Phils' Eisenreich a World-class hero

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 18, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

TORONTO -- World Series moments don't get any better than this. From 1984 to '86, Jim Eisenreich played for his town team in St. Cloud, Minn. Last night, he hit the three-run homer that broke open Game 2 of the World Series.

Suffice it to say that there has rarely been a World Series hero as inspiring as Eisenreich, the Philadelphia right fielder who suffers from the rare neurological disorder known as Tourette's syndrome.

Eisenreich, 34, endured a nightmarish first three seasons after making his major-league debut with Minnesota in '82. He went on the voluntary retired list in June of '84, and didn't resurface until signing with Kansas City in '87.

But there he was last night, batting with one out in the third inning, crushing an 0-2 fastball from Dave Stewart over the center-field wall to give the Phillies a 5-0 lead in a game they won, 6-4.

"I went in dugout after I walked [in his first at-bat] and Curt Schilling said, 'Hit one out for your daughter,' " Eisenreich said. "I said, 'I've got the feeling I can hit one out tonight.' He said, 'I'll tell everyone you called it.' "

Sure enough, as Eisenreich stepped to the plate, Schilling told a Phillies trainer, "he's going to hit one out for his daughter." And sure enough, Eisenreich connected, against the only pitcher in baseball who has allowed him more than one home run.

Some day, Eisenreich can describe the moment to his 2-year-old DTC daughter, Lauren. "I was trying to think of something to say to him," Schilling recalled. "I have the utmost respect for him. He's such a family man. All he talks about is his daughter."

Eisenreich would be an unlikely hero for the home run alone -- he has hit only 32 in 2,506 career at-bats, including two previously off Stewart. But his comeback from Tourette's syndrome makes his feat even more remarkable.

Tourette's is an often misunderstood disorder that causes individuals to behave erratically. Its victims are prone to uncontrollable tics and manic movement, and they occasionally spew profanities or start barking for no apparent reason.

"I was 23 years old before I knew I had it," Eisenreich said Saturday night. "I'd had it since I was a little kid, but everyone thought I was just hyperactive."

The problem became acute when Eisenreich reached the major leagues. Large crowds bothered him, and some fans taunted him. He went on the disabled list with Tourette's four times in his first three seasons, playing in only 48 games.

It appeared that his career was over when he retired in '84, but Eisenreich spent the next three years experimenting with various drugs, trying to stabilize a condition he couldn't cure.

The answer turned out to be heavy tranquilizers, and even today Eisenreich remains on medication. "It's just a minimal amount now," he said. "I'm not even sure it works anymore."

Whatever, Eisenreich no longer will be remembered solely for his disorder. Until last night, his biggest thrill was when he hit a two-run homer to help St. Cloud win the Minnesota amateur championship, during the period he was out of baseball.

That was the only time Eisenreich played on the same team with his brother, Charlie, who is five years younger. Indeed, his World Series dream is to walk to center field with his brother, wife and daughter, and just sit down and talk.

The nice part is, even after Eisenreich returned with Kansas City, he never figured on this. He was a Joe Orsulak-type for the Royals, batting .286 in four seasons, but never driving in more than 59 runs.

The Royals declined to re-sign him last winter, and Eisenreich was out of work until Jan. 19, when the Phillies acquired him to improve their bench. He evolved into a platoon player, and wound up batting a career-high .318.

"We've got guys with worse afflictions," Schilling said, trying to lighten the mood. "He fit in from the first day he got here. This is a place where no one cares where you came from. A lot of us have checkered pasts."

But Eisenreich is different. After last night's game, he stood with his hands on his hips, visibly shaking as he spoke with reporters. He didn't want to talk about his past, not in the middle of a World Series.

"I don't think it's been a long journey," he said. "It's part of the journey of life. You have ups and downs. Hopefully, I've had my downs. This is an up. I'll cherish it as long as I live. But the most important thing is for the team to come out Tuesday night and win."

True enough, but maybe now he'll take that walk out to center field with his brother, wife and daughter. Last night, Jim Eisenreich became a World Series hero. It wasn't revenge, it was something far greater. It was a reward.

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