Cubs

Clayton Richard takes the long road from surgery to Cubs bullpen

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Clayton Richard takes the long road from surgery to Cubs bullpen

MESA, Ariz. — While advances in sports medicine have turned Tommy John elbow surgery into an almost-routine procedure, pitchers who undergo shoulder surgery have a much worse chance of not only returning to the major leagues, but returning effectively.

BaseballEssential.com counted 27 pitchers who had shoulder surgery from 2010-2013, and only 15 of them returned to the major leagues. Having an operation on one’s shoulder leaves him with just over a 50 percent chance of pitching again at baseball’s highest level. Cubs reliever Clayton Richard is one of the lucky ones. 

The 32-year-old left-hander underwent shoulder surgery in 2013, then had thoracic outlet surgery in 2014. The once-promising pitcher, who was an important piece of the White Sox blockbuster trade for Jake Peavy in 2009, went over two years between appearances in the major leagues. 

The Cubs plucked him from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate to make a spot start last Fourth of July, used him two more times, and designated him for assignment. He cleared waivers, returned from the minor leagues for one more start, then was moved to the bullpen. And soon after, the old Clayton Richard was back — just pitching in a different role.  

“Later on in the season, he was like the Clayton Richard that I faced,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero, who while with the Arizona Diamondbacks faced the ex-San Diego Padres pitcher 19 times, said. “He was throwing it harder than the Clayton Richard I faced, too. The guy worked his butt off to be where he’s at right now again.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

In 18 innings as a reliever last year, Richard had a 3.38 ERA and issued only two walks and one home run. He was both a long reliever and one-out guy, providing manager Joe Maddon with another elastic arm out of the bullpen to help manage the back end of the Cubs’ starting rotation.  

Richard hadn’t worked regularly in relief in six years and admitted the transition from being on an every-five-days schedule to not knowing when he would pitch was difficult at first, but he was more than willing to take on the challenge.

“I knew there was going to be an opportunity to pitch,” Richard said. “That’s all I worried about. And really, at this level, that’s all you can worry about.”  

To rehab from those twin surgeries, Richard went back to his hometown of Lafayette, Ind., where he starred as both a baseball and football player and earned a football scholarship to the University of Michigan. He first made a name for himself off I-65 between Chicago and Indianapolis — this is a guy who was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star pro-style quarterback recruit and was named Indiana’s Mr. Football and Mr. Baseball in 2003, beating out three-star Valparaiso wide receiver and Notre Dame commit Jeff Samardzija. 

While back home, Richard returned to his prep alma mater, McCutcheon High School, and worked out with the baseball team there. He said that was an experience that wound up being incredibly important to his grueling rehab process. 

“I just came to appreciate the game,” Richard said. “Just having fun going out, taking batting practice, playing the field with high school kids that year I was rehabbing, I started to enjoy the game more and not worry about all the other stuff that goes into it.” 

Richard said from the clubhouse at the Cubs' spring training facility he still draws upon that time spent rehabbing and working with his former high school baseball team.

“Just that feeling of going out and playing, I think some of us kind of lose that every now and then,” Richard said. “It was nice to have that kind of re-start for myself where it was just baseball. There was nothing else to it other than baseball. 

I don’t wish that experience on anybody,” Richard added, “but it was good for me.” 

Richard looks slated to be part of a Cubs bullpen teeming with flexibility. He, Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill and Adam Warren are all former starters capable of throwing multiple innings, which is especially important given Maddon’s protection of Kyle Hendricks and, later, Jason Hammel last year, who were often pulled at the first sign of trouble or before their third time through a lineup.  

[MORE: Jake Arrieta good with Cubs’ plan to limit workload]

This bullpen is set up to keep itself and the starting rotation fresh throughout the season, but also deliver when used favorably in high leverage situations. Maddon offered an example: When the wind is blowing out, Richard — who threw his sinking fastball about 80 percent of the time last year and generated a ton of ground balls — would come in. But when the wind is blowing in, Wood — who’s more of a fly ball pitcher — could enter. 

“(Richard) fits on any team as far as I’m concerned,” Maddon said. “And I don’t think there’s any hitter in the major leagues who says, Oh good, Clayton Richard is coming into the game.”  

Montero echoed Maddon’s assessment, calling Richard an “uncomfortable” at-bat. His fastball/sinker velocity is back to where it was well before he had surgery (he averaged 91 miles per hour on it in 2015; the last time he hit that mark was 2010), and his ability to generate ground balls and limit walks and home runs made him an effective pitcher down the stretch last year. 

A relief role probably wasn’t one Richard envisioned himself being in back when he was posting sub-4.00 ERAs and throwing 200-plus innings a year for the Padres. But shoulder surgeries are tough from which to come back. And Richard wouldn’t have made it back — as so many other players who underwent similar procedures haven’t — without that willingness to change. 

“You’re never the same pitcher,” Richard said. “I feel like I’m an improved version of that pitcher. If I’m not able to make adjustments I’ll be done. I think that’s the same for everyone. There’s no one that’s so good that they can’t survive without making adjustments.”

Remember That Guy: Gary Gaetti

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AP

Remember That Guy: Gary Gaetti

There have been 1,052 players in MLB history born in Illinois (or at least that’s how many we know of).  And of those players, the one with the most home runs is… Jim Thome with 612.  But the player who’s second; the player who had the “record” prior to Thome was Gary Gaetti with 360. 

Gary Gaetti homered in his MLB Debut (in his first at-bat) on September 20, 1981 for the Twins.  As a rookie the following season he hit 25 long ones. He was a mainstay at the hot corner for the Twins in the 1980s, winning four Gold Gloves (1986-89) with two All-Star selections (1988-89).  He was part of the 1987 World Champions (and was ALCS MVP).  By the time the Twins won their second World Series in 1991, Gaetti was in California with the Angels.  In 1995 at age 36 he had a renaissance for the Royals with 35 home runs and collected his lone career Silver Slugger before moving onto the Cardinals for the next few seasons. 

After being released by the Birds in mid-1998, Gaetti arrived on the North Side where he hit 17 home runs in 150 games (in 1998-99). In that 1998 season, he was a teammate of both Mark McGwire (who hit 70 HR for the Cardinals) and Sammy Sosa (who hit 66 HR for the Cubs). He remains the last player age 40 or older to homer in a Cubs uniform (all 17 of his home runs with the Cubs came after he turned 40).  Gaetti even made an appearance on the mound for the Cubs to close out what would end up a 21-8 rout at the hands of the Phillies on July 3, 1999 at the Vet.  He allowed two runs, including a solo home run by Marlon Anderson and an RBI triple by Doug Glanville. Gaetti concluded his MLB career with five games for the Red Sox in 2000.

After his retirement as a player, Gaetti had some coaching gigs in the minors and majors. In 2012, when 50-year old Roger Clemens came back to make two starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, Gary Gaetti was the manager, as he was three years later when 50-year old Rafael Palmeiro played a game for the Skeeters. Gaetti led the team to the Atlantic League championship in 2016.

Quite a career.

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

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AP

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

My mom’s father, my grandfather, in his North Carolina accent, used to ask me nearly every time I saw him.

“You still hittin’ that ball?!?!”

He knew my brother took extensive time to groom me in the game of baseball as soon as I could walk. So he recognized early on that my passion for the game only grew with time. So when he passed away during the offseason nearing midnight into Dec. 23, 1997, it was tough. I could no longer answer his question with a baseball career update.

He passed away in the same hospital where the legendary Negro League player, Buck Leonard, would pass away less than a month sooner. It is just so happened that Leonard’s passing coincided with the day my grandfather was first admitted into the same facility. I took it as a sign as I reviewed baseball and family history thinking about how I could honor my grandfather through both.

1997 was not the offseason I had envisioned. After coming off my breakthrough major league season, my first full season as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs, I had hit .300 and earned a chance to be in the starting lineup nearly every day. We had an exit meeting that year in the Astrodome. Cubs general manager at the time, Ed Lynch, was blunt and honest.

He explained very clearly that the organization tried to give the everyday job to “everyone else but you,” but was complimentary in how I was able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

I was a speedy center fielder that was in left field for most of the season after a revolving door of our top outfield prospects didn’t quite do enough to lock down the every day role. A platoon gave me a chance to play against lefties, which grew into against righties too.

The talent was deep from my vantage point: Ozzie Timmons, Robin Jennings, Pedro Valdes, Brant Brown, Brooks Kieschnick, Scott Bullet and so on. There were a ton of a good outfielders, and when the smoke cleared, I was the one holding the starter trophy. I was hoping the offseason was a time where I could cement that status as a Chicago Cub.

So I went into the offsseason with hope. Hope that only strengthened while I was on Lake Shore Drive and heard Ed Lynch on the radio talking about my season and how the expansion of the league (1998 the league added the Rays and the D-Backs) was going to force him to make tough decisions about who to protect from the expansion draft.

He conceded that I would be seeking a significant raise after my season. Then, the minimum salary was $109,000 (I made a little more than that in year two) and because of my strong year as a second season player, Lynch was making a reasonable conclusion. I knew my agent was happy.

My grandfather’s health had been declining over time, so his passing was not a shock, but before I fully digested the loss, the phone rang around 12 hours after I got word that he was gone. Who was calling?

I took the call in the basement of my parent’s house. This was while I was in the midst of a sea of unwrapped Christmas gifts strewn all over the ping pong table, the main wrapping station in the Glanville household during the holidays. My first thought was it must be my mom, who was in North Carolina pivoting from savoring his last hours to working on funeral arrangements. My brother was with her. It already was an awkward holiday from our geographically broken family.

It was Ed Lynch on the line, telling me that I had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

What?

I fielded all of the media calls the rest of that day. It was an all-day affair. Between the fresh news of my grandfather’s passing, the shock of being traded after finally breaking through as a starter, and the exhaustion at the idea of learning a new organization, I was not that thrilled.

In fact, one member of the Philadelphia press core finally asked me why I was sounding so unenthusiastic about being traded to the team I loved growing up as a kid. So I had to tell him about my grandfather’s passing and the reality sinking in that I was about to celebrate my first family Christmas with our nuclear family broken into pieces.

For the first time during the holidays, there was this divider in my family. Separated by life’s harsh terms. My father and I were home and my mother and brother were not. My dad and I celebrated at a long-standing friend’s house, a thousand miles from my mom and big bro, and a million miles away from truly accepting that I had been traded.

I had just completed my sophomore year in Major League Baseball and it was a moment when I felt like I had figured out some of my mechanics of the game. I was learning how to be consistent, learning the ropes about managing life in season and now offseason.

I was being traded to a team whose organization brought me great joy in 1980 as a die hard fan, a place where I could start in center field, but this was different. This was the business of baseball. The day I became a movable commodity, traded away for present value in Mickey Morandini. The Phillies were betting on my next chapter being my best years.

Can they do that? Just trade me away without asking me? Of course they can. Wait, why can they?

My 1980s memories of that Phillies championship was more than about the trophy. It framed an era. By my following that team since I was five or six, I saw that team build, I pulled my hair out when the Dodgers kept knocking them out in the ‘77 and ‘78 NLCS. But most of all, they had the same personnel. A core of players, nearly untradeable. Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and so on. They were practically glued together for several seasons.

But in the modern game of the late '90s, that dream of being drafted by a team, growing up with that organization, winning with the Cubs and retiring a Cub was no longer possible. That was how the game was evolving.

Although I was a big leaguer, I still was a fan. I still was caught off-guard even after I knew the Cubs protected me in the expansion draft. I understood that at all times, lurking were many ways in the game where I could change teams. Some voluntary, most not.

I realized that the offseason was not just this big training session to get ready for the next season. It was also a chess match of competing value. What you are worth versus what you think you are worth. The 2018 Cubs have many players asking that question. Will Kyle Schwarber be traded? Will Kris Bryant sign?

All players will experience life hitting them in the face when they least expect it. During that downtime, the reflection time, the break. That is why it can sting so much. And loss spares no one in this game, even after you hit .300. The rumors alone can eat you up.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral and reunite with my mom and brother days after the trade. I took a moment during the time with family to make one simple declaration to the sky above.

“Granddad, I am still hitting that ball.”

Just this year, instead of Cubs blue, I would be wearing Phillies red.