Former pitcher Bowie now gasps for air

2019-01-09 micahbowienationals
Micah Bowie, on the mound as a National, before assorted elbow, hip, and shoulder issues killed a career they compromised in the first place.

Micah Bowie’s isn’t necessarily a name you’d recognise at first hearing. He pitched for five major league teams, when he could pitch at all, before retiring in 2008. Now he may be lucky to be alive at all. The lefthander who left baseball hoping to help aspiring players avoid or get past injuries of the kind that derailed his career gasps for air now. Literally.

Bowie suffers a ruptured diaphragm. A harrowing YouTube video shows him fighting for his breath behind assorted monitoring cables attached to his chest. (He’s believed to have a mere eight percent lung capacity now.) Compared to this, spending his professional baseball life losing a war with his elbow, hip, shoulder, and groin was child’s play for the now 44-year-old Texas product.

The Major League Baseball Players Association spurned a request from Bowie’s family to vest his $60,000-per-year medical benefit in advance of the normal 62-years-old vesting age. Bowie was released from palliative care on 29 December 2018, according to journalist Douglas Gladstone, whose mission has become advocating for such players as Bowie and for former major leaguers denied pensions after a 1980 rules change.

Bowie was due to go to the Jewish National Lung Hospital in Denver on 3 January. Bowie’s wife, Keeley, has all she can do to keep a semblance of normalcy for their children in the middle of her husband’s poor prognosis. The Players Association, whose executive director Tony Clark is a former major league first baseman, and whose staffers today include Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and several other former players, didn’t respond to requests from this journal for comment.

The players’ union may have rejected Bowie’s family for an early benefit vest, but that’s not the case with one-time Cy Young Award runner-up Mike Norris, one of the quintet of starting pitchers Sports Illustrated ballyhooed as the Athletics’ “Five Aces” in an April 1981 cover story. Former Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty plus former Blue Jays pitching coach Rick Langford, Brian Kingman, and Matt Keough completed the quintet; Billy Martin, a manager whom Bill James once described as “a man who did not quite believe in the existence of the future,” rode them hard until they were put to bed wet, figuratively.

Their splash turned to drowning within three seasons, mostly, as one after another of the Five came down with career-destroying arm or shoulder issues after a collective workload that sent baseball people then and now to the nearest whiskey jug. Norris—who pitched through pain in 1981 and 1982 after winning 22 games in 1980—also turned up in cocaine’s grip, testifying at the notorious 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials.

He cleaned up and in time became involved with Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, a group helping youth learn the game and its pitfalls alike. In 1999 hes underwent surgery to correct cervical myelopathy, a spinal condition. A decade later, at age 53, Norris asked for and received his $89,000 annual family disability benefit.

“It is anathema to me why, if Mike Norris could get his reported $89,000 disability benefits claim approved a decade ago,” says Gladstone, who doesn’t begrudge Norris receiving it, “the union is unwilling to do the same for Micah and his family. And Mr. Norris wasn’t in palliative care.”

Bowie never got anywhere near Norris’s brief but certain acquaintance with mound glory. What began with an ulnar ligament injury in the Braves’ system in 1966 turned into two more injuries to it that finally forced him to Tommy John surgery in 2003. He’d barely worked his way back when he suffered a detached latissimus muscle under his throwing arm and, two years later, a groin injury. He was lucky to pitch parts of six major league seasons with the Braves, the Cubs, the Athletics, the Nationals, and the Rockies before he called it a career after the Astros released him from their organisation in 2008.

“I’ve gone through most every injury that you can go through as a pitcher,” Bowie told the San Antonio Express-News in 2010. “I know how to find out how to fix it, and how to come back and pitch on the major-league level. I want to take those things that guarantee you take the hurt away.”

On ninety acres east of San Marcos, Texas, Bowie put his knowledge and his money where his mouth was. He formed the Bowie Baseball Academy with staffers that included former minor league manager Joe Szekely, former Astros first-round pick Jimmy Gonzalez, current Pirates prospect Pasquale Mazzocoli, former Dodger minor league catcher Brett Magnusson, and former Royals minor leaguer David Wood.

“Every time I got hurt, I got released,” Bowie told Express-News writer Richard Oliver. “I lost my livelihood, my job. These kids get hurt, they lose college, they lose opportunity. I don’t want an injury to be the determining factor if they play baseball or not.”

Not the way it was for Bowie. After three relief appearances for the 1999 Braves, despite being groomed as a starter in the minors, he was traded to the Cubs in the package that brough the Braves veteran pitcher Terry Mulholland and infielder Jose Hernandez. The Cubs returned him to starting where he didn’t exactly flourish; then, he was converted to relief work by the A’s. The Tommy John surgery followed not long after that, and he missed 2004 recuperating before the Nationals signed him on a minor league deal.

Bowie got another major league callup to the Nats in 2006 and became an effective setup reliever (1.37 ERA in fifteen appearances) before a groin injury derailed his season. He returned for 2007, again in the setup role, before four of the Nats’ five starting pitchers hit the disabled list and he returned to the starting role. In six starts he earned a 4-0 record with a 3.82 ERA before the hip injury hit.

He has also been a regular instructor at T Bar M Camps, a non-denominational Christian sports camp located in his native Texas. His entry at the camps’ Website includes a quote from Paul the Apostle’s letter to the Colossians: “Whatever you do , work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, and not for men.”

It isn’t his heart that threatens Bowie’s life now.

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