Brocail has simple message for his pitchers

Former reliever adamant: 'Do as I say, not as I did'

Brocail has simple message for his pitchers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail has a simple request for his pitchers.

"I don't want them to be a Doug Brocail," he said.

Brocail is not talking about trying to cure a heart attack with an asthma inhaler or trying to set a world record for fastest return from Tommy John surgery.

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He is talking about them being honest rather than bullheaded like a certain Major League reliever who spent 15 years in the big leagues despite two Tommy John surgeries, two heart procedures, one appendix removed and a dozen other assorted arm operations.

"I don't want any heroes," Brocail said. "I don't need you to throw nine out of 10 [games]. I don't want them when the phone rings, just to say yes. When a guy comes to me and says, 'I feel achy,' I say, 'Go see the trainer, find out why you're aching, where it's aching.'

"I'm big on if you feel something that day and don't want to go out there that day, I'm fine with that."

He just wasn't that way as a player.

"I had trouble saying no," Brocail said. "I wanted the ball and I wanted it as much as possible. That was the nice thing about the bullpen. As a starter, I was horrible. As a reliever, there were many times I would throw eight of 10, nine out of 13. The more I threw, the better I felt.

"All the surgeries aside, looking back, I wouldn't change anything. But I think what it did for my coaching career, it made it easier to communicate with my guys and have an understanding of what they feel. It humbled me. I thought I could bully my way through everything. Just one day you learn."

Brocail isn't exaggerating when he says, "There is not an arm ache out there these kids have that I haven't had."

But probably no pitcher has undergone two angioplasty procedures a month apart and still pitched 25 games that season. That was in 2006 with the Padres. Brocail pitched 139 more games over the next two seasons and was still going strong into 2009 until he ripped his left hamstring muscle off the bone while pitching for the Astros in May.

"When you hear the pop and you feel the pop, you instantly want to look for the sniper that shot you," Brocail said. "It's like, 'Oh my god, this isn't good.'"

Brocail has the honor of being the first pitcher to return from back-to-back Tommy John surgeries, as chronicled by Jeff Passan in his book "The Arm." Brocail merits mention by missing three straight years -- 2001-03 -- because he needed the famous procedure done twice.

"The first one was my fault," Brocail said. "The doctor fixed me, but I was going to be the guy who made it back in 4 1/2 to five months. I started throwing without letting them know.

"The first one would have worked, but I was impatient. The second one was phenomenal. I didn't hurt one day after the second one. Of course, I didn't pick up a ball for a year. I played by the rules on the second one."

Brocail signed with the Rangers in 2004, made their bullpen and was doing fine for a month until his appendix "exploded." He missed a month but went right back to pitching.

As far as Brocail was concerned, everything was going fine with his comeback until he had a heart attack in Spring Training 2006 with the Padres. It was another example of how stubborn Brocail could be as a player.

"At the time, you don't think they are chest pains," Brocail said. "You think you are having trouble breathing and out of breath. That winter, I was having a rough time getting into shape, I'm thinking I'm 36, maybe it's supposed to happen this way.

"Come Spring Training, [Trevor Hoffman] and I were outrunning all the kids every day. Then one day I'm running and I had to stop running for the first time in my career. So I thought my childhood asthma was back ... no big deal."

Brocail tried to pitch that day, but bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds noticed he looked awful.

"You having a heart attack?" Akerfelds asked.

"Shut up," Brocail said. "Of course I'm not having a heart attack."

He was. Brocail was sent for a treadmill test and flunked it.

"I convinced the nurse that it was probably asthma," Brocail said. "I went to go out to the car and get an inhaler. Flunked it again. Next thing you know, they said, 'We need to get you to the hospital.'"

Brocail underwent an angioplasty on March 11, 2006, to have a stint placed in his artery. He needed a second surgery a month later to have three more stints inserted. His heart doctor was Paul Teirstein, who also treated Mother Teresa.

"I have been fine since then," Brocail said.

His one goal now is to keep his pitchers healthy through the season. Brocail wants them to do what he says, not what he did.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.