PHOENIX – The phrases “epidural hemorrhage” and “brain contusion” do not usually inspire a punch line.
That is, unless you are right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who took social media to new heights by using his sense of humor to help get through the skull fracture he suffered when he was struck by an Erick Aybar line drive Sept. 4 while pitching for Oakland. The injuries left him in critical condition for several days. Almost immediately after the injury, McCarthy took to his Twitter account to continue his steady stream of insights, one-liners and dry observations that should make the newly signed starting pitcher a hit in the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse.
“As early as being on the ambulance on the way to the hospital, I was trying to think up funny tweets. Pretty much right after I regained consciousness, I was back to the same thing. I think it put me through what should have been a tough period. It was a way for my brain to run a little diagnostic check to make sure I think I can still be funny. ‘I think I am doing OK.’ And it was a way to reassure family, friends and anybody else that followed me or paid attention that I think things are OK. I think it helped the process quite a bit.”
A sample log of his week in the hospital during recovery from an operation that drained the hemorrhage and stabilized the fracture:
Sept. 8: “The good news in all of this is that I set up my fantasy lineups beforehand. So there should be no excuses at this point.”
Sept. 9: “Does auto correct have a brain injury edition.”
Sept. 11: “Bad news: Doc says I might be one of those people who posts motivational nonsense all day on Facebook now :(.”
Sept. 11: “Well, if being discharged from the hospital isn’t the best time to ask about a threesome then I’ve run out of ideas.”
That was before the tweet that said Oakland manager Bob Melvin “might be a witch” for the job he did in managing Oakland to the AL West title, and before tweeting that the couple in the Cialis commercial should “get in the same bath tub.”
Humor as therapy.
“Maybe someday 30 years down the road I’ll have a mental breakdown or something because I bottled everything up, but the way I confront everything is I try to attach humor to it in some way or another," McCarthy said Wednesday in a phone interview with the Arizona media. "That way, nothing has too much seriousness. It causes me not to weigh on things.
After missing the rest of the 2012 season McCarthy was seen by a concussion specialist at the University of Pittsburgh on Nov. 14. The head injury most affected his vestibular system, which governs the sense of balance, and he went through a comprehensive series of tests. He had a strenuous 30-minute workout, the kind he might have done during the baseball season, and also was given cognitive skills exam.
The result: All is well, the reason the D-backs had no qualms in committing $15.5 million over two years to add McCarthy to a rotation that includes Ian Kennedy, former Oakland teammate Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and a player to be named. McCarthy, 29, will receive a $2.5 million signing bonus and salaries of $4 million and $9 million.
“It really has become as much of a non-factor as anything that major can be,” McCarthy said.
“When I got there, I was sort of hesitant in what I could do and what I was capable of. Once they pushed me through it, I realized I’m fine. Ever since that day, I haven’t been restricted by anything. I have felt no symptoms. Haven’t had even the slightest hint of a setback. Everything has been encouraging on that front, and I expect it to stay that way and keep going to where it is just something that happened in the past.”
McCarthy is coming off his best two seasons, the result of a philosophical change to become more of a ground-ball, throw-to-contact pitcher. He and his wife, Amanda, were on a 2011 ESPN cover for a story that detailed his transformation. He was 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA in two years in Oakland, and 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA in 111 innings when his 2012 season came to an abrupt halt.
The most obvious change in the last two seasons was in his command. His WHIP with the A’s was 1.17, his ratio of strikeouts to walks was 4:1, and he had only 49 walks, or about 1.5 per nine innings. It is the kind of strike throwing that general manager Kevin Towers covets. Chase Field is a much different park than Oakland’s O.co Coliseum with its generous foul territory, but McCarthy believes it shouldn't matter much.
McCarthy’s immediate family lives in Tucson and Scottsdale, which is a comfort factor; a familiarity with some of his new teammates played a role in his decision, too. Shortstop Cliff Pennington and right-handers Cahill and Brad Ziegler were with McCarthy in Oakland. But that was not all.
“A big thing is, it’s a team that is so close to being competitive," he said. "Two years ago, they were an extremely competitive team, and I think all the ingredients are there for that.
“Really deep starting rotation. There is a lot of good offensive talent there, especially young talent. There are some good defensive players. I think you have everything you are looking for a team that can make a deep run and possibly win the whole thing. And if you are looking for something in the shorter term the way we were, that’s an important thing.
“You want to know that you are joining a good team and something that you can possibly be one of those final pieces to.”