Under ordinary circumstances, Doc Medich would have been resting up for his starting turn the next day against the Milwaukee Brewers, but at 7:30 a.m. last Friday, Dr. Medich was at Fort Worth Children's Hospital for a conference on the congenital dislocation of the patella. At 8:30 he sat through a basic science discussion on muscle physiology. Then at 9:30 he went over to John Peter Smith Hospital to make rounds with several other orthopedic residents. On this Day 8 of the baseball strike, George Medich had decided that if he couldn't put on his Texas Rangers uniform, he'd don a lab coat instead. A size-48 lab coat, because Medich stands 6'5" and weighs 227 pounds.
Medich had been invited to Children's, a teaching hospital, by Dr. Michael Mycoskie, the chief orthopedic resident and the son of the Rangers' medical director, Dr. B.J. Mycoskie. Medich, who is in his second year of a five-year residency in orthopedics, visited nine patients. Most of them were trauma cases, and coincidentally, most of those were victims of motorcycle accidents. Only two of the patients had any idea that the good doctor was a good pitcher.
Medich then examined some X rays, one showing a case of rickets and another a leg fracture. He also attended a round table discussion led by Dr. John Harmon, the chief of orthopedic surgery, and exclaimed later, "Gosh, there's a lot to learn." After all, Medich is only in Triple A in the medical field.
By one o'clock, Medich was out of his lab coat and into a T shirt, shorts and baseball shoes. He and some of the other Rangers had arranged to work out on one of the ball fields at the University of Texas-Arlington. For about 20 minutes Medich threw batting practice to travel agent Jim Sundberg. Sundberg, the Rangers' regular catcher, has an agency in Arlington, which meant he had two strikes against him: his own and the threatened walkout by the nation's air traffic controllers.
June 28, 1981
All across the country, players found themselves with unaccustomed time on their hands, and some of them were looking for a way to make a buck. In Atlanta, Mike Lum of the Chicago Cubs was working on his magic act and trying to break in four doves. No, make that five. No magic here—one of the doves unexpectedly hatched a chick. He was also trying to make dove droppings disappear from his garage. Now, if only he could make the strike disappear.
In Ewing, Ky., the Expos' veteran reliever, Woodie Fryman, was rolling his own tobacco farm, mowing 25 acres a day and tending to a herd of 75 Holsteins. In Eden, Wis., Jim Gantner, second baseman for the Brewers, was in sink training to ready himself for the time in the not-too-distant future when he might have to work in a relative's plumbing business. In Los Angeles, while Fernando Valenzuela worked out with his teammates at USC's Rod Dedeaux Field, the Dodgers' other rookie pitcher, Dave Stewart, was earning $6 an hour at the Smith Fastener Co., a whole sale hardware company that supplies nuts and bolts for the Dodger Stadium scoreboard. His agent, Tony Antanasio, helped him get the job. Another agent, Ron Shapiro, had his clients, many of them Baltimore Orioles, doing good works at local hospitals.
Carl Yastrzemski watched his son Mike play for Harwich in the Cape Cod League. In Seattle, A's Pitcher Dave Heaverlo was moving the First National Bank for Bekins' Van and Storage, and Mariner Third Baseman Lenny Randle was pursuing his career as a stand-up comic. Jay Johnstone tended to his auto parts business in L.A., Brachman Ignition Works, and St. Louis Outfielder Tito Landrum was trying to line up work as a model.
In Anderson Township, outside of Cincinnati, Reds Second Baseman Ron Oester was helping his wife run her daycare center by reading to, and playing Wiffle Ball with, their extended family of 40. And while Oester was filling up the sandbox, the Tigers' Richie Hebner was helping his father dig graves in a West Roxbury, Mass. cemetery. "It's not a very predictable occupation," said Hebner, "but if it gets much slower than this, I'll start calling around to see how people are feeling."
"Whenever I see Hebner," says Medich, "he'll say, 'If you ever screw up, keep me in mind.' " Medich doesn't appreciate the time off, even though he usually averages about one day of vacation between the baseball and medical seasons. Even a little bass fishing last week in Texoma with teammates Leon Roberts, Jim Kern and Ferguson Jenkins didn't cheer him up. "It's depressing," he says. "This is my first summer vacation since high school, and I can't enjoy it. Two professions, humph. Heck, right now I feel like I don't have any."
Medich has always fought hard to have them both. Growing up in Aliquippa, Pa., where he idolized the town doctor and starred in three sports in high school, he naturally wanted to pitch for the Pirates and attend the University of Pittsburgh's medical school. The Pirates, however, were scared off by his desire to play ball and pursue a medical career at the same time. The Yankees made him a low draft choice in 1970, but still doubted his ability to combine the two careers. "Everybody told me how it couldn't be done," says Medich, "but they had blinders on. It seemed like I was the only one who knew it could be done." During the 1971 World Series, Medich invited Lee MacPhail, then the general manager of the Yankees, to have lunch with him and Dr. Alvin Shapiro, the associate dean of the Pitt medical school. At lunch, Medich outlined his plans and convinced both men he could do it.
Over the years, Medich has had to make certain concessions to both careers, but only in terms of time, not devotion. He certainly didn't have to get up early last Friday to attend the conference; he received no credit toward his residency requirements. Even on the road, Medich will sometimes get himself invited to hospitals to make rounds. Mike Mycoskie says Medich is always quizzing him about the latest developments in orthopedics, even at the ball park.
Medich graduated from med school 2½ years behind his class, but in the meantime he was establishing himself as one of the more reliable starters in baseball. He had everything under control until 1977. Then for the first time in his career he had arm problems, and he was shunted from Pittsburgh to Oakland to Seattle to the New York Mets. "I felt like a U-Haul trailer, going from town to town," he says. "You can learn a lot about yourself when your elbow blows up and you're a free agent." After the '77 season, Medich signed with the Rangers, whose president happened to be Bobby Brown, the cardiologist who once played third base for the New York Yankees. Unlike Dr. Medich, however, Dr. Brown had quit baseball when he started his residency. The main reason Medich signed with Texas was the Rangers' offer: a four-year, $1 million contract that calls for another four years at $50,000 per as a medical consultant.
Medich has been a steady, if unspectacular, performer for the Rangers. Last year he was the best starter on the staff, with a club-high 14 wins, and enjoyed his finest season since 1974, when he went 19-15 with the Yankees. This year he is 5-3 and second in the league in shutouts with two. Overall, he has a career record of 107-88. Originally, he planned to pitch in the majors for only five years. "But after five, I was still having fun, and I still am," he says.
If he continues to play baseball, he has a long way to go to become a full-fledged physician. Completing the last three years of his residency will take him another five winters. Last winter he was at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh. Every day he was up at 5 a.m. and home at 7 p.m.; every fourth day he was on call all night. (Baseball is more humane: As a pitcher, Medich works every fifth day.) "My daughter, Kelly, must think she has a very strange daddy," Medich once said. "In the summer she sees me on television, and in the winter I go away at crazy hours and wear a white coat."
Mike Mycoskie remembers reading about Medich before he came to the Rangers. "I wondered how anybody could possibly do both," he says. "But after meeting him and talking to him, I could see how he could handle it. In baseball and medicine, you need perseverance and concentration. Fortunately, doctors have a lot more control over their destiny than pitchers. We don't have to worry about the infielders behind us."
Medich resists all attempts to mix baseball and medical lingo, which is perfectly understandable if you consider how many times he's had to read and hear: "Doc Medich throws aspirin tablets." When applied to Medich, however, the word "save" does have special meaning. Three seasons ago, he saved the life of a heart attack victim in the stands by applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Eventually, Medich would like to contribute to sports medicine. Although that sounds like a natural, he would be one of the few pro athletes to enter the field. "The arm is still a mysterious thing," he says. "They say Little Leaguers should never throw a curve, but I've been throwing one since I was 10. There are some pitchers who sleep in long sleeves and never sit next to an open window. I think that's bordering on the neurotic. Nobody has the answers yet." To that end, Medich is working with a North Texas State biomechanist, Dr. Don McIntyre, on a slow-motion film showing a pitcher's arm as the ball is thrown. They hope to pinpoint the biomechanical stress put on each joint. "I may have a lot of time to work on that this summer," says Medich.
While Grebey Ball is being played, Medich will continue to work out with his teammates, although some of the players, fearful of a financial pinch, have already scattered. Ideally, Medich would like to pitch a simulated game every fifth day, but he might not be able to find a catcher witting to catch 15 pitches, wait 10 minutes, catch 15 pitches, and so on, for two hours.
After practice on Friday, Medich headed for a nearby Dairy Queen. Between bites of his chili dog and sips of his shake—he's an orthopedist, not a nutritionist—Medich talked about the strike. The only person in the world who's a member of both the Major League Players Association and the American Medical Association had no sympathy for the owners. "They wanted this to happen," he said. "They're the ones who have to show some movement. They're the ones who are responsible for the continuity of the game." A customer in the Dairy Queen, unaware that there was a pitcher, much less a doctor, in the house, started ranting and raving about the damn players, and their damn greed, and damn Dave Winfield and the poor damn fans. Medich listened for a while, and said, "We're the bad guys in this thing, but people just don't understand. I don't want a vacation."