Monday, July 21, 2014

Card #78: George "Doc" Medich

Who Can It Be Now?
George Francis Medich was born on December 9, 1948, in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.  To say that "Doc" had an interesting career and full life would be an understatement.  He grew up in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and was a star in basketball, baseball, and football at Hopewell High School.  

He was not drafted out of high school for baseball, so he took his multi-sport talents to the University of Pittsburgh in 1967.  While his bio at only picked up his 1968 season, his Beaver County Sports Hall of Fame biography notes that Doc served as the football team's punter and starting tight end/end for three seasons.  On top of those responsibilities, the 6'5", 225-pound Medich was also the Panthers best starting pitcher. Those pitching talents are what led the New York Yankees to take a late round flyer on him in the 1970 June Draft's 30th Round.

After Medich signed with the Yankees, he was assigned first to low-A Oneonta in the New York-Penn League.  He overmatched the youngsters there and was pushed up to Manchester in the Eastern League.  The more advanced Double-A hitters beat him up, so the Yankees assigned him back to Single-A Kinston in the Carolina League in 1971.  Medich dominated Single-A hitters in 1971, so the Yankees moved him to Double-A West Haven in 1972.  The complicating factor for Medich's development as a pitcher, of course, was that he probably was pitching during his summer breaks from medical school.   

Nonetheless, his 1972 season earned him a cup of coffee with the Yankees in 1972 -- a very forgettable game for Medich.  He started the game and was staked to a five-run lead in the top of the first inning.  He faced four hitters, walking two and giving up two hits, and exited the game in favor of Wade Blasingame without recording an out.  In the end, Lindy McDaniel came in to pitch in the third inning and ended up recording the victory for the Yankees. Despite that appearance occurring on September 5, Medich did not make another appearance for Ralph Houk's Yankees.

Regardless of the inauspicious debut, Medich never again pitched in the minor leagues.  He racked up his first career victory for the Yankees in 1973 against the Milwaukee Brewers, and he ended up staying in New York for three full seasons and rolled up a 49-40 record with a 3.40 ERA -- 7% better than the league average.  He kept his walks and hits allowed low as well.  But, as George Steinbrenner and his cavalcade of General Managers started trying to win now every year, Medich was pushed aside.  To be fair, the haul that the Yankees got after the 1975 season -- Ken Brett, Dock Ellis, and Willie Randolph -- was nearly a "Godfather" trade that the Yankees could not refuse.  

Being in Pittsburgh allowed Medich to complete the classroom portion of his medical degree by January of 1977.  On the field, though, his 1976 season in Pittsburgh was not a great one, as he finished with an 8-11 record and 3.52 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 179 innings pitched.  I mean, it wasn't terrible, but with the number and quality of players that the Pirates gave up for him, it appears that the franchise was expecting a number one starter and what they got was about a solid 4th and a guy who lost his spot in the rotation by season's end.  

Perhaps as a result, the Pirates traded Medich -- this time to Oakland -- along with Tony Armas, Doug Bair, Dave Giusti, Rick Langford, and Mitchell Page for Chris Batton, Tommy Helms, and Phil Garner. To say that Doc was not very happy with this trade is an understatement.  At first, Medich refused to report to Oakland because he had set up his medical internships with an eye toward his licensure.  He spoke to Oakland owner Charlie Finley about the issue and reiterated his request to be closer to Pittsburgh; Finley promised to try to trade him to a team closer to Pittsburgh.

Medich spent nearly the whole year in Oakland and did not do himself any favors in terms of getting traded to a locale closer to Pittsburgh.  His year in Oakland was not a good one -- his walks and homers allowed went up, as did his ERA, though he finished with a 10-6 record for the A's.  All that did was earn him a chance to start three games for the very first Seattle Mariners team in September of 1977 -- as the Mariners picked up Medich's contract off waivers from Oakland. Medich had refused to sign a contract extension, so the Mariners claimed him in an effort to sign him themselves.  Why they would think that Seattle would be a better place than Oakland for a guy trying to get closer to Pittsburgh is beyond my comprehension, but that's what Seattle did.

Medich spent three games in Seattle before the Mariners -- realizing that Medich would not sign with them and, therefore, would be a free agent after the season (and in an effort not to lose their entire waiver fee) -- put him on waivers themselves.  The New York Mets then claimed him off waivers and put him on the mound for one 7-inning, 3 run start at the end of September.  

Now, I don't know if the Mets tried to sign Medich or if he refused to sign with them, but Medich ended up being a free agent after the 1977 season.  But 9 days after he was "granted" free agency, he signed a contract with the Texas Rangers paying him $175,000 a year, giving him a $100,000 signing bonus, and paying him an additional $50,000 for his medical schooling.

Medich spent most of five seasons with the Rangers.  He led the team in ERA in 1981 with a 3.08 ERA and, indeed, lead the American League in shutouts with 4, so he got his photo on the Team Checklist card at card #36 as a result.  He won 50 games for the Rangers over those seasons.  

His contract was sold in August of 1982 to the Milwaukee Brewers, who picked him up as pitching help for the pennant race.  The Brewers saw three weeks of Medich and decided that they still needed pitching help (trading at the end of August for Don Sutton).  That said, Medich appeared in one game of the 1982 World Series for the Brewers -- the Game 6 debacle -- and, after that, called time on his career as he opted to finish his studies in orthopedic surgery at that point.

Mustache Check: Not that I can see.  And he is distinctly mustache-free on his portrait on the Team Leaders card.

Nanu Nanu
This 1982 Topps card was the last Topps card on which Medich appeared.  His trade took place too late in the season to appear in the Traded set that year, and his retirement was early enough such that Topps decided to leave him out.  Fleer included him, though, ensuring that Brewers fans would never forget his horrendous pitching in 1982.  Since 1983, Medich appeared in a few different sets celebrating his time as a Yankee, and he even appeared in one set as a New York Met -- the "Nobody Beats the Wiz" New York Mets in 1991 series, issued as part of the Mets 30th anniversary celebrations.

Pass the Dutchie
One thing that cannot be ignored with Medich is the fact that his license to practice medicine was suspended in 2002 in Pennsylvania due to his guilty plea to 12 counts of knowingly or intentionally possessing controlled substances.  

His dependence on prescription painkillers has been a lifelong struggle for Medich.  Indeed, in November of 1983, Medich was charged with seven counts of writing prescriptions for nonexistent patients so that he could keep the painkillers for himself. The head of his orthopedic surgery specialization program said that Medich "had this problem and had treatment for it in the past, when he was in baseball, and he was all cured. He's had a relapse and now he is undergoing treatment again."

Trivial Pursuit
Even though his time in Milwaukee was relatively short -- about three months, including the post-season, Medich was involved in two records being set or tied.

First, on August 26, 1982, Doc Medich was the pitcher on the mound at Milwaukee County Stadium when Rickey Henderson stole his 119th stolen base of the 1982 season -- setting a major league record for most stolen bases in a season.  Medich threw over to first 4 times to keep Henderson close and almost picked him off.  As Medich said, "I held him as good as I could hold him. I knew he was going."

Second, Medich's one World Series appearance set a bad record -- he tied the record for most wild pitches in a single World Series inning with 2 in the sixth inning of the Game 6 13-1 shellacking put on the Brewers by the Cardinals.

Finally, Medich was the winning pitcher in the final game held at Yankee Stadium I -- the REAL House that Ruth Built -- on September 29, 1973. Medich threw a 3-0 complete-game shutout against the Tigers in front of just 9,502 people.  That type of crowd for such a momentous occasion would be unheard of in today's game.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
As a fan of the 1982 Brewers, I cringed when Doc Medich took the mound. He pitched so badly in 1982 -- a 5.00+ ERA, which was not equivalent to a 5.00 ERA if it occurred in, say, 2004 -- that I came to expect nothing but pain and heartache when he took the mound.  In the World Series, the Brewers brought him in to try to keep the game -- already a bad game at 7-0 -- from going completely away.  That failed.  It didn't help that the Brewers committed four errors that game (Yount and Gantner each with 2), but dear God Doc, keep the ball where the catcher could catch it.

Frankly, I was hoping for a more uplifting life story for Doc since his baseball career ended. I appreciated the fact -- even in 1982 -- that being a medical student and a professional athlete at the could not be an easy task. As a good student with athletic designs myself, I wanted Doc to be a good player and to have lived a good life.  But his problems with prescription drugs tore him down.

To avoid leaving on a completely dour note akin to listening all day to The Smiths while wearing black and chanting that the only person who understands you is Morrissey, let me leave you with the uplifting stories from Medich's career.  

You see, on several occasions, Medich lent a hand to people suffering from life-threatening medical ailments.  He saved the life of 73-year-old Joseph Corbett of Newport, Delaware, by giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR to the man prior to a game between the Pirates and the Phillies in late April of 1976.  According to this People Magazine story from May 3, 1976, Medich had helped first responders in a game in New York in 1973 and had assisted when Whitey Ford started having trouble breathing during spring training.  

This man later died, however, from this heart attack.  In 1978, though, Medich provided emergency treatment an hour before a game in Baltimore to Germain Languth.  Once again, Medich provided mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and external heart massage.  Indeed, Medich was the only one who responded in this situation when the public address system asked for a doctor.

Though his medical career was curtailed by his own demons, it is safe to say that Medich still gave back to the world through his medical training.

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