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It’s tough to make it to the major leagues and it’s even tougher to stay there. It takes a not-insignificant amount of natural physical ability, a lot of hard work, and plenty of self-confidence to get there and stay there. It’s a battle that plays out every day through competition from the amateur level through the minor leagues and at the major league level. It’s even tougher for some who have an additional opponent they have to conquer along the way. That’s the purpose of this post – to briefly tell the stories of a few of those who had an additional obstacle on their way to the majors. I think I’ll proceed in chronological order.
Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown
Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown was born on October 19, 1876, to Jane and Peter Brown in the small town of Nyesville, IN. Nyesville was located in farming and coal mining country not too far north of Terre Haute. He had seven brothers and sisters, including a brother John who also played professional baseball, although he did not make it to the majors.
At the age of seven, young Mort, as he was called, got his right hand caught in a corn shredder at his uncle’s ranch. As a result, his index finger required amputation below the first knuckle but that was not the end of his troubles with his right hand. Several weeks later he fell while running and broke the other fingers in his right hand. They did not heal properly and he was left with a bent middle finger and a paralyzed little finger in addition to what was left of his index finger. This is how he came by the nickname he is most well known to history as “Three Finger”. It’s a bit of a misnomer as he actually had four and a half digits on his right hand.
The young boy loved baseball and so he had to learn how throw and bat with his deformity. He went to school through about eighth grade after which he began to work to help with the family income. He worked in a number of jobs in and around Nyesville including spending a couple of years working at a local mine which would earn him his second nickname, Miner, when his baseball career eventually took off. In addition to his work, he played baseball in local semi-pro leagues dividing his playing between third base and pitcher. He was one of the better players in the area, but he did not get an opportunity to play organized professional baseball until 1901 when he pitched for the Terre Haute Hottentots of the Three-I League. He pitched well there winning 25 games to help them win the league championship. This earned him a promotion to the Omaha team in the Western League (a much higher classification) where he won 27 games and whence the National League St Louis Cardinals noticed him and brought him to the majors in 1903.
He held his own with the Cardinals and after the season was traded to the Chicago Cubs. This was fortuitous for Brown as he went from the worst team in the league to one of the best. He won 18 games for the Cubs in 1905 and after that, he improved to be one of the top two pitchers in the league along with Christy Mathewson of the Giants. He had a streak of six straight 20-win seasons as the Cubs won more games than anyone in baseball over that span including four NL pennants (1906-08, 10), two World Series (1907-08), and the still best single-season winning percentage of the “modern” (post-1900) era of 116-36 .763 in 1906. Here are his statistics over that span;
1906 – 26-6 1.04 ERA
1907 – 20-6 1.39 ERA
1908 – 29-9 1.47 ERA
1909 – 27-9 1.31 ERA
1910 – 25-14 1.86 ERA
1911 – 21-11 2.80 ERA
This was the peak of his career. After this, he began to fade. He was traded to Cincinnati after the 1912 season, joined the upstart Federal League for a sizeable contract where he had one last good season in 1915. He played his last game in the majors as a 39-year old in 1916 then went back down to the minors before retiring from baseball for good at age 43 in 1920 after serving as a player-manager for Terre Haute in the Three-I League where he’d started his career.
I’ve gone this far without explaining why he was such a good pitcher. And that reason is that he had by acclamation the best curveball of his generation. It broke harder and dropped lower than anyone else’s of the time. When he was on it was an almost unhittable pitch. And his deformed right hand played a big role in developing that curveball. With his hand, he really couldn’t throw a straight ball. When he had played in the field he had to adjust for this when throwing across the diamond. However, when pitching he took advantage of this fact and worked to maximize the breaking effect of his ball. He discussed this in the July 1911 issue of Baseball Magazine;
I think my best ball is the curve the fellows call the ‘hook.’ I pitch it over-handed with a half-round arm motion, starting slowly and finishing with a fast snap with the hand and wrist bent. My next best ball is a speedy one. I always make the ball twist, no matter what I pitch. My first ball I let off the third finger on the side, but near the tip, with the stub of the little finger pressed hard under the ball. I have a twisting slow ball, and a sidearm curve, also a fast underhand ball.
I mentioned he had a bit of a friendly rivalry with Christy Mathewson. In fact, when these two faced off it was always highly anticipated because, in addition to being the top two pitchers in the league, their teams, the Cubs and the Giants along with the Pirates were always at the top of the standings. In fact, one of those three teams won the NL pennant every year from 1901-1913. Overall, Brown had a slight edge against Matty in their matchups, winning 13 times and losing 11 times. For his career, Brown finished with a won-lost record of 239-129 and an ERA of 2.06, the third-best of all time. Of course, he played during the dead-ball era when runs were at a premium. But even adjusting for that his career ERA+ of 138 indicates that his career earned run average was 38% better than the average pitcher of his time.
After his playing career, Brown owned and operated a Texaco Gas Station in Terre Haute with Sarah, his wife of 45 years, until his death in 1948. The following year, an Old Timers Committee elected him to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Tony Lazzeri, a Hall of Famer, is probably most well known for a strikeout he made. That strikeout occurred in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series with the bases loaded and two outs with his team trailing by one run. Pete Alexander, who had pitched a complete game victory over the Yankees the day before, came on in relief to strikeout Lazzeri and then to hold the Yanks scoreless for the final two innings and win the Series. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that as a young boy that’s the first thing I ever learned about Lazzeri.
Tony Lazzeri was born to Italian-immigrant parents, Julia and Augie on December 6, 1903, in San Francisco. As a boy, Tony loved boxing and baseball and had almost no interest in school. He played sandlot baseball and boxed at the local Police Athletic League. Sometime in childhood, he developed epilepsy. He suffered grand mal seizures. I don’t know what type of medication(s) he may have taken. Phenobarbital, which was discovered in 1912, is, as far as I know, the only anti-convulsion medication that would have been available at the time. Despite this, he continued the ball-playing and the boxing (just as a side note – I doubt boxing and epilepsy is a good combination).
At age 15, Tony either dropped out of or was expelled from school. He immediately went to work with his father who was a boilermaker at the Maine Iron Works. He started out as a helper on a rivet crew. He joined the local union and was working toward becoming a journeyman boilermaker like his dad. He still played baseball, however, now in local semi-pro and industrial leagues, where, in 1922, the 18-year was called to the attention of the manager of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Salt Lake City Bees, Duffy Lewis who signed him to a contract for $250 per month. Lewis sent him down to the lower minors for seasoning and Lazzeri, who was mainly playing shortstop at the time, played his way back up to Salt Lake City, and in 1925 he set a then-professional baseball record in hitting 60 home runs for the Bees. His season was impressive overall – he hit .355 with 52 doubles, 14 triples, and 222 RBI to go along with those 60 HRs in a 197-game season. This got the attention of major league scouts; however, the scouts and baseball owners were also aware of and worried about his epilepsy. Yankees owner Ed Barrow got Lazzeri’s insurance company to issue a policy to cover the condition and was also satisfied that Lazzeri had never had a “fit” as it was called then while playing baseball. And, in fact, Lazzeri never would have a seizure while playing for his entire career.
Upon joining the Yankees, Lazzeri switched over to second base where he would play the majority of his games. He would never hit
close to sixty homers in the majors, although his teammate Ruth would just a year later. In fact, his major career high in HR is only 18, which he did four times. Still, he was a very good all-around player – hitting as high as .354, driving in 100 runs seven times, stealing as many as 22 bases, and finishing as high as third in the MVP vote (1928). In addition, he was a solid defensive second baseman and he helped the Yankees to six American League pennants and five World Championships. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1938 and retired at age 35 in 1939. Overall, he hit .292 with 178 HR and 1194 RBI.
After his playing career, he managed in the minor leagues for a few seasons. He died young, at age 42, when he had a seizure while climbing the stairs in his home falling and breaking his neck and dying as a result. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1991. His wife and son were still alive to celebrate the occasion.
There’s one last thing I want to mention about Lazzeri. Although baseball executives and his teammates knew about his medical issue, I don’t think the average fan of the day would have. Lazzeri never talked publicly about the issue and the press ,whether they were aware of the situation or not, never discussed it either as best I can tell.
Leland V. Brissie Jr. was born on June 5, 1924, in Anderson, SC. His father owned and ran a motorcycle repair shop later heading the maintenance department at the Riegel Textile Corporation. Lou grew to be a big man – 6′-4″ 215 lbs. according to Baseball Reference. By the time he was 14 he was pitching and playing first base for the Reigel “B” team and within a year or so he had made it to the main Riegel team. And, even though his high school had no baseball team, his play for the Riegel team brought him to the attention of major league scouts.
He got some big offers, including a $25,000 bonus from the Dodgers. However, he wanted to go to college first and he was aware that Connie Mack, the owner and manager of the Philadelphia A’s, had a history of working with players who wanted to pursue a college education. Accompanied by Presbyterian College coach Chick Galloway, a former major league player for the A’s, he worked out for Mr. Mack in Philadelphia and signed a contract with the A’s a day or two after his high school graduation in 1941. The contract called for Brissie to attend and play baseball at Presbyterian for three years with Mack footing his tuition, after which he would report to the A’s for assignment. This plan got waylaid by World War II. Brissie attended college and pitched for the baseball team during the 1942 season but enlisted in the Army shortly after turning 18.
In the summer of 1944, Brissie headed overseas as a corporal with the 88th Infantry Division. He saw heavy combat in the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy and suffered serious injuries during a German artillery barrage on December 7, 1944, the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor when a shell exploded at his feet. The tibia and shinbone of his left leg were shattered into 30 pieces, his left ankle was broken as was his right foot. Sent back to a field hospital, he pleaded with the surgeons there not to amputate his leg – he needed his leg to resume his baseball career. He got sent to several field hospitals eventually encountering military surgeon Wilbur Brubaker at an Army hospital in Naples. Dr. Brubaker thought he could both save the corporal’s life and his leg. Brissie and Dr. Brubaker would become lifelong friends. After his first surgery, Brissie was apparently the first soldier in the European Theater to receive penicillin to prevent infection. All together, Brissie would go through 23 major surgeries and 40 blood transfusions over the next two years and he had a left leg held together with metal plates and wire and one inch shorter than his other leg.
Mack, who had kept in touch with Brissie during his rehabilitation, was as good as his word signing Brissie to a minor league contract for the 1947 season. The left-handed Brissie shone for Savannah in the Class A Southern Atlantic League going 23-5 with league-leading marks in strikeouts (278) and ERA (1.91) earning him a promotion to the big club and a start at Yankees Stadium on the final day of the 1947 season. He gave up 5 runs in seven innings to the AL Champ Bronx Bombers but he was thrilled to be in the big leagues. In 1948, he was in the majors from opening day on and he would be in the starting rotation for the next three years with the A’s. He was traded in a 3-team, 7-player trade to the Cleveland Indians during the 1951 season. He mainly pitched out of the bullpen for the Indians retiring after the 1953 season at age 29. For his career, he ended up with a 44-48 record and a 4.07 ERA. The highlight of his career was probably pitching three innings in the 1949 All Star Game.
After his playing career, Brissie became commissioner of the American Legion Baseball Program for close to a decade. After this, he worked in public relations for a variety of private employers. His war injuries caused him considerable problems all of his life. He experienced near-constant pain, made regular visits (every several months) to the local VA Hospital for treatments, and eventually had to rely on crutches to get around. Brissie passed away on November 25, 2013, at age 89 survived by his second wife (he was a widower his first wife having passed away in 1967) and his six children.
Below is a nine-minute video of Mr. Brissie describing his was injuries at a 2008 American Veterans Center event.
It’s possible that Gray is more famous than even the Hall of Famers I have discussed in this post. Even people who cared not a whit about sports knew about his playing in the majors in the wartime baseball of 1945 as a one-armed outfielder. It was a major story at the time.
Pete Gray was born as Peter J. Wyshner on March 6, 1915, to Lithuanian immigrants Antoinette and Peter Wyshner in the coal mining country around Scranton, PA. He was the youngest of the couple’s five children. His father was a coal miner and the family was quite poor. The children went to school through about eighth grade and then went to work to bring some additional income into the household. For Pete, this meant he went to work as a waterboy at the local mine at the age of 13.
The event that would shape Gray’s life occurred long before he began to work. When he was six he fell off of the running board of a truck he had hopped on and got his right arm caught up in the spokes of a wheel. His arm was so mangled that it had to be amputated. Despite the lost limb, Gray fell in love with baseball. He practiced for hours with first a stick and rocks to learn to hit and later, with a bat and glove. He spent many hours practicing how to transfer the ball from his glove to his hand and came up with the following method:
I’d catch the ball in my glove and stick it under the stub of my right arm. Then I’d squeeze the ball out of my glove with my arm and it would roll across my chest and drop to my stomach. The ball would drop right into my hand and my small, crooked finger prevented it from bouncing away.
Later, he figured out a better method. He removed most of the padding from his glove and wore it with his little finger extended outside the glove and he was thus able to catch the ball and get it to his throwing hand in one swift motion.
Around the age of 17, he played in the local semi-pro leagues. He was a good player and within a year or so he was more often than not the best player on the field. Because of his missing arm, he played the outfield (usually center field). He was a good hitter (he engaged in a weight training program for years so his left arm could swing a heavy 38 oz bat with ease) and a very fast runner. Within a couple of years, he felt the need to play at a higher level and he moved on to better leagues and better teams – playing for a semi-pro team in Brooklyn eventually for $350 per month). He also attempted to get into official professional baseball contacting minor league managers over the years but with little success.
After Pearl Harbor, he attempted to enlist in the service but was rejected because of the missing limb. However, the war depleted the ranks of players in baseball in both the majors and the minors and so he was finally able to play in organized professional baseball in 1942. In 1942, he played in a low-level league, the Canadian-American League, and did well hitting .381 in 42 games. This earned him a promotion to Memphis in the Southern Association for the 1943 season. He played well at this higher level hitting .289 in 1943 and bumping that up to .333 with 68 stolen bases in 1944, and in a portent of what was to come, became a minor national figure going on USO tours during the off-season and being awarded various “courage” awards for overcoming his handicap.
The St. Louis Browns, fresh off their first AL pennant, purchased Gray’s contract for $20,000 and Gray was told he’d have a chance to start in 1945. He did play opening day getting one hit in four at-bats and was in the starting lineup for the team’s first eight games but he struggled and so was benched for a week or so. After this, he generally filled the role of fourth outfielder starting now and then and pinch-hitting. For the season he played in 77 games and hit .218 with no power. As mentioned earlier, his playing in the majors was a major story during the year.
After 1945, the war was over and Gray was optioned to the minors playing for their top minor league team – the Toledo Mud Hens. He hit .250. He slipped back down to the lower minors, playing his last professional game in 1949 and returning to play semi-pro baseball until sometime in the mid-1950s.
After baseball, he struggled. Except for a few years when he owned and operated a pool hall back in his hometown, he had a hard time keeping a job and drank too much. He never married although he did take of an older brother who had health problems. He lived the last few years of his life in a Pennsylvania nursing home passing away at the age of 87 on June 30, 2002.
Below is one-minute newsreel of his play with the St Louis Browns in 1945.
Ronald Edward Santo was born on February 25, 1940, in Seattle. His parents divorced when he was young but when his mother remarried several years later he gained a stepfather who, by Santo’s admission, had a very positive influence in his life. He lived close to Sicks Stadium, the home of the Pacific Coast League Seattle Rainers, and when he got old enough he worked there during the summer as a clubhouse attendant, press box boy, or you-name-it.
Santo was a three-sport star in high school – football, basketball and baseball. He made the varsity baseball team as a freshman, came to the attention of major league scouts as a sophomore, and was named to the Hearst All Stars as a senior catcher thereby earning a trip to New York City. He also got some bad news during his senior year. He was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and told he should not expect to live much longer than the age of 40. He would keep this information to himself until late in his playing career.
The highly recruited Santo signed with the Chicago Cubs for $20,000, much less than was being offered by others (he reportedly turned down an offer of $80,000 by the Indians) because he thought he could make it to the big leagues quicker with the Cubs than with anyone else. And, he was right. He spent a year and a half in the minors getting called up to the Cubs midway through the 1960 season and slotted into third base. He hit only .251 with only 9 home runs, but he had established himself as a big leaguer. It was a big year for Santo. In addition to getting to the majors, he married his high school sweetheart. The couple would have three children.
After an off-season in 1962, he had a breakout season in 1963 hitting .297 with 25 HR 99 RBI getting selected to the first of his career nine All Star Games and finishing 8th in the NL MVP balloting. For the next decade or so he would play at an All Star level. He had a very solid peak from 1964-1967 when he averaged 160 games, 96 runs, 177 hits, 31 HR, 102 RBI, 91 walks, .302/.395/.531 156 OPS+ 8.8 WAR and 34 Win Shares. In addition to his offensive prowess, Santo was also a very good defensive third baseman winning five Gold Gloves. The more recent advanced defensive metrics agree with the assessment of those Gold Glove voters regarding Santo.
Santo, despite his diabetes, was a very durable player. From 1961-1971, he missed only 27 of the Cubs 1774 scheduled games. With his diabetes, He was fortunate in playing his home games at Wrigley Field before lights were installed with only day games on the schedule. This allowed him to keep a more regular schedule and control of his diet than if the Cubs played both day and night games at home.
In August 1971, the Cubs held a day in Santo’s honor at Wrigley Field. At the event, Santo announced his previous secret about diabetes. From this date forward, Santo was an enthusiastic supporter of and fundraiser for juvenile diabetes research.
Santo was traded to the crosstown White Sox in 1974. Inexplicably, the White Sox played him at second base. He had a poor year and retired after the season despite having another year (and about $100,000) left on his contract. His final numbers included a .277/.362/.464 slash line with 342 home runs and 1331 RBI. After his playing career, he spent about 20 years broadcasting Cubs ballgames. He was elected to the Hall of Fame via a Veteran’s Committee in 2012, two years after his 2010 passing.
Below is a short video celebration of his playing career prepared by the Hall of Fame.
Jim Abbott defied the predictions of naysayers and skeptics throughout his athletic career and in the process inspired millions who were battling their own physical disabilities.
James Anthony Abbott was born on September 19, 1967, in Flint, MI, to Kathy and Mike Abbott. He was a healthy baby but he was born without his right hand. His parents encouraged him to play a sport like soccer where he would not be at a disadvantage because of his missing hand. That didn’t take, though. He loved baseball and practiced at it every chance he could.
One drill he did religiously for years was to throw a rubber ball against a wall and catch it with his glove. With only one hand this meant he had to throw the ball while his glove was positioned somehow on his right arm and immediately put his left hand into the glove and catch the ball on the rebound. When he could make the throw and catch consistently at a certain distance, he’d move in a little closer and do the exercise at the new shorter distance. From this, he figured out the best way to position his glove on his right arm to be able to quickly make the transition and also constantly improved his reflexes and hand-eye coordination.
He played in youth baseball from Little League on as a pitcher and was successful at every level. In high school, he was the punter on the football team and the star pitcher on the baseball team. He also played outfield and was a surprisingly good hitter – hitting over .400 as a senior.
He earned a baseball scholarship to the local college, the University of Michigan, and performed well from the beginning. He went 6-2 as a freshman; as a sophomore, he went 11-3, helped his team to the Big 10 Conference title, and pitched a shutout in the NCAA tournament; and as a junior, he was named Big 10 Conference Player of the Year. While in college, he made the USA National Team (comprised of only amateurs), pitched the team to the Silver Medal in the 1987 Pan Am Games, and pitched and won the Gold Medal Game 5-3 over Japan in the 1988 Olympics.
At the end of his junior year, Abbott made himself eligible for the 1988 MLB Draft and was drafted eighth overall by the California Angels. Abbott had been a national story since the start of his college career, but the level of interest now that he was in professional ball expanded geometrically. Once again, people questioned whether the level of competition would finally catch up to Abbott and his handicap. Abbott handled the intense media attention with grace and poise. Most thought he’d be sent down to the minors. That did not happen. The Angels kept him with the major league club when they broke camp.
He would make his professional debut at the major league level. He was inserted into the starting rotation and made his first start in the Angels’ fifth game of the season. He lost his first two starts before winning in his third outing. For the season, he started 29 games, pitched 181 innings, and went 12-12 with a 3.92 ERA. He had established himself as a decent major league starting pitcher. He had his best year in 1991 going 18-11 with a 2.89 ERA in 243 innings for the Angels finishing fourth in the league in both wins and ERA, second among pitchers in the league in WAR (a stat which did not yet exist), and placing third in the Cy Young voting. He had a slightly better ERA the following year (2.77) but with a losing record (7-15).
After the 1992 season, the Angels traded Abbott to the Yankees for their top prospect, first baseman J. T. Snow, and pitcher Russ Springer. He had a 20-22 record for the Yankees over his time there but had one big moment when he pitched a no-hitter against the Indians at Yankee Stadium on September 4, 1993, in a 4-0 victory. He eventually found himself back with the Angels in 1995 but had a nightmarish season in 1996 winning only two games against a league-leading 18 losses with a stratospheric 7.48 ERA. The Angels released him after the season and he sat out the 1997 season. He made a comeback attempt with the Chicago White Sox in 1998 going down to the minor leagues for the first time and working his way from the low minors up to the high minors eventually making it back up to the majors long enough to compile a 5-0, 4.55 ERA. He retired after a 2-8, 6.91 ERA for Milwaukee in 1999.
Overall, Abbott played in the majors for 10 years, pitched in 263 games with a won-loss record of 87-108 and an ERA of 4.25. Not too bad for a guy missing a hand.
After his playing career Abbott, who is married with two children, has kept himself busy as a motivational speaker.
James Michael Eisenreich was born to Ann and Cliff Eisenreich on April 18, 1959, in St. Cloud, MN, the third of their five children. Around the age of seven or eight, he began to display some strange behavior. At times his face would jerk or twitch or he would constantly clear his throat. This behavior continued throughout his childhood at about the same level of intensity and frequency. The general consensus throughout his childhood was that he was just hyperactive and he would eventually outgrow these behaviors. Kids being kids, he was teased by them for this behavior.
Jim loved baseball and played in youth leagues every year. In high school, the left-hander starred on the varsity team. He stayed in the area for college, attending and playing baseball at St. Cloud State University. He made All-Conference as a center fielder in both in sophomore and junior seasons. He wasn’t considered a major league prospect, but a teammate, shortstop Bob Hegman was. When the scouts came to check out Hegman, Eisenreich got on their radar and was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round of the 1980 MLB draft.
Before continuing, I want to take a little detour regarding Eisenreich’s college teammate Bob Hegman. Hegman had the exact same major league career as Moonlight Graham, whose major league career of one game played but no at-bats was a backstory to the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. Like Graham, Hegman played in one game but had no plate appearances. He came in as a defensive replacement at second base in the ninth inning of a game and did not get a chance to bat. It turned out to be his only major league game.
Getting back to Eisenreich…The Twins sent him to Rookie ball in the Appalachian League for the 1980 season. He did well there, hitting .298 and moving up to Class A ball with the Wisconsin Rapids for 1981. He had an even better year hitting .311 with 23 HR 99 RBI. In 1982, 23-year-old Eisenreich made it to the big club. This was a bit surprising because, although he’d played well in the minors, he hadn’t played above A ball and he hadn’t been a No. 1 pick. On opening day, he was in the Twins starting lineup, hitting leadoff, and playing center field. He was playing well keeping his batting average right around .300 through the first month of the season. However, in early May the problems started. He started games but then suddenly left them in the early innings complaining of nerves or difficulty breathing. In some instances, his face twitched uncontrollably. The worst situation was that in the middle of one game he all of the sudden started running off the field, tearing at and removing his jersey as he ran into the dugout as he hyperventilated and gasped for air. He spent the night in observation in a local hospital. Tests were run, doctors consulted but no definitive explanation was arrived at. The general consensus was that he suffered from agoraphobia. The problem didn’t go away, however, and in early June, Eisenreich’s season ended and he returned to St. Cloud.
The pattern continued over the next two seasons. He would do well during spring training, but the problems would resurface once the regular season started. Over 1983-84 he would play in only 12 games for the Twins and he voluntarily retired in early June 1984. He returned to St. Cloud working as a house painter and playing semi-pro ball with the St. Cloud Saints. He did this for a couple of years before his old college teammate, Bob Hegman, showed up in St. Cloud in 1986. Hegman was now working for the Kansas City Royals in the front office. He watched Jim mash in semi-pro ball and offered him a chance to attend spring training as a non-roster player for the Royals. Eisenreich decided to give it another go. Eisenreich went to spring training for the Royals, was eventually assigned to their Double A team in Memphis where he raked at a .382/.469/.705 clip in 70 games and earned a promotion back to the big leagues by midseason. It was around this time that Eisenreich first mentioned that he had been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. In one of his first games back in the majors, he won the game with a pinch-hit RBI double in the bottom of the ninth. After the game, he told the media that his goal was to play an entire season without any of the incidents which had plagued him with the Twins. If he was able to do this, he would consider himself “back”. The following season, 1988, was a tough one for Eisenreich. He struggled with the Twins and was sent down to Triple A Omaha.
Starting in the 1989 season and continuing for the next decade, Eisenreich was in the majors to stay as a solid, productive player, some years as a starting outfielder and others as a fourth outfielder. After the 1992 season, he signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies. He played 153 games and hit .318 for the Phils as they won their division and made their way to the World Series where they lost in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays although Eisenreich hit a home run and drove 7 runs in a losing effort. His best season was probably 1996 when he hit .361, but did not have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Signed by the Florida Marlins after the 1996 season, Eisenreich again got a chance to play in the post-season and the Marlins won the World Series in seven games over a heavily favored Atlanta Braves team. Eisenreich went 4-8 in the series with a home run.
The 39-year-old Eisenreich retired after the 1998 season. Eisenreich had defeated his Tourette syndrome and had a real major league career playing 1,422 games, collecting 1160, stealing 105 bases, and batting .290.
In 1996, he and his wife founded the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette Syndrome and he has spent his post-playing career involved with this cause – traveling to tell his story to children, families, and schools and providing research and awareness guides for schools, youth groups and the like.
Below is a short video (1:16) of Mr. Eisenreich discussing being diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.
This post has been about baseball players who were able to overcome a significant physical disability and make it to the major leagues. Feel free to relate a story you might be aware of someone who despite a medical challenge achieved a goal that might seem beyond what that medical handicap (can we still use that word?) would seem to allow. It doesn’t have to be sports-related. It could be an occupation, hobby, or something else.Published in