Mr. SHAPIRO: IS a rupture or a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament a serious injury?
Dr. PAPPAS: It is not an injury most athletes would prefer to have.
—Lawyer Donald Shapiro, questioning Dr. Arthur Pappas Barrett v. Pappas, U.S. District Court, Worcester, Mass.
On June 4, 1989, late in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Marty Barrett, the second baseman for the Boston Red Sox, hit a ground ball to third base. Barrett was then 30 years old and had played six years in the big leagues. Only days before, Boston had signed him to a three-year contract extension, worth nearly $3.5 million. As Barrett ran to first, he could see that the throw was not a good one; Toronto first baseman Fred McGriff had moved to the foul side of the bag in an awkward attempt to make the catch while keeping his foot on the base. Fearing a collision, Barrett reacted to McGriff by darting suddenly toward the inside part of the base. When he did, he felt his right knee pop, and he collapsed in pain. Though he didn't know it at the time, he had just ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.
Two days later Barrett underwent arthroscopic surgery in Worcester, Mass., a city some 45 minutes from Boston that is home to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Worcester is also the location of the practice of Arthur Pappas, the chairman of the hospital's orthopedic department and the Red Sox team physician for 18 years. Pappas is also a longtime part owner of the team. After the operation Pappas, generally portrayed in the Boston media as an avuncular figure, gave a short press conference. He reported that Barrett had simply suffered some torn cartilage in the knee and had stretched a ligament. Even though the postoperative report that Pappas filed at the hospital reflected the fact that he had removed much of what was left of Barrett's ruptured ACL, he made no mention of this far more serious injury during the press conference. Instead, his clear implication was that the operation had been no big deal; in fact, he said Barrett might be able to return to the lineup right after the All-Star break, a mere five weeks away.
It so happened that Pappas had operated the same day on the right elbow of Boston outfielder Jim Rice. This procedure had also gone well, Pappas said at the press conference. "So you went two for two today?" a reporter quipped. Pappas smiled smugly. "So far," he replied.
Courtrooms are confining places, and that is especially true of the U.S. district court in Worcester, temporarily housed as it is on the sixth floor of a seven-story office building while the permanent federal court building is being renovated. The waiting area outside the courtroom is so cramped that even whispered conversations can be overheard, and inside the courtroom it doesn't get much better. There are only three rows of benches for spectators and only one entrance, which means that opportunities for awkward encounters are not just plentiful but also practically unavoidable.
Barrett and Pappas know that now. Each learned quickly to sit on the same spot of the same first-row bench each day, barely 10 feet apart, without so much as acknowledging the other's presence. They became adept at staring past each other, averting their glances when their eyes accidentally locked, even for a millisecond. They mastered the peculiar pas de deux of litigants as they spent a week and a half this October as legal adversaries in that cramped Worcester federal courtroom.
Six years and four months after that arthroscopic surgery, Barrett, now a coach in the San Diego Padre organization, was in court, seeking close to $4 million in damages from Pappas. His fundamental allegation was that Pappas had never told him he had torn his ACL on that June day. Although Pappas denied the charge, Barrett's suit alleged that this failure to disclose the true extent of his injury hastened the end of his career. In taking this lawsuit all the way to its bitter conclusion, Barrett was raising to the surface the elemental and subterranean conflicts that plague team doctors in every big-time college and professional sport.
Barrett is hardly the only former athlete to sue a team doctor in recent times. Even before his case went to trial, there had been several trials involving athletes and team doctors this year alone.
In March former Chicago Bear wide receiver Ron Morris was awarded $5.3 million by a jury that heard that then team doctor Christ Pavlatos had botched what should have been a routine procedure to repair knee cartilage. What's more, in his desperation to retain his post as the team's physician, Pavlatos had tried to cover up his error by erasing most of the videotape of the operation. Three months later a 28-year-old hockey player named Glen Seabrooke—a former first-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Flyers who was in his second year with the minor league Hershey Bears when he was injured—won a $5.5 million verdict against the Flyers' former team doctor John Gregg (below).