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Posted: Tuesday November 17, 2009 9:41PM; Updated: Wednesday November 18, 2009 5:04PM
Ted Keith

Like it or not, Cy Young Award puts Greinke in well-deserved spotlight

Story Highlights

Cy Young winner Zack Greinke says he really doesn't like a lot of attention

Three years ago, social anxiety disorder almost ended Greinke's career

But he came back, pitched solidly in 2008 and blossomed this past season

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Zack Greinke is the third Royals pitcher to win the Cy Young, following Bret Saberhagen (1985, 1989) and David Cone (1994).
Robert Beck/SI

The pitcher's mound is a stage, all eyes on the performer, and if there is irony in Tuesday's American League Cy Young voting results, it is that the man who performed better on that stage this season than anyone else would rather be anywhere than in the spotlight. "There are a lot of positive and a lot of negatives to [winning the Cy Young]," said Royals pitcher Zack Greinke. "Not a lot, some. I really don't like having a bunch of attention."

He may not like it, but he'll definitely have to get used to it, for attention must be paid to Greinke after his brilliant season of 2009 -- 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.073 WHIP and 242 strikeouts -- and with it will come more than a little focus on the man who authored it. For one day at least, that was particularly bothersome.

"I've got a lot of stuff going on today, when I usually like just doing nothing," he said Tuesday of a to-do list that included accepting his league's highest pitching honor by day and then making dinner plans with family by night in preparation of his wedding this weekend to longtime girlfriend and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Emily Kuchar. That's a far cry from how he prefers to spend his time in the offseason, when, he says, "I've been playing this World of Warcraft game a lot."

But the publicity may have an added benefit in that the light that shines on Greinke will once again include a retelling of his amazing journey to being the best pitcher in the American League, and perhaps, all of baseball. In spring training in 2006, Greinke left the team with what was later diagnosed as social anxiety disorder. He went home to Florida, and many were unsure if the former phenom -- once the sixth overall pick in the draft and a big league ace at age 21 -- would ever return.

"I can't sit here and say I was confident he would come back to the big leagues," said former Royals general manager Allard Baird, who now works in the Red Sox front office. "I was confident he would come back and be a happy person. I'm glad it worked out that way but I can't say I was focused on him coming back to play."

Like virtually every top prospect, Greinke had been evaluated endlessly as the 2002 draft approached. Royals scouts peeked into every corner of his life, and administered a test known as 16pf that consisted of more than 100 questions meant to gauge personality traits. Greinke's results produced no red flags, but just four years later, his career was at a crossroads as he struggled with an illness common to millions but rarely talked about in the ultra-macho world of professional sports.

How interesting, then, that the man who would start to change those opinions was the same man who usually wanted nothing to do with the limelight. Greinke became one of the few people in a culture that puts a premium on playing hurt to admit that he was struggling with pain that was mental, not physical, and be willing to put his career on hold to deal with it. It's especially worth remembering after baseball endured a season in which several players -- including Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis and Joey Votto -- all took leave of absences to deal with similar struggles. It was a path forged first by a skinny, heretofore undistinguished pitcher for the small-time Royals, but it isn't hard to see how Greinke's courage helped change public perceptions of athletes and make it acceptable for others to take their own time to recover.

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