Sunday, January 31, 2010

GEORGE "DOC" MEDICH (September 29, 1977)

The New York Mets found themselves in the middle of a public relations nightmare after losing the incredibly popular Tom Seaver in an incredibly unpopular trade during the 1977 season. The ill advised move also created a void in the starting pitching staff and led to the signing of our next one-game Mets player, George "Doc" Medich.

Medich was in the final year of a contract that would have him becoming a free agent for the 1978 campaign. Doc's current team, the Oakland Athletics had offered him a three-year deal worth $340,000 and the right-hander had turned it down. Team owner Charlie Finley angrily first put him in the bullpen and then after failing to find a trade, placed him on waivers. The Seattle Mariners claimed him for $20,000 to gain negotiating rights to sign Medich to a contract extension before he hit the open market as a free agent. George pitched in three games for Seattle and won two of them.

When it quickly became apparent that the extraordinarily cheap Mariners were not going to sign him, they too put Doc on waivers. Hoping to reclaim their $20,000 once another club claimed Medich, even though there was only less than two weeks left in the season. That team would be the Mets who desperately were looking for a positive in a rough season that saw them close to losing 100 games. New York purchased George's contract on September 26, 1977.

September 29, 1977. With five games left on the season schedule, the New York Mets were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates in the final game of a three game set. Newly acquired Doc Medich was given the ball as the starting pitcher for that evening's game at Three Rivers Stadium. It was his hometown park while growing up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania and as a member of the Pirates in 1976. This time Doc was wearing the number "22" on the back of a road grey Mets' uniform.

Pittsburgh's starter, Terry Forster moved through a scoreless first inning and then it was Medich's turn to take the mound. He was rudely greeted by a single to right field from Pirates' lead-off hitter Frank Taveras. The veteran pitcher was able to produce a ground ball off the bat of Omar Moreno to erase Taveras at second base, and record the first out. Only temporarily skirting damage because a speedy Moreno promptly stole second base and scored the first run standing from a single to left field by Phil Garner. Seems Doc would not be pitching with the lead in his Mets' debut. He would limit it to an early 1-0 Pirates lead when Garner was caught stealing and Mike Easler grounded out to third base to end the inning.

Both pitchers seemed to be settling into grooves when they tossed scoreless second and third innings. It was the Mets that ended that streak and struck for a run in the top of the fourth. Lenny Randle led off the inning stroking a drive to right field that fell in for a triple. New York center fielder, Lee Mazzilli followed and hit a ball to third base on which Randle was cut down at the plate while trying to score. The next hitter, Steve Henderson finally put the Mets on the scoreboard with a hit to center that drove in Mazzilli and evened the score at 1-1.

Medich took the mound in the bottom half of the fourth and could not preserve the tie he was given. Doc walked Omar Moreno the first batter of the inning. Once again Moreno stole second base, and easily scored on a booming triple off the bat of Phil Garner. The Pirates expanded the lead to 3-1 when Mike Easler delivered a sacrifice fly to plate Garner. All the damage necessary had been done by the same part of the Pittsburgh batting order. When Medich struck out Dale Berra to preserve the score and finish the seventh inning it would be his last pitch in a Mets' uniform. Doc was lifted in the top of the eighth inning in favor of pinch-hitter Pepe Mangual.

New York would lose the game by a final score of 5-2 in what was the only start of George Medich's career there. The Mets could not negotiate an extension with the pitcher and he signed a free agent contract with the Texas Rangers on November 10, 1977.

In 1980, Dr. George Medich began a five-year residency in orthopedics at Fort Worth Children's Hospital while still pitching for the Texas Rangers. "Everybody told me how it couldn't be done," said Medich, "but they had blinders on. It seems like I was the only one that knew it could be done." He entered a program for dependancy of drugs he improperly prescribed for himself in November of 1983. George was later sentenced to nine years probation after pleading guilty to illegally possessing painkillers on March 07, 2001. His attorney sadly shared that Medich had struggled with drug addiction for years originating from injuries during his time in Major League Baseball.

George Medich signed this baseball and card for me from an autograph request sent to his home address on January 24, 2008.


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