Ask Baltimore reliever Don Aase about being an American League
All-Star, and he launches into an Academy Award-like litany of
thank-yous. ''There are a lot of people I'd like to share this
with,'' Aase says. ''Dr. (Lewis) Yokum, my family for their support,
the trainer, my therapist in rehab.'' Forget it, Don. Hollywood quit
making this kind of picture years ago. Too implausible.
Never mind that the AL beat the NL 3-2, a seeming impossibility in
its own right. What strains credibility is that Aase, 31, earned an
All-Star save (on only two pitches), and 24 other saves this year,
with a rebuilt right elbow. ''I just wanted to pitch again without
pain,'' says Aase, who is 3-3, with a 2.19 ERA. ''The All-Star Game
Four years ago last week, Aase threw a fastball to Cleveland's
Andre Thornton, and a rush of fire traveled from his elbow to his
wrist. He had ripped a ligament that tethers the bones at his right
elbow, the one that had allowed him to throw hard since he was a kid
in Southern California. That October, Aase underwent the same tendon
transplant operation that revitalized the pitching careers of Tommy
John and Joe Sambito. But the 6 ft. 3 in., 220- pound Aase is the
only one of the three with an overpowering fastball (93 mph).
As a result, the first name in The Baseball Register has become
the first name in relief. And in a season in which the Orioles have
used the disabled list 12 times, Aase, with more than two years of DL
time, has shown Ripkenesque durability. ''It's automatic now,'' says
manager Earl Weaver, who has waved Aase in from the bullpen 41 times.
''If a guy is going that good, you work him.''
Boston signed the 17-year-old Aase out of Anaheim in 1972, but it
wasn't until July 1977 that he was called up to the majors. He
responded with back- to-back, complete-game wins. The second one was
a 1-0 three-hitter before family and friends at Anaheim Stadium. The
Angels were so impressed they took Aase from Boston in a December
1977 trade for second baseman Jerry Remy. Aase proved to be no more
than mediocre as a starter because, he says, ''I had to think too
much.'' By 1980 he was in the bullpen, but in the strike season of
'81, he was 4-4 with 11 saves.
The next year, Angels manager Gene Mauch went to Aase early and
often, and Aase's arm began to ache. At one point Mauch told
reporters that sometimes a pitcher has to throw with tears in his
eyes. What Aase had were tears in his elbow. He went in for the elbow
surgery after the season. Says Aase, ''Dr. Yokum told me before the
surgery that if my left arm was bandaged, it meant the worst. I woke
up from surgery, and my left arm was on my forehead, all bandaged up.
I cursed and went back to sleep.''
Yokum took a tendon from Aase's left wrist and attached it to the
bones in his right elbow. Two months went by before Aase could
straighten his arm, nine months before he tossed a ball. He returned
to the Angels in June 1984, and John McNamara, who had replaced Mauch
in '83, afforded him kid-glove treatment. He responded with eight
saves and a 1.62 ERA, and the Orioles pounced on him in free agency.
Aase's storybook recovery continues to amaze him. ''After the
All-Star Game,'' his wife Judy says, ''when everything was over, we
were going back to the hotel room to relieve the baby-sitter. Don
squeezed my hand and said, 'Nobody can ever take this away from me.'