#42 -- The Greatest Rangers of All Time -- Doc Medich

On to the #42 Greatest Ranger of All Time...

#42 is another player from the Dark Ages of Rangers baseball, from a time and era that a lot of today's fans probably don't remember.  He was born in the same year as both my parents, was drafted the year before I was born, debuted the year before the A.L. adopted the DH rule, and was out of baseball before two-thirds of the DVD trio were even born.

This was back in a mythical time when the Rangers actually had quality pitching, and the lament was that the Rangers never had enough hitting to contend.  This pitcher, in fact, was one of the solid contributors to some good Ranger pitching staffs, with the Rangers finishing third or better in the A.L. in ERA in three of the four full seasons he spent with the club.  He had a solid ten year career, mostly with the Rangers and Yankees, and yet, if he's remembered now, it is mostly because of his off-the-field professional credentials.

So #42 on our list of the 50 Greatest Rangers of All Time is pitcher George "Doc" Medich.

Doc Medich started his professional career facing an uphill battle.  He was a 30th round draft pick in 1970 by the New York Yankees out of the University of Pittsburgh, and while the draft was much more of a crapshoot back then, the 30th round was still the 30th round...the players taken that late in the draft were organizational depth guys, guys expected to come in, fill out minor league rosters, maybe get a cup of coffee if things broke right, but weren't likely to be major league regulars.

After a decent debut season, pitching well in 4 games in rookie ball before moving up to AA and getting knocked around, Medich showed some progress with a solid 1971 season with Kinston in the single-A Carolina League.  Medich only pitched in 12 games in 1971, though, and the Carolina League was a full-season league which suggests to me that either a) he was injured for part of the year, or (more likely) b) he missed part of the season because he was attending classes.  He was studying medicine before he was drafted, and attended medical school while he was playing baseball (thus the name "Doc" - he was a practicing M.D.)...given the way baseball worked at the time, it wouldn't have been surprising if he viewed pitching in the minors for the Yanks at the time as just as way to help earn some money in the summertime.

In any case, Medich had a very nice season, posting a 2.43 ERA in 74 innings, striking out 72 and walking 23.  For a 22 year old a year removed from pitching college ball, that wasn't bad, but he was a former 30th round pick, a finesse guy who didn't have a great fastball or overwhelming stuff, so it wasn't going to put him to the fast-track to the majors.

Medich pitched just a partial season in the minors in 1972, as well, but this time the partial season was good enough to get him on the map and noticed by the big club.  The Yankees started him off at AA West Haven in the Eastern League, and Medich's ERA dropped almost a full run, as he posted a 1.44 ERA in 119 innings with West Haven, going 11-3 on the year.  His peripherals weren't good enough to support that gaudy ERA - his strikeout and walk rates worsened, as he struck out just 70 and walked 40 on the year, and he allowed 9 unearned runs to his 19 earned - but he still had a very strong minor league season, all in all.  

Strong enough, in fact, to earn him a promotion to the major leagues at the end of the season, and to never be sent back to the minors for the rest of his career.

Medich's major league career got off to about as bad a start as one can imagine...he got the start on September 5, 1972, at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, with the Yankees tied with the Boston Red Sox for second place in the A.L. East, a half-game back of the Detroit Tigers.  Among the Rangers footnotes, future Ranger Sparky Lyle ultimately got the save in the game for the Yanks, and Johnny Oates was the starting catcher for the Orioles.  

Orioles starter Dave McNally was uncharacteristically awful in the top half of the first, getting knocked out after just two-thirds of an inning, and Medich even had his first major league plate appearance, drawing a two-out walk off reliever Dave Leonhard, and was able to take the mound with a 5-0 lead.

Incredibly, Medich would leave after four batters, without recording a single out.  The 23 year old rookie took the mound staked with a four run lead, and promptly allowed a single to leadoff hitter Rich Coggins.  Bobby Grich and Tommy Davis (two of the great, under-rated players of that era, incidentally) each drew walks, Boog Powell drove in a run with a bases loaded single, and at that point Yankee manager Ralph Houk had seen enough.  A team in a pennant race is going to keep a rookie making his big league debut on a short leash, and Houk pulled Medich in favor of veteran lefty Wade Blasingame.  Remarkably, that would be Medich's first and last major league appearance on the season, as he wouldn't get into another game until the following year.

His inauspicious beginnings notwithstanding, Medich settled into a solid gig over the next three seasons as a workmanlike member of the Yankees rotation, although the first Yankee teams he pitched for wasn't that good.  His rookie year, in 1973, would ultimately be his best in the major leagues, as Medich posted a 2.95 ERA, good for 5th in the A.L., in 235 innings, with a 124 ERA+ and a 14-9 record.  He and Mel Stottlemyre gave the Yanks a solid one-two punch at the top of the rotation, and the bullpen was strong, but the '73 Yanks were awful offensively.  New York was getting dragged down by a couple of washed-up Alou brothers (Matty and Felipe), along with the likes of Horace Clarke and Gene Michaels.  Only Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer were bringing much to the table offensively, so despite finishing third in the A.L. in ERA, the Yankees finished the year 80-82, 4th in the A.L. East.

The Yankees were stronger the next couple of seasons...the 1974 team added Lou Piniella and Elliott Maddox, who provided a big boost to the offense, and despite sitting in last place on July 1, and as low as two games under .500 in late July, well behind the division-leading Red Sox, went on a tear late in the season to get back into the pennant race.  

Medich, in just his second season, played a vital role in keeping the Yankees afloat when their season appeared to be in disarray.  After struggling late in June, Medich began a five game stretch on July 6, 1974, where he threw 5 straight complete games.  Two of them were shutouts, with Medich allowing one, two and three runs in the other three games, and the Yankees won all five.  

Medich could have had six straight complete game victories had his teammates provided him with just a little more support in the first game of a doubleheader in Milwaukee on July 30, 1974.  Medich allowed just two runs over 9 innings, but the Yanks could only manage a pair of runs off of starter Jim Coburn and reliever Tom Murphy, and with two on and two outs in the bottom of the tenth, Medich allowed an infield single to George Scott that drove in the winning run, and broke his winning streak at five.

The Yankees had entered the day at .500, but after Scott's walk-off single and a 4-0 shutout loss in the nightcap, they were sitting at 50-52, their playoff hopes seemingly sunk.  But New York turned it around and ended up going 39-21 the rest of the way, with an impressive finishing burst that put Doc Medich back in a playoff race for the first time since his inglorious debut in 1972.  

Unfortunately for the Yankees, they weren't the only American League East team to catch fire the last two months.  The Baltimore Orioles were mediocre for much of the season, struggling to stay around .500, and were sitting at 63-65 after a 4-2 loss in Arlington to Jackie Brown and the Texas Rangers on August 28.  At that point Baltimore was in 4th place, 8 games back of division-leading Boston, and 3.5 games back of second place New York.  The Orioles, however, ended up going on an incredible 28-6 run in one of the best stretch runs in baseball history, ultimately leaving Boston in their wake and setting up a two-team chance between them and the Yankees for the division.

After carrying such a heavy workload during the summer, Medich was hit-and-miss down the stretch.  He won three straight in early September, including a complete game shutout against the Brewers, but then got rocked for 6 runs in 5 innings in a loss to Detroit before taking the mound against the Orioles on September 17, with the Yanks nursing a 2.5 game lead.

Medich was pitching the first of a three game series at home between the Orioles and the Yankees, and it was a huge series for both teams.  A Yankee sweep would pretty much slam the door on the Orioles, leaving them with a 5.5 game deficit with just a dozen games left to play.  If the Orioles could take the series, though, they would remain within striking distance...

Medich squared off against Jim Palmer, who was in the midst of a mildly disappointing season...he'd missed time due to injury, and would ultimately post his first losing record of his career, along with his only 3+ ERA between 1967 and 1978.  Regardless of his season-long struggles, however, Palmer was masterful on that night, walking no one and limiting the Yanks to 7 singles.  

Medich matched Palmer through 6 innings, but finally allowed a run in the 7th, on a one-out Elrod Hendricks double, a bunt single by Mark Belanger, and a sac fly by Al Bumbry.  After allowing a single to Coggins and a sac bunt to Grich, he hit Tommy Davis, and was lifted for Sparky Lyle, who ended up giving up a 2 out homer to Paul Blair.  Palmer shut down the Yankees the rest of the way, and the Orioles took a 4-0 win.

That was a precursor of things to come...the Orioles would break open a 2-2 game the next day with a 7 run 6th off of Pat Dobson and Dick Tidrow, taking a 10-4 victory, and after a 7-0 Dave McNally shutout in the series finale, Baltimore, who was in danger of falling out of the race with a bad series, found itself in first by a half-game.

When Medich next took the mound, against the Cleveland Indians, the Yankees were tied with Baltimore, and were counting on Medich to keep them at least even.  After cruising through 2 innings, though, and with a 2-0 lead, Medich blew up in the top of the third, and after allowing single-single-homer-walk-single, he got yanked, with the Yanks ultimately going down 7-2 before rallying to win, 14-7.

With limited options, the Yankees sent Medich back out there on just three days rest, at home against the Boston Red Sox on September 25, in the biggest game of Doc Medich's career.  The Yankees had been swept by the BoSox in a doubleheader the day before, shut down by Luis Tiant and Roger Moret, and had dropped to a half-game back of Baltimore.  Boston was running out the "Spaceman," Bill Lee, who hadn't been great in 1974, but who was 4-1 on the season against the Yankees.  Baltimore, meanwhile, was going up against the anemic, last place Detroit Tigers, meaning that a Yankee victory was critical to staying in the race.

Medich got off to a shaky start, loading the bases on a single and two walks in the first inning before getting Dick McAuliffe to end the threat, and continually walked a tightrope, allowing 7 hits and 7 walks against just 6 strikeouts.  But he kept working out of jams, and walked off the mound in the top of the 9th without having allowed a single run.

Lee was just as solid, though...despite walking the leadoff hitter in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th innings, he never really got into a jam, and matched Medich goose-egg for goose-egg.  Thurman Munson singled off of Lee in the bottom of the 9th, but Chris Chambliss and Graig Nettles couldn't bring him home, and the game went into extra innings tied at 0.

Medich once again got himself into trouble, walking Freddy Lynn and Dick McAuliffe with two out before getting Rick Burleson on a force play to get out of the inning.

Like Medich, Lee came out for the 10th, and like Medich, Lee got in trouble.  Unfortunately for Lee, though, he couldn't escape.  After a Sandy Alomar walk and a Chicken Stanley sacrifice, Roy White picked up an infield single, putting runners on first and third with one out.  Lee, a groundballer with a knack for getting double plays, tried to get one from Elliott Maddox, but he drove a single into left field, bringing home the winning run and giving Doc Medich the victory.

As well as New York played, though, the Orioles were just as good, winning that night against Detroit, and matching the Yankees win for win through the end of September.  Running out of time, the Yankees turned to Doc Medich once more on October 1 against his old nemesis, the Milwaukee Brewers, one game back of Baltimore with two games to play.  If the Yankees and Orioles both lost, the Yankees could do no better than tie for first.  If the Yankees lost and the Orioles won, the Yankees were out.

Medich, who had come up huge time and again for the Yankees, couldn't quite get it done on this day.  He took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the 8th, but gave up a pinch-hit triple to rookie Bob Hansen - the only triple of Hansen's career - followed by a triple off the bat of third baseman Don Money.  Sixto Lezcano followed that up with a sac fly, and the Brew Crew had tied it up.

Reliever Tom Murphy - the same guy who had shut down the Yankees in their extra-inning loss to Milwaukee earlier in the season - shut down the Yankees in the 9th and, after Medich retired the side in the bottom of the 9th, in the 10th inning as well, forcing Medich once again to take the mound in Milwaukee in the bottom of the 10th, protecting a 2-2 tie.

It was déjà vu all over again.  Once more, Medich got into a jam, and once more, George Scott came through with a game-winning single off of Medich.  Doc Medich had given it everything he had, but came up short, picking up the loss in the game that knocked the Yankees out of the playoff race.  

Still, it was a decent season for Medich.  He had a 3.60 ERA on the year, and picked up 19 wins on the season in 38 starts, but his ERA+ was just 97, a significant regression from the year before.  Still, he posted 279 2/3 innings - not enough to crack the top 10 in those days, but impressive nonetheless - and was a steady part of the rotation for a team that just missed the playoffs.

The 1975 was a disappointing one for the Yankees, who had high hopes after the close call of the 1974 season, and who had added Oakland ace Catfish Hunter.  After getting off to a slow start, the team got hot in June, but then faded the rest of the way, finishing well out of the playoff hunt.  

For all intents and purposes, on an individual level, Medich's 1975 was almost a carbon copy of his 1974 season.  He had 37 starts, 272 innings pitched, and a 3.50 ERA, good for a 104 ERA+.  He wasn't the top-of-the-rotation starter he had been in his rookie season, but he had established himself as a solid innings-eater, a durable workhorse who was still young enough to develop.

1975 would be his last season with the Yankees, however, as a curious off-season deal sent Medich to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Ken Brett, Dock Ellis, and Willie Randolph.  Brett and Ellis were journeyman starting pitcher types, and while Medich may have been a little better than either of them, the difference wasn't all that great.  Still, according to then-Pirates scouting director Pete Peterson, who recommended pursuing Medich, the Pirates needed a frontline starter, while Randolph at the time was a 21 year old second base prospect blocked by Rennie Stennett.  Giving up just Brett and Ellis would probably have been overpaying to get Medich; however, throwing Willie Randolph into the deal made the trade a steal for the Yankees, and made parting with Medich a no-brainer.

The Pirates were coming off of two first place finishes in the N.L. East, and hoped that the addition of Medich would help them not just repeat in the East but get past the Big Red Machine in the NLCS and reach the World Series.  But Pittsburgh had an up-and-down start to the season, giving the Philadelphia Phillies a chance to jump out to a big lead early in the season, and the Phillies stayed hot all season long, ultimately winning 101 games and finishing 9 games ahead of the Pirates to win the N.L. East.

Medich ended up being a mild disappointment for the Pirates in 1976, as well, going just 8-11 with a 3.52 ERA, posting a 100 ERA+, and getting bumped from the rotation for a while late in the season, ultimately getting just 26 starts on the year.  And he didn't get a chance to redeem himself with the Pirates the next season, as Pittsburgh ended up shipping him out in yet another lopsided trade with the Oakland A's.  

The Pirates had lost incumbent third baseman Richie Hebner to free agency after the 1976 season, and were still seeking to fill that spot during spring training of 1977.  The A's, meanwhile, after seeing their streak of three straight A.L. West division titles broken with a second place finish in 1976, had watched the team be dismantled in free agency that offseason, with Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, Rollie Fingers, Bert Campaneris, and Joe Rudi all signing with new clubs.  Seeking to cut costs and rebuild, the A's dangled Phil Garner - one of the few incumbents still around - as the solution to the Pirates' third base problems, and eventually sent Garner, Tommy Helms (who had earlier that winter been traded to Pittsburgh by Houston, and then been sold to Oakland) and Chris Batton to Pittsburgh for Medich, Tony Armas, Rick Langford, Mitchell Page, Doug Bair and Dave Giusti.  

For the first time in his major league career, Medich was playing for an awful team, and his performance suffered as a result.  He got off to an awful start for Oakland, giving up 24 runs in his first 5 starts, and spent the rest of the year trying to get back to even, and was sitting at a 4.69 ERA on the year when he was purchased from the A's by the equally bad Seattle Mariners in September, 1977.  Two weeks later, after three starts, the Mariners waived Medich, and he was claimed by the last place New York Mets, getting one start for them before the season ended and he became a free agent.

It was in the 1977-78 offseason when, as a free agent, Doc Medich joined a Texas Ranger team that was coming off a strong second place finish in the A.L. West and trying to reach the playoffs for the first time in their history.  The targeting of Medich was a bit peculiar, given that the strength of the 1977 Rangers had been their rotation - the top 4 starters had each posted an ERA+ of at least 113, and the team was 2nd in the A.L. in ERA and 1st in shutouts.  Nevertheless, the Rangers did a major overhaul of the rotation, bringing in three new starting pitchers, with just Doyle Alexander and former Medich trade partner Dock Ellis being carried over from the previous season.

Medich made his Ranger debut in the fourth game of the season, getting the start at home against the Detroit Tigers, and once again kicked off the season with a poor start.  Despite loading the bases in the second inning, Medich managed to make it through three scoreless innings and had a 1-0 lead before the roof caved in.  Medich allowed two runs in the top of the fourth on a walk, a double and a pair of singles, and then got knocked out in the fifth inning after giving up a two out, three run Milt May homer.  Jim Umbarger came in and shut out the Tigers the rest of the way on one hit, but Dave Rozema only allowed one more Ranger run on his way to a complete game victory, with Medich picking up the loss.

That loss kicked off a disastrous 8 game losing streak for the Rangers, as the team got swept at Detroit and Boston - between the streak and rainouts, the Rangers went almost two weeks without a victory.  Medich contributed to that tailspin on April 16 with another poor outing, getting knocked out in the fifth against the Boston Red Sox, and while Umbarger was pinned with the loss, manager Billy Hunter had seen enough of Medich and banished him in to the bullpen.

Other than a spot start in the second game of a doubleheader against Seattle, Medich stayed in the bullpen in a long man role until early June.  He pitched well enough to re-gain Hunter's confidence, however, putting up a 2.96 ERA as a reliever, including a remarkable 8 inning, 2 run stint at home against the Minnesota Twins after Umbarger got chased in the first inning.

Medich returned to the rotation on June 9, and pitched well enough to stay there the rest of the way, posting ERAs in the low-3s for June, July and August and ending the season with a 3.74 ERA, good for a 101 ERA+ and a 3.8 WARP3...all in all, a decent season for Medich.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointing year for the Rangers, who briefly took first place in the division in late June, then promptly lost 9 of their next 11 to slide back to .500 and drop into a tie for 4th, 3.5 games back of the division leading Angels.  From that point on, the Rangers were mainly on the fringes of the race...as late as September 15, after losing the first game of a doubleheader against Oakland, they were a game below .500, before going 15-1 over their last 16 games to finish the season at 87-75, five games out of first.

Given that the team was out of the race for most of the second half, the season was more disappointing than the team's final record would reflect, and the Rangers made some changes as a result, one of the most notable being replacing Billy Hunter with Pat Corrales.  Corrales started the 1979 season with a four man rotation, going with Fergie Jenkins, Doyle Alexander, Steve Comer, and Dock Ellis, with Medich once again being the odd man out, and relegated to a relief role.

As discussed in the Jim Kern segment, 1979 was a magical season of sorts for the Rangers, with the team jumping out to a lead early on and capturing folks' imaginations.  Doc Medich, though, was almost a footnote in that period...stuck in long relief, as he appeared in just 11 games before July 4, and only had two scoreless outings.  

Sitting on a 1-3 record and a 6.25 ERA, with his only really good outing of the year being in a spot start against the Oakland A's, Medich finally was thrust back into the rotation in mid-July to replace the injured Jon Matlack, and was solid the rest of the way, ultimately posting a 10-4 records and a 3.45 ERA as a starter on the year, which got his ERA for the season down to 4.17.  But once again, the Rangers fell short, the team ended the year in third place.

1980 saw Medich repeat his earlier patterns...a couple of bad starts to begin the season, resulting in a brief banishment to the pen, then a restoration to the rotation, where he pitched solidly.  Medich ended the year with a 14-11 record, a 3.92 ERA and a 100 ERA+, and posted a 4.4 WARP3, his best number since coming to Texas.  

For the team, though, 1980 was much like 1978 for most of the year, consistent mediocrity.  After getting a few games above .500 early, the Rangers' summer swoon started even earlier in 1980, with a 6-3 loss to the Oakland A's on May 30 dropping the team to .500 on the season, 4 games back of first place.  The Rangers would then spend the entire months of June, July and August trying to get back above .500, not getting back on the positive side of the ledger until a John Butcher complete game win in Oakland on September 8 boosted the team to 69-68.  Even then, though, the Rangers were a whopping 17.5 games back of the first place Royals, and then promptly went into a tailspin, losing 15 of their next 17 games and ending the season with an abysmal 76-85 record.

Medich built on that success in the strike-shorted 1981 campaign, turning in his best season as a Ranger and functioning as the ace of the Rangers staff, with a 3.08 ERA on the year, a 113 ERA+, and a WARP3 of 4.8, his best with the Rangers.  Once again, though, it ended up going for naught, as the Rangers barely missed out on winning the A.L. West in the first half of the season, then fell apart in the second, post-strike portion of the season, going 24-26 and finishing in third in the A.L. West.

1982 was Medich's last as a Ranger, and once again, he started off the year awfully, failing to make it at least four innings in three of his first four starts, and having a 1-3 record with a 12.46 ERA early in May.  

And by the time that Medich got his groove back, the season was basically over for Texas.  After starting off 6-4, the Rangers went on one of their patented skids, losing 12 in a row, 15 of 16 and 21 of 26 in late April and May, burying the team in 6th place, 14.5 games back at 11-26, with only the Twins' 12-34 start keeping them out of the cellar.

With Medich being a free agent at season's end and the team being out of the race early, it was only a matter of time before they looked to move him and make room to take a look at some of the younger pitchers.  Medich's last game for the Rangers was on August 9, 1982, against the Milwaukee Brewers...the Rangers staked Medich to a 1-0 lead, which he took into the bottom of the 5th, but two out, two run hits from Robin Yount and Gorman Thomas gave Milwaukee a 4-1 lead after 5, and after Roy Howell and Marshall Edwards led off the bottom of the 6th with singles, Medich was pulled, never to take the mound as a Ranger again.

Five days later, Medich was sold to those very same Milwaukee Brewers, who were in a pennant race and looking for an upgrade over Randy Lerch in the rotation.  Medich made 10 starts down the stretch for the Brewers, and after he pitched the Brewers to a 9-3 victory over the BoSox on September 28 while Baltimore was losing at Detroit, the Brewers looked to have the A.L. East sewn up, particularly when a Milwaukee win and a Baltimore loss the next day left Milwaukee with a 4 game lead over the second place Orioles with 5 games to go, the last 4 between the Brew Crew and the Orioles at Baltimore.

But the Brewers nearly performed a historic choke job, losing against Boston while Baltimore won against Detroit, and then getting swept in an October 1 doubleheader against the Orioles.  Up 1 game with 2 to play, Medich took the mound in the next to last game of the season with a chance to be a hero, able to clinch the division for Milwaukee.  

Instead, Medich blew up, allowing three runs in the first innings against the Orioles before even recording the second out of the inning, then getting yanked in the 4th after allowing three straight singles, picking up the loss in an 11-3 game that put the Orioles and Brewers in a tie for first place.  Only a masterful performance from Don Sutton the next day, outdueling veteran Oriole starter Jim Palmer, saved Medich from the goat horns.

The Brewers had seemingly seen enough of Medich, however.  He was bumped from the playoff rotation, and made only one post-season appearance, coming in in relief in game 6 of the World Series after the Cards had jumped out to a 7-0 lead.  Medich ultimately just dumped more gas on the fire, giving up 6 runs in 2 innings, and leaving with the Brewers down 13-0

That down note would be Medich's last major league appearance.  He retired after the season to practice medicine, although the road for Medich apparently continued to be rocky after he left the public eye.  In 2001, Medich was back in the news, for sad reasons, when this news item hit the wires:

Former major league pitcher George "Doc" Medich was sentenced to nine years probation for illegally possessing painkillers after he pleaded guilty to 12 counts of possession of a controlled substance. Medich wrote 12 false prescriptions in the names of patients so he could obtain painkillers for himself in 1999. His lawyer, Lawrence Zurawsky, called it a "cry for help" and said Medich has struggled with drug addiction for years.

I know nothing more about Medich's situation since the sentencing, but one can only hope that he has sought help, and gotten his life back on track.

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