Jim Gott might be called the Bionic Buc.
Not only has the Pittsburgh Pirate reliever recovered from a pitcher's most dreaded injury, a torn rotator cuff, he is pitching better than ever thanks to a new type of arthroscopic surgery.And, Gott said, thanks to the determination to get his head together as soon as he got his arm together he may be on the way to being the kind of pitcher many always thought he could be.
"They always said I had a million dollar arm and a 10-cent brain," he said.
Despite a 95-mph fastball and big-league breaking ball, Gott struggled to a 21-30 record in three seasons with the Blue Jays, then was traded to the San Francisco Giants. But even a change of leagues didn't bring a change of luck.
Gott was 7-10 in 1985, then blew out his right shoulder a year later. Some Giants officials feared the injury was career-threatening.
"That kind of fueled the fire," Gott, a former BYU student, said. "If you're a competitor, you don't like being told you can't do something."
In June 1986, Gott was told he could either undergo a new type of arthroscopic surgery and an intensive rehabilitation program or risk going under the knife for conventional surgery.
"A lot of pitchers just don't come back from rotator cuff injuries," Gott said. "They told me that If I got scoped, the rehab would last for the rest of my life, that it wouldn't be easy.
"As soon as I heard that, the challenge was on."
Gott had a partial tear of the supraspinator tendon, which helps stabilize the upper arm. His doctors, including Dr. Jim Andrews of Columbus, Ga., inserted fiberoptic probes into the joint to allow them to see the area being repaired.
They operated on the tendon tear by making a tiny slice in the shoulder, the same technique used on thousands of sports-related knee injuries. The advantage to arthroscopic surgery is that since the incision is so small, the recovery time is usually weeks instead of months.
But since arthroscopic surgery has been used so rarely for shoulder injuries, doctors still aren't sure how successful it is in comparison to conventional surgery. So there was still the unknown factor whether Gott could get well.
In order to build up his newly repaired arm, Gott began lifting small dumbbells in a variety of exercises. He avoided heavy weights in order not to risk reinjuring the just-repaired tendon.
The longer Gott stayed with the rehab program, the stronger his arm got. And when he started throwing again, he discovered his fastball was even faster.
"Before I was hurt, I could throw 94, 95 (mph) ... but I was throwing 98 (mph) consistently," he said."
The pitching-rich Giants used Gott mainly as a middle-innings reliever last season, but it wasn't until he was traded to the Pirates last August that he finally began reaching his potential.
Gott was 0-2 with a 1.45 earned run average in 25 appearances with the Pirates and had 13 saves in 16 opportunities. This season, while sharing the late-inning stopper's role with former Giants teammate Jeff Robinson, Gott is 1-0 with one save and a 3.38 ERA.
"He has become a real hammer for us in the bullpen," said Pirates manager Jim Leyland. "You can sense it among the other players ... they have a great deal of confidence when he or Jeff Robinson comes into the game."
Why was Gott able to recover from an injury that has ended the careers of so many?
"It's hard to say because everybody's shoulder is so different," Gott said. "Roger Clemens (of the Boston Red Sox) had about the same thing and he was able to come back, too. But maybe it was because they told me after I was injured that, `Now, it's all up to you.'
"Hey, when they told me that, I realized that it wasn't going to be easy, but it was up to me if I was going to have the rest of my career. It scares you to think your career might be over before you've accomplished what you want to accomplish."