Veteran Brocail has heart surgery

Veteran reliever Brocail has heart surgery

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Padres relief pitcher Doug Brocail, 38, submitted to heart surgery on Saturday morning in nearby Sun City for what a doctor described as "a 99 percent blockage of the left anterior descending coronary artery," the main artery pumping blood through the heart.

According to Dr. Harry Albers of Scripps Medical Group, Brocail "was treated by angioplasty and the plant of an intercoronary stent. He did quite well through the procedure and is resting now."

Albers said Brocail would be moved to San Diego when he's able and would undergo evaluations for at least two weeks. His wife, Lisa, and five daughters live near Houston, and Brocail recently reflected on the one negative aspect of his work, "being away from my girls for so long."

Describing a 99 percent blockage as "scary," Albers reflected the gravity of the surgery when he said, "I'm grateful to tears that his wife and five daughters have their husband and father. "The most important thing -- a cardiologist said as much to Doug -- is he's a lucky man. This probably saved his life. A 99 percent occlusion is scary."

Albers recalled that the late Darryl Kile wasn't as fortunate when he suffered a fatal heart attack at 33 in a Chicago hotel room in 2002 while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Albers could recall no precedent for a Major League performer returning to action after this kind of procedure, adding, "The outlook is good from the point of view of health and having him for his wife and five daughters. The outlook from a baseball standpoint is very up in the air. But we may be breaking new ground."

The Padres' management team expressed its belief that Brocail will make the comeback attempt.

The immediate concern, from the perspectives of general manager Kevin Towers, manager Bruce Bochy and head athletic trainer Todd Hutcheson, was the pitcher's health.

"Getting him in [for evaluation and surgery] may have saved the guy's life," Towers said. "We could have had a real tragedy on our hands if this wasn't caught. I can't say enough good things about Hutch and Dr. Albers and the physicians who saw Broc over the last two days and were able to catch this.

"If he does come back to pitch, it's a bonus. We'll know in the next two weeks what kinds of risks are involved [in him coming back to pitch] -- what he can and can't handle, what the risk factors are."

Added Bochy: "More than anything, I'm just glad we found this before anything serious could have happened on the field. Our physicians did a great job, Dr. Albers making sure we did the proper test to find out exactly what was going on before something did happen. No question, this was a time bomb.

"Right now, he's going to need some time. We want him to get healthy, and we'll rely on our medical staff to monitor him and go from there. I'm sure he's going to have that sense of determination to get back on the mound. If anybody will be back on the mound, it's going to be Doug Brocail."

Hutcheson said a game plan would be formulated after Brocail is given medical clearance to return, adding, "The biggest battle for him is he's got in his mind he's ready to pitch. We're going to have to have to put reins on him, knowing his personality."

Brocail pitched in competition as recently as March 7, setting down the Giants in order in a Cactus League game while throwing fastballs in the 90 mph range, according to Bochy.

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"He looked good," Bochy said. "Broc was really throwing well."

Brocail, who passed a physical when he signed a free agent contract in December, began complaining of chest pain four days after experiencing a toothache on Feb. 27 that resulted in the tooth's extraction. He was put on an antibiotic and, on March 3, related to Hutcheson "some chest tightness when he would run or throw," Albers said.

Given Brocail's asthma history, he was prescribed an inhaler, which seemed to help. But when the chest pains persisted, extensive cardio testing revealed a "large abnormality on the interior of the heart."

He was admitted the area hospital on Friday night, and the surgery was performed Saturday morning.

It was determined that Brocail has a history of heart troubles on both sides of his family and that he has chewed tobacco, which has been shown to be harmful to the heart, Albers said.

Durable and dependable, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Brocail spent the past two seasons in Texas, reviving a career that he thought was over. The Rangers expressed interest before the 2004 season, and Brocail had a productive return to the game with nine wins in 13 decisions and 104 strikeouts in 144 innings across two seasons in Texas.

He'd spent 2002 and '03 idle, recovering from a pair of Tommy John surgeries. His medical history is such that he recently referred to his many arthroscopic procedures over the years as "cleanouts," comparing them to oil changes.

After 104 appearances in those two seasons in Texas, Brocail chose to return to his original organization. The Padres signed him in 1986 as a first-round pick, 12th overall, in the First-Year Player Draft.

After pitching in parts of three seasons with the Padres, Brocail departed San Diego following the 1994 season in a blockbuster swap with Houston that featured Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley coming west.

As his personal fate would have it, the Padres began winning division titles (1996, '98) and reached a World Series ('98) after he left -- just as Houston would begin making playoff appearances after dealing Brocail following the '96 season to Detroit, where he had four productive seasons.

"I want to be a piece of the puzzle," Brocail said as he arrived in camp, explaining that his respect for Bochy and Towers figured heavily into his decision to sign with the Padres.

Brocail has appeared in 442 Major League games with a 37-40 record and 4.06 ERA. He had career highs of 70 appearances and 82 innings with the 1999 Tigers.

He has been a reliever since 1994 following elbow surgery at the outset of the season. He'd started 24 games for the Padres in '93, going 4-13 with a 4.56 ERA.

"I go way back with Broc," Towers was saying. "I can't say enough good things about the guy. We're just so grateful this was detected and caught in time."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.