Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Royals' Greinke Crowned with AL Cy Young

As widely expected, Kansas City Royals ace Zack Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award.

Although Greinke won a modest 16 games he led the AL with a 2.16 ERA and struck out 242 batters. One must also consider that Greinke pitched for a team with that along with the Cleveland Indians had the worst record in AL in 2009. Had Greinke pitched for a half decent ballclub there is every reason to believe he could have won 20 games. Regardless, Greinke won 25 out of 28 first place ballots easily besting 19-game winners Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners and Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Yankees ace and 2007 AL Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia and 2003 AL Cy Young winner Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays rounded out the balloting. Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera, however, did not get a single vote.

Greinke has come a very long way. In 2005, in only his second big league season, Greinke went 5-17 with a 5.80 ERA. His 17 losses led the AL. Greinke missed nearly the entire 2006 season after undergoing a bout with depression and social anxiety disorder. It is a condition he has battled most of his life despite his immense physical talents. Consider what John Donovan of Sports Illustrated wrote about Greinke during spring training in 2007:

Zack Greinke is still fighting for a place in the Royals' rotation. Nobody is about to let him forget that little face-smack of reality. Kansas City's former kid wunderpitcher is currently just one of about a thousand other guys in camp -- OK, so maybe it's just five or so -- trying to fill one or two spots at the back end of a fledgling starting staff.

I'll say it again. Zack Greinke has come a very long way.

But I'll also say sooner or later there will be bumps in the road. The question is can he navigate around them?

There's no doubt the Kansas City Royals deserve an enormous amount of credit in supporting Greinke and having the patience to stand by him when times were toughest. The same could not be said for the California Angels treatment of Alex Johnson in 1971, the year after he won the AL batting title. I remember reading about Johnson in Marvin Miller's book A Whole Different Ballgame. Johnson was plagued with erratic behavior and the club could only respond by fining and eventually suspending him. Miller, who was the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, filed a grievance on Johnson's behalf. Miller argued Johnson was emotionally disabled and should have been placed on the DL instead of being suspended. An independent arbitrator overturned the suspension when it turned out Angels GM Dick Walsh had been less than forthcoming about incidents involving Johnson. In one incident, Johnson's teammate Chico Ruiz pulled a gun on him in the Angels clubhouse.

Needless to say, Major League Baseball has come a very long way in three plus decades when it comes dealing with mental illness. Let's hope that continues in the event Greinke should stumble after climbing to summit of success.

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