SI Vault
Steve Wulf
June 29, 1981
With bills to pay and off-field careers to pursue, Dr. George Medich and other striking major-leaguers are toiling beside John Q. Public
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June 29, 1981

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

With bills to pay and off-field careers to pursue, Dr. George Medich and other striking major-leaguers are toiling beside John Q. Public

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Over the years, Medich has had to make certain concessions to both careers, but only in terms of time, not devotion. He certainly didn't have to get up early last Friday to attend the conference; he received no credit toward his residency requirements. Even on the road, Medich will sometimes get himself invited to hospitals to make rounds. Mike Mycoskie says Medich is always quizzing him about the latest developments in orthopedics, even at the ball park.

Medich graduated from med school 2½ years behind his class, but in the meantime he was establishing himself as one of the more reliable starters in baseball. He had everything under control until 1977. Then for the first time in his career he had arm problems, and he was shunted from Pittsburgh to Oakland to Seattle to the New York Mets. "I felt like a U-Haul trailer, going from town to town," he says. "You can learn a lot about yourself when your elbow blows up and you're a free agent." After the '77 season, Medich signed with the Rangers, whose president happened to be Bobby Brown, the cardiologist who once played third base for the New York Yankees. Unlike Dr. Medich, however, Dr. Brown had quit baseball when he started his residency. The main reason Medich signed with Texas was the Rangers' offer: a four-year, $1 million contract that calls for another four years at $50,000 per as a medical consultant.

Medich has been a steady, if unspectacular, performer for the Rangers. Last year he was the best starter on the staff, with a club-high 14 wins, and enjoyed his finest season since 1974, when he went 19-15 with the Yankees. This year he is 5-3 and second in the league in shutouts with two. Overall, he has a career record of 107-88. Originally, he planned to pitch in the majors for only five years. "But after five, I was still having fun, and I still am," he says.

If he continues to play baseball, he has a long way to go to become a full-fledged physician. Completing the last three years of his residency will take him another five winters. Last winter he was at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh. Every day he was up at 5 a.m. and home at 7 p.m.; every fourth day he was on call all night. (Baseball is more humane: As a pitcher, Medich works every fifth day.) "My daughter, Kelly, must think she has a very strange daddy," Medich once said. "In the summer she sees me on television, and in the winter I go away at crazy hours and wear a white coat."

Mike Mycoskie remembers reading about Medich before he came to the Rangers. "I wondered how anybody could possibly do both," he says. "But after meeting him and talking to him, I could see how he could handle it. In baseball and medicine, you need perseverance and concentration. Fortunately, doctors have a lot more control over their destiny than pitchers. We don't have to worry about the infielders behind us."

Medich resists all attempts to mix baseball and medical lingo, which is perfectly understandable if you consider how many times he's had to read and hear: "Doc Medich throws aspirin tablets." When applied to Medich, however, the word "save" does have special meaning. Three seasons ago, he saved the life of a heart attack victim in the stands by applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Eventually, Medich would like to contribute to sports medicine. Although that sounds like a natural, he would be one of the few pro athletes to enter the field. "The arm is still a mysterious thing," he says. "They say Little Leaguers should never throw a curve, but I've been throwing one since I was 10. There are some pitchers who sleep in long sleeves and never sit next to an open window. I think that's bordering on the neurotic. Nobody has the answers yet." To that end, Medich is working with a North Texas State biomechanist, Dr. Don McIntyre, on a slow-motion film showing a pitcher's arm as the ball is thrown. They hope to pinpoint the biomechanical stress put on each joint. "I may have a lot of time to work on that this summer," says Medich.

While Grebey Ball is being played, Medich will continue to work out with his teammates, although some of the players, fearful of a financial pinch, have already scattered. Ideally, Medich would like to pitch a simulated game every fifth day, but he might not be able to find a catcher witting to catch 15 pitches, wait 10 minutes, catch 15 pitches, and so on, for two hours.

After practice on Friday, Medich headed for a nearby Dairy Queen. Between bites of his chili dog and sips of his shake—he's an orthopedist, not a nutritionist—Medich talked about the strike. The only person in the world who's a member of both the Major League Players Association and the American Medical Association had no sympathy for the owners. "They wanted this to happen," he said. "They're the ones who have to show some movement. They're the ones who are responsible for the continuity of the game." A customer in the Dairy Queen, unaware that there was a pitcher, much less a doctor, in the house, started ranting and raving about the damn players, and their damn greed, and damn Dave Winfield and the poor damn fans. Medich listened for a while, and said, "We're the bad guys in this thing, but people just don't understand. I don't want a vacation."

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