cage. "I know it." He stopped and watched Busby take his place in leftfield. He shook his head and continued walking. "Just a little mechanical thing," Fischer said, convincing himself. "That's it, all right. I'll tell you one thing, I'll bet my wife, home and car he'll be back. I just know he'll be back."
Maybe so, but not yet. In the weeks since that workout in Denver, Busby's pitching mechanics and the speed of his deliveries have improved somewhat. But his record—3-7 with a 5.15 ERA—has been poor. It and a freak back injury, now cured, resulted in his being sent to Sarasota in the Gulf Coast League, the lowest level of the minors. The Royals have kept him on their 40-man roster, which means Busby will be eligible to return to Kansas City in September, when the 25-man limit is lifted. But will the Royals choose to bring him back?
Busby, irrepressible as always, thinks they might. "I'm still optimistic," he says. "I'm throwing harder. I'm breaking the ball harder. But I'm not ready to throw my hardest. I've got to get back my strength to do that, and my mechanics have to be just right before I can work on strength. My motion is pretty good. I just need to work on it some more." He said all this as he packed his bags a week ago for the trip down to Sarasota.