I saw a TV replay of Mark McGwire, the Oakland A's first baseman, getting hit in the head with a pitch by Toronto's David Cone on July 8, and it made my stomach turn. Every time I see someone get hit in the head, it makes me sick. Even when I'm sitting in the dugout, and a pitch goes near someone's head, I have to catch my breath.
In my major league career I've been hit in the head three times. On two of those occasions, I was caught flush in the face. So I know what Mark is going through. He still felt woozy days later, and it took him a week to get back in the lineup. He's a big, strong, tough guy, but everyone deals with something like this in a different way. The only thing I can tell him is that my faith as a Christian is what helped me get through my beanings. God gave me the strength to overcome my fear and get back in the batter's box.
The first time I got hit was on July 1, 1990, while I was playing with the Kansas City Royals. The pitcher was Jack Morris of the Detroit Tigers. I was unconscious for a short time, and I remember lying in the dirt around home plate and then seeing the trainer. He asked me the usual questions, "What day is it?" "Where are you?" I was scared to death—and that pitch didn't even hit me in the face. I played the next day, but I had tremendous fear. I flinched on every pitch for the rest of the season. I thought every pitch was going to get me after that one. I thought about retiring after that, but I'd only been in the league for three years. It was one of the hardest things I've ever been through.
I joined the Milwaukee Brewers in 1993, and last year I got hit in the head by the New York Yankees' Melido Perez. I remember lying in the dirt with my eyes closed. It was like the movie Ghost, when the guy was out of his body after he died. I was thinking, Am I in heaven or Milwaukee? When I opened my eyes, I saw shin guards and the backstop, and I knew I wasn't in heaven. I had six facial-bone fractures, but I was available to play the next day. I didn't, but I could have.
I wore a protective mask for the rest of the year, but I wasn't wearing it this season against the Minnesota Twins when I got hit in the face again on May 29, this time by Scott Erickson. I saw the ball coming, but at first I thought it was a breaking ball, and I didn't want to bail out. When I realized it was a fastball, it was too late. I didn't lose consciousness, but I kept thinking, I can't believe I got hit again. This one hurt a lot more than the one Perez threw, because the ball got part of my temple. My head was killing me. It really swelled up. (If you cut a baseball in half and stuck it on the side of your head, you'd look like I did.) Everything was moving in slow motion. I walked to the dugout steps and almost passed out. I was pretty wobbly. They took me to the hospital, but fortunately there were no fractures.
I played two days after that. I remember standing in the on-deck circle before my first at bat after getting hit. I was nervous, but not really out of fear. It was more the anxiety of not knowing how things were going to go when I stepped in. I'd done a lot of praying, and a lot of my friends and family prayed for me too. Once I got in the batter's box, an incredible peace came over me. It was God's power, I believe. I was fearless. It was the most inexplicable thing that has ever happened to me. I went 3 for 4 in the game and had 11 hits in my first 19 at bats.
Because I've suffered such terrible beanings, people ask me what I think about brushback pitches. I tell them that pitching inside and knocking guys off the plate is part of the game, but I don't think there's any room in baseball for throwing near a guy's head. Our team was involved in a brawl with the Chicago White Sox this year. The Sox thought our pitcher had thrown at one of their players, so they threw at one of ours. The disturbing part was that their pitcher, Rob Dibble, nearly hit our guy, Pat Listach, in the head with a 95-mph fastball. No one knows if it was intentional except Dibble, and it's not my job to say what should have been done about it. That was the commissioner's job, and Dibble was suspended for three games. If one of our batters gets hit by a pitcher who has just given up a homer, and it's blatantly intentional and everyone in the ballpark knows it, then you have to do something to protect your players. But I could never tell one of our pitchers, "Drill that guy because he drilled me." If a pitch got away and hit someone in the head, I couldn't live with myself.
As for my hitting, I'm going to wear the protective mask for the rest of my career. And I'm going to continue to say my prayers. There's no way I could have gotten through this without my faith in Jesus Christ. And I'll say a prayer for Mark as well. I hope he can get through this too.