When doctor said change jobs, Tigers' Leiter changed doctors

August 31, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Mark Leiter can't forget the words on the doctor's report. They read:

"Suggest maybe you find a new line of endeavor."

This was in 1987. It was the second of three straight full seasons in which Leiter, then with the Baltimore organization, couldn't pitch because of shoulder trouble. He wasn't recovering well from his second shoulder operation of 1986.

"That was when I felt the worst," he said. "I was thinking about quitting baseball. It was very hard mentally. But my wife [Allison] kept encouraging me."

Of all the amazing individual stories on this season's Detroit Tigers, Leiter's might be the most astounding.

He came to the Tigers from the New York Yankees in an unheralded spring training deal for Torey Lovullo. Leiter, 28, made the club coming out of Florida, but when he showed up at Tiger Stadium for Opening Day, he was told he had been sent to Triple-A Toledo to make room for newly signed Pete Incaviglia. Leiter was recalled two weeks later, then spent the first half of the season in the bullpen or on the disabled list.

But now, in one of those special stories that seem to work into the fabric of every unexpected contender, he has become the Tigers' pitcher of the month in August -- the month in which the team stopped orbiting .500 and ascended to catch Toronto.

"Sometimes, when I think where I was four years ago, I can't get over all that has happened," Leiter said. "I'm so excited, I have trouble going to sleep some nights.

"I can't describe the feeling. I just love playing baseball. You keep playing because you love the game. Contracts and all that stuff aside, baseball is something we've all been doing since we were 7 years old.

"I've always been a fan. I still have all my baseball cards. And here I am playing with some of the greatest players in the game -- Trammell, Whitaker, Fielder."

Now Leiter is doing a lot more than just playing with them. He's contributing in a pennant race.

The right-hander joined the rotation in mid-July, and won one of his three starts before the month ended. Then pitching coach Billy Muffett suggested Leiter shorten his delivery to make it more like Bill Gullickson's.

His next start was Thursday, Aug. 1, a day game at home with California. He pitched 7 2/3 innings for the win.

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