Pitcher-Centric Medicine

  • by: |
  • 11/12/2007
Advising policy-makers, taking on pundits, and fighting the good fight for patient-centric medicine is one thing -- getting quoted in Sports Illustrated is something else. Here's story that talks about how one-time Yankee great Mel Stottlemyre has had his life returned to him because of the miracles of modern medicine.

'Strong as a horse'
Treatment allows Stottlemyre to return to baseball

SEATTLE (AP) -- Mel Stottlemyre was getting his white blood cells counted for yet another month. Unsolicited, his doctor said he could go back to full-time work again, back to the ballpark routine he had followed just about every summer for 41 years.

Then came another unexpected offer.

Stottlemyre returned to the major leagues this week as the pitching coach of the Seattle Mariners, accepting the first of what he hopes is a series of one-year contracts. It's the only job that could get him back into a dugout.

"I certainly hope it lasts for more than one year," Stottlemyre said. "Whatever happens, at my age and certainly with my health issue, I'm excited for the opportunity."

The 65-year-old former pitching coach for the Yankees and Mets got cleared to return to the bigs during a visit to his Seattle-area doctor this summer. Just as she had each month for years, the doctor told Stottlemyre his blood-cell count would allow him resume the three-weeks on, one-week off pill cycle he takes to combat multiple myeloma.

But this time, she surprised the old right-hander-turned-fisherman.

"You have no restrictions to go back to work full time, if you want," she told him a few months ago.

"I wasn't even looking for that," Stottlemyre said Monday night.

The former five-time All-Star with the Yankees left them in 2005, after 10 seasons and four World Series titles as New York's pitching coach. He said he was tired of criticism from owner George Steinbrenner. Raised in Mabton, Wash., he returned to his home in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah and interviewed that fall to become manager Mike Hargrove's pitching coach with the Mariners. Hargrove chose relatively inexperienced Rafael Chaves instead.

Stottlemyre dabbled in spring training and instructional league work with the Arizona Diamondbacks last year. He golfed, fished and helped his son Todd, one of two sons who also pitched in the majors, begin his new career as a financial adviser.

One of the first clients he lined up for Todd was John McLaren, the Mariners bench coach who became manager when Hargrove abruptly resigned July 1.

The dividends from that arrangement arrived this month. McLaren called to ask Stottlemyre to replace Chaves, after Seattle's starters had a 5.12 ERA this past season -- 12th in the AL. They were the main reason for the remarkable September collapse that doomed Seattle's unlikely contention for a playof spo.

"Mel was my No. 1 choice," McLaren said. "His reputation speaks for itself."

Stottlemyre was content fishing and golfing.

"I wasn't really anxious to get back into the game -- until the Seattle job came open," Stottlemyre said. "I've always wondered what it would be like to be in baseball but still be able to come home every day."

McLaren had been golfing with Stottlemyre over the last year and noticed that his friend's health was not an issue.

"I sure wouldn't want to mess with Mel. He's strong as a horse," McLaren said.

Stottlemye credits the cancer drug lenalidomide, marketed under the brand name Revlimid, for repelling his disease. Revlimid isn't for everyone. Its retail price can reach $6,400 a month, according to the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

"It's very expensive, but it's very effective," Stottlemyre said. "With the type of cancer I've had it's something where they never use the word 'cure.' Right now, it's not curable. It's treatable.

"I'm doing absolutely super. I have no signs of the disease. I wouldn't call it a 'remission' so much as I would say that I'm on a tremendous maintenance program."

Stottlemyre will have a far different pitching staff than the one he enjoyed with the Yankees. Instead of tutoring the likes of Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, he'll be demanding that Seattle's 21-year-old ace Felix Hernandez plus veteran holdovers Jarro Washburn and Miguel Batista pitch inside more -- something Stottlemyre focuses on. He also will advise McLaren and general manager Bill Bavasi as they seek another veteran starter this winter.

"At first glance, I see a very challenging job," Stottlemyre said of his new group of pitchers. "I hope that I have something to add to each that will help each one."

Talk about personalized!

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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