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Against all Odds
Jeff Pearlman
February 28, 2000
Diamondbacks righthander TODD STOTTLEMYRE is trying to do what no one before him has ever done: pitch effectively with a torn rotator cuff
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February 28, 2000

Against All Odds

Diamondbacks righthander TODD STOTTLEMYRE is trying to do what no one before him has ever done: pitch effectively with a torn rotator cuff

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Stottlemyre: "Yeah, you knock me out."

After Hayes reached second on a single, he charged Stottlemyre and knocked him to the ground. After the game, Hayes spoke for many: "I don't like him. I don't think anybody likes him. Who does he think he is, Sandy Koufax? He talks like he's Bob Gibson or somebody, [but] I'm the only one he can get out."

A month earlier Stottlemyre had ripped the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa after Sosa homered twice off him, then bowed to the spring training crowd. Later in the season, after the Florida Marlins' Cliff Floyd hit a towering two-run homer off him, Stottlemyre screamed as Floyd casually crossed home plate, "Let's go! Run the bases!"

"I don't know what the hell's wrong with him," Floyd said. "I think he's crazy."

Holmes recalls a moment from the 1998 American League Divisional Series, in which he played for the New York Yankees and Stottlemyre for the Texas Rangers. Chad Curtis, a Yankees outfielder, swung wildly at a pitch and lost his bat, which landed near the mound. Stottlemyre picked up the wood, took two steps toward the Yankees dugout and chucked it at his rivals. "I competed against him, and I couldn't stand him," says Holmes. "He just had this air on the mound, like he owned it. But at the same time I loved his competitiveness. He's a warrior."

Although the 34-year-old Stottlemyre is a jock by heritage (his father, Mel, the Yankees' pitching coach, won 164 games with the Bombers from 1964 to '74; Todd's older brother, Mel Jr., appeared in 13 games for the Kansas City Royals in 1990), his me-against-the-world athletic demeanor dates back to 1981, when he was 15. Until that time, according to Mel Sr., Todd had been a tough competitor but hardly fierce. That year, however, Todd's younger brother, Jason, died of leukemia at age 11. Jason was Todd's best friend. For five years he had been in and out of hospitals, good days followed by bad days. "He was such an awesome kid," recalls Todd. "It didn't matter what he did, he was great at it. He was such a good-natured person." Days before his death, Jason received a bone-marrow transplant that doctors hoped would save him. it didn't. Instead of returning home, Jason went into a coma. Two days later he died. The bone marrow was Todd's.

"I felt responsible for a long time," Todd says. "It was a tremendous amount of guilt." He is sitting by his locker in the huge purple-and-white Diamondbacks clubhouse, spitting tobacco juice into a garbage can. The room is empty. The tough man's eyes are turning red. Tears gather in the corners. He puts his hands to his head. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about him. For me to think for so long that I had something to do with his dying, because the marrow—my marrow—didn't take. It was tough." Suddenly he stops crying. A smile appears on his face. "I realize he's in a better place, probably watching this, laughing," Stottlemyre says. "I see him chasing butterflies with his net. He liked butterflies."

Ever since Jason's death, Mel Sr. says, Todd has done anything and everything to win. No matter the nature of the competition—cards, hunting, fishing, baseball—he gets no joy from placing second. "The intensity became magnified after we lost our son," Mel says. "I think a lot of it was there before, but it hadn't all come out. I remember when Todd was in high school, I had to talk him out of playing football. He was so no-holds-barred, I was afraid he'd kill himself."

The tragedy also made a close family even closer. After that baseball season Mel resigned as a roving minor league pitching instructor with the Seattle Mariners. For the next two years he stayed home in Yakima, Wash., operating the family sporting-goods business while working with his two boys on their games. Mel Jr., two years older than Todd, was a catcher and pitcher. Todd pitched too but was also a fleet-footed little second baseman and shortstop. As a sophomore at Davis High, he was 5'7" and weighed 140 pounds. "People may think I'm tough," Todd says, "but I've never won a fight in my life. In school I picked fights all the time, and I'd always get beat up."

The summer before Todd's junior year, his American Legion team needed an emergency arm in a tournament game. Throwing all fastballs, he pitched two scoreless innings. Still, he did not become a regular member of the Davis High staff until his senior year, when he went 10-0 with an 0.72 ERA. After pitching one season at UNLV, he was selected by Toronto early in the secondary phase of the '85 draft. It wasn't that he had amazing velocity or terribly nasty stuff. He simply had, as a result of Mel Sr.'s teachings, good location and pitch selection. "My father is my best friend," says Todd. "I credit him with a lot of things—teaching me how to be a smart pitcher, showing me how to control my emotions. Most of all, he's a great listener. He's one of the wisest people you'll meet."

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