"I feel like a cardboard box, the kind that has no function but that you keep around somewhere in the corner of the closet in the hope that someday you'll find some use for it," he says. "They've told me to be patient, but I'm not a very patient individual. Patience is definitely not one of my attributes. The elbow is no problem now. That wasn't a career-ending injury. The problem was that there was so much concentration on the elbow that the shoulder got neglected. It wasn't prepared for the abuse pitching requires. This sort of breakdown is considered normal. I'm not injured. I'm here to strengthen the shoulder under supervision. The club is looking forward to having me whole for '85 and '86 or for however long I can pitch. But I'd like to try it this year. I'd like to show the club that I'm ready, that they can count on me for next year. The past was pretty good. The present, I'll admit, is a little shaky, but I'm gearing myself for the future.
"I didn't feel overworked under Billy. I wasn't being abused. I was doing what I enjoyed doing—pitching as long and as hard as I could. I did what I wanted to do, and I felt great pitching all those innings and complete games. We pushed each other. We had an intrateam competition, and that was good. Not one of us thought he was pitching too much. If you're going to excel in this game, you have to push yourself hard. You never heard any of our five complain about overwork. We had a real thing going there. For that matter, if they'd let me pitch tonight, I'd want to go nine.
"I can't believe that pitching too much caused my injury. I could've gotten it if I'd pitched 100 innings. I didn't pitch 300 innings in '80, and I probably averaged only 100 pitches a game. Against Toronto I finished a game with only 77 pitches. I threw the ball over the plate. I'm a sinker, slider, control pitcher. It was all so easy for me. I was pitching well. There was no reason to slow down. Unfortunately, we don't have lights on our bodies to tell us when to stop. I could've been a lot smarter. The elbow started bothering me late in '82 when I began to have that tendinitis feeling. But I continued to pitch. I thought that it would just go away and everything would be fine. Then, late that season, when I finally realized it wasn't going to go away, I told Billy, and he took me out of there right away. We were out of it by then anyway. Now I know I should've paid more attention to the warning signals. But I'd never had an injury before so bad that I couldn't throw a baseball. This was the first time I couldn't answer the bell. I just couldn't accept that. But when I realized I couldn't turn a doorknob to get out of the house, I knew I was in trouble.
"The only times I've felt bad in all of this were when the doctors told me there was no guarantee the operation would heal my arm, and again when I heard some radio announcer say that all five of us were finished. I've never believed that. We've all been forced to take some time off, but we've all got the potential to come back. Steve is getting better all the time, and I saw Brian earlier this year in Phoenix, and he looked good. I've seen Mike a few times, but I haven't talked to Matt since last year. I haven't seen Billy since he was fired here. I've called Art a couple of times, but he never returned my calls. Baseball is a constantly changing environment. You've got to get used to that. But I can see all of us pitching again, if not together, somewhere. I'd love to see us all back in the game. I've never had a confidence problem; I'm going to enjoy baseball again as much as I did before. Nobody can tell me I can't pitch."
Keough, whose father, Marty, was a major league outfielder, was The Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year in 1980, Martin's first year as manager of the A's. "I think Matt was like a project for Billy," says Kingman. "He could say, 'Look what I did for this pitcher.' " In '79 Keough lost his first 14 decisions and finished the year with a 2-17 record. In '80 he won his first three starts, the first by a shutout. He completed 13 of his first 16 starts and 16 of his first 20. His 20 complete games placed him third behind Langford and Norris, and he completed the season with a 16-13 record and a 2.92 ERA. He won his first five starts in '81 and seemed headed for another banner season when, in May, he slipped on the mound in Baltimore and experienced a twinge of pain in his shoulder, pain that was to dog him for the next three years. He still finished the shortened season with a 10-6 record, and he went 8⅓ courageous innings against the Yankees in the final playoff loss, leaving the game with the A's behind 1-0. The final score was 4-0.
In 1982, pitching with pain, he tied for the American League lead in losses with 18, and his ERA climbed to 5.72. On June 15, 1983 he was traded to the Yankees for two minor-leaguers. He pitched only 99⅔ innings that year and had a 5-7 record and a 5.33 ERA. He was experimenting with a knuckleball at the Yankees' Double A farm in Nashville this spring when the pain in his shoulder became so acute that he was placed on the disabled list. He has an inflammation of the rotator cuff but no tear, so rest and weight training, not surgery, have been prescribed. Keough went almost three months without throwing a ball. He has been working out, jogging and swimming in the Los Angeles area, where he lives. We meet him just after one of these workouts, in the lobby of a Santa Ana hotel. On a staff of talkers, Keough may well be the most voluble.
"This girl I'm going out with," he says, "saw a blowup of that SI cover with the five of us. 'Where are these guys now?' she asked me. Wow! Well, I think when success is there you have to grab the moment. And it was there for us. I pitched in pain for the last half of the '81 season, but there was no way I was going to give that up. You could've told me I had a 70-30 chance of tearing my arm up, and I still wouldn't have wanted to miss a turn. Those were my greatest moments in baseball—the record, the playoffs. My mistake was, I thought my arm problems would go away. I thought that I was invincible.
"Ballplayers are never the best judges of what's wrong with them. We were all such good athletes that we thought we could always go nine. Billy never failed to ask us how we felt. He would always say there was no room for heroes. He just wanted you to tell the truth. But we had such egos. We felt if it's just a soreness maybe we're better at 75 percent than the others would be at 100. We have to share any blame for what happened to us. I know I'm sick and tired of hearing about Billy Burnout. Billy and Art took an obscure ball club and taught it how to win. How could I object to that? We never pitched any more than pitchers did on other competitive teams, anyway. I completed 20 games in '80, but I only pitched 250 innings. There are too many intangibles involved to place the blame on any one person.
"I know I hurt my shoulder in Baltimore before the strike. The mound was wet, and I slipped. My arm was way behind me. I walked around for a while out there, but I was still hurting. I stayed in that game. And then I lost my next two decisions. Billy and Art are convinced the strike hurt us, and I agree. I was naive enough to think that by resting my arm during the strike, the pain would stop. It didn't. I found I could pitch with 10 days off, but not very well with less than that. I missed turns the rest of '81. In '82 we had a rainy spring and too many people in camp. None of us got enough work. I never went more than four innings all spring. The strike and the short spring were devastating.