Kyle Schwarber plays baseball with the same run-through-a-brick-wall mentality that once made him an All-Ohio linebacker in high school. The Cubs feed off that energy and the explosive power that’s already made him a legendary playoff hitter, even though he still hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues yet, and even after a layoff that lasted more than six months.
As bad as Schwarber wanted this – and as much as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein senses the chance to eliminate the Cleveland Indians and make history – the Cubs couldn’t make such an important decision based on emotions.
After consulting with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team’s orthopaedist, and Dr. Daniel Cooper, who performed the surgery on an extremely valuable left knee, the Cubs couldn’t get medical clearance to start Schwarber in the outfield for World Series Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field this weekend.
“Of course, we’re all disappointed,” Epstein said. “We’d love to see Kyle out there getting four-plus at-bats a game. But I think it was important to talk to a medical professional, who’s objective and detached from the situation.
“We’re all wrapped up in seeing how well Kyle swung the bat and how it impacted us and the stage that we’re on and our desire to win.
“There is the possibility of us getting carried away and throwing caution to the wind. But that’s why you have to consult the doctors and follow their professional judgment.”
Whatever disappointment he may have felt after initially getting the news, Schwarber buried it by the time he followed Epstein into the makeshift interview room after Thursday’s workout at Wrigley Field, vowing to be ready to pinch-hit at any time and giving future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona something to think about in the visiting dugout.
“It’s not disappointing at all,” Schwarber said. “It was a long shot at the most. Obviously, I want to be out there for my teammates and everything. It’s just the competitor inside me. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”
Schwarber refused to concede after a full-speed collision in the outfield on April 7, attacking his rehab process with the same intensity that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft and such a force on last year’s 97-win team (16 homers in 69 games plus five more in the playoffs).
Showing virtually no signs of rust, Schwarber went 3-for-7 with two walks and two RBI as the designated hitter while the Cubs split Games 1 and 2 at Progressive Field.
“The doctors were very convicted that there’s just too much risk in playing the outfield,” Epstein said, “because of the dynamic actions involved, the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut in the outfield, the dynamic, athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield.
“This was not just an ACL tear. This was a complete blowout of his knee, multiple ligaments (involved and) an expected eight-month, return-to-play, best-case scenario.
“We have to look out for Kyle’s long-term interests. We have a lot of confidence in other guys, too. We won 103 games. We have all the faith in the world in our other outfielders. And on top of that, we now have Kyle off the bench to take maybe the most important at-bat in the game at a given point.”
One of those outfielders – Chris Coghlan – understands the big-picture concerns for Schwarber after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during an on-field pie-to-the-face celebration with the Florida Marlins in 2010.
“That’s my biggest worry for him personally,” Coghlan said. “I rushed back and reinjured it. And I don’t say that to scare him. They got doctors. They got a million people running over it. But what he’s doing is remarkable.
“To be able to go in there and just put competitive at-bat after competitive at-bat on the biggest stage (after) being out six months and only having maybe eight at-bats (in the Arizona Fall League) – it’s just a testament to his character and his perseverance. And that’s what makes him a special player.”
Knowing how Schwarber is wired, the Cubs probably couldn’t have cut a deal where he gave something less than a maximum effort in the outfield and conserved his body to take vicious left-handed swings. But the medical experts did not present that option.
“There would not have been a player to be cleared under this scenario,” Epstein said. “But that said, if we had been able to clear him only under the condition that he only go 60 percent: a.) I don't think Kyle knows how to go 60 percent, especially in a World Series-type game; and b.) At 60 percent, you’re such a tremendous defensive liability, it’s probably not worth the offense that you get on the other side, anyway.
“But that wasn’t the case. It was black and white. He simply is not medically cleared to play, regardless of his effort level.”
A crowd already delirious from the franchise’s first World Series at Wrigley Field in 71 years will still create a deafening roar at the sight of Schwarber walking up to home plate with a bat in his hand.
“Deep down in my heart, I really wanted to,” Schwarber said. “But there’s obviously the doubts (about) the injury. It was a huge injury. And that’s the facts. Not many people get this opportunity that I’m in right now, so I’m embracing (it). I’m going to cheer my teammates on. And when my time comes, I’m going to be ready.”