Doc Trades Indians' Jersey for UC Health Lab Coat
Published August 2010
How badly did Thomas Tomsick, MD, want to be a doctor?
Well, almost 50 years ago he was wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform as a teenager, traveling on charter flights and staying in the finest hotels.
He gave that up to move into a $100-a-month rooming house and attend medical school at St. Louis University.
As they say on the baseball field (and in plenty of operating rooms): ’Nuff said!
Tomsick, a faculty member at the UC College of Medicine since 1976 and director of neuroradiology since 1993, has written a book about his life in the company of major leaguers called "Strike 3! My Years in the ’Pen.”
As he makes clear from the start of the book, Tomsick wasn’t an actual member of the Indians’ roster—he was a bullpen catcher, paid on a per-day basis to warm up pitchers. Still, he enjoyed many of the perks of big-league life, rubbed shoulders with such stars as Sam McDowell, Rocky Colavito and Luis Tiant and even appeared on a Topps baseball card with his teammates.
Relaxing in his office at UC Health University Hospital and looking back to his baseball days, Tomsick recalls the point at which he had to make the final decision between medicine and baseball: A broken finger made the choice easier, but it was already clear to him where his path was leading.
"I loved baseball, and given the opportunity I would have played,” he says. "But I wasn’t a very good hitter.”
So how did Tomsick, just a year removed from playing high school ball, go from bagging groceries to warming up baseball all-stars in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium and other American League parks — including Yankee Stadium?
"I played in an amateur league with a guy who pitched batting practice for the Indians,” Tomsick says.
"We had a friendly relationship, and when the bullpen catcher’s job became open, he asked me if I was interested.
"Talk about dying and going to heaven … that was right up my alley.”
Tomsick spent parts of the next three seasons (1964–1966) with the Indians, studying for college (John Carroll University) and medical school in a corner of the locker room or bullpen.
And no, he wasn’t taking notes for a future book like Jim Bouton ("Ball Four”) or ex-Red Jim Brosnan ("The Long Season” and "Pennant Race”).
"I didn’t plan on writing a book. I wish I had; I would have written a better book,” Tomsick says.
"But I’m not going to write about guys peeking into windows at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, like in ‘Ball Four.’ I didn’t even know guys were doing that when I was at the Shoreham in 1964!”
Instead, Tomsick has written a book that, as he describes it, is like a baseball, with its "core” an up-close look at the Indians’ pitching staff headed by the "Big Three” of McDowell, Tiant and Sonny Siebert.
That staff would become the top strikeout staff in American League history, a record that stood until the performance-enhancing drugs era when, as Tomsick points out, sluggers were swinging for the fences more and missing as often as they connected.
"So I’ve got the core of the strikeout record,” Tomsick says, "and I’ve got the windings around it of life in the bullpen and the clubhouse. Then I covered the ball with my own personal experiences and opinions regarding the record.
"These guys should be recognized as the top strikeout team in the history of the American League, pure and simple,” he adds, bolstering his argument in the book with numerous charts and statistics. (The book is also liberally sprinkled with photographs, some of which he found while preparing his childhood home for sale.)
For a busy doctor, finding the time to write a baseball book took some creativity.
"My mother, brother-in-law and father-in-law were ill during the past few years, and my wife, Judy, and I were traveling to Cleveland a lot,” Tomsick says.
"She would drive and I would sit on the passenger side, writing on a laptop.”
Two publishers turned an early version down, and Tomsick says he wasn’t sure if it was worth the time and money to self-publish.
"Then my mother died in January,” he says, "and I decided I was going to do it in her memory.
She had read a Kinko’s copy and gotten the biggest kick out of it.”
It’s safe to say that anyone who loves baseball will have the same reaction.
Self-published through Cincinnati Book Publishers, the book is available at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, UC bookstores and online at www.cincybooks.com.