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Stottlemyre thrilled to return to Yankees

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


There are certain hazards that go with having a low immune system. Certain rules that must be followed. Stay away from crowds. Avoid children. Treat someone with a cold as if they have the plague.

These are the type of instructions Mel Stottlemyre was given during his fight and recovery from multiple myeloma, a type of cancer that affects the blood and lowers immunities. Yet at the same time his illness was forcing him to push others away, Stottlemyre grew more eager to embrace life.

Upon arriving at spring training last week, the Yankees pitching coach said he was as excited as he had been four decades earlier as a rookie.

"The countless letters I got from people that had an association with this particular disease or some form of cancer was just phenomenal," Stottlemyre said. "So I'm anxious to be back to show people that life goes on after cancer. This thing can be handled, can be kicked."

Stottlemyre, who missed most of last season while undergoing a stem-cell transplant and chemotherapy, said he was surprised to discover how much it hurt to be away and to watch the World Series celebration from afar.

Yankees players and officials say Stottlemyre's handling of the situation was inspiring.

"I never said, "Why me?' It's really easy to say, "Why not me?"' Stottlemyre said. "I don't think I had a lot of dread. I got a tremendous amount of strength from my wife and kids. They were tremendous through the whole thing. We were all positive and upbeat throughout it all."

It was not the first time Stottlemyre's family has dealt with cancer. His son Jason died of leukemia in 1981 at 11 years of age. Stottlemyre and wife Jean received the National Recognition Award for their charity work with leukemia in 1992. Now he has started the Mel Stottlemyre Multiple Myeloma Foundation.

"Nobody is free from the chances of getting this. I think that's one of the things I'm hoping to do during the course of this year, is making people more aware of how cancer can be handled, how far we've come," he said. "I'm going to make myself available to anyone who has the disease and has gone through anywhere close to what I've gone through."

FINALLY, A PLAYER'S GREED PAYS OFF: Do you suppose Jerry Reinsdorf gets down on his knees every night and thanks heaven that Albert Belle wriggled out of a contract with the White Sox in 1998? Belle still was owed $35-million for three years, but a clause allowed him to become a free agent because he was no longer one of the three highest-paid players in the game.

He left for a five-year, $65-million contract in Baltimore and has had diminishing numbers since. Now there is concern that an arthritic hip condition could be career-threatening. The Orioles are expected to learn more about Belle's hip at his scheduled physical Tuesday.

In his last four seasons in Cleveland (1993-96), Belle led the American League in RBI three times and home runs once. He has not led the league since. His batting average in his final four years with the Indians was .315 and his slugging percentage was .638. In the last four years, those numbers are .295 and .541.

THE AARP FAVORITES: Not to say the Red Sox are counting on a couple of old coots in their rotation, but the first time Bret Saberhagen and David Cone were in spring training together was with the Royals -- in 1983.

LES BOYS: If anyone in Montreal is still optimistic about the future of that franchise, Giants owner Peter Magowan wants your phone number. "Montreal is about as hopeless a case as there is in baseball," Magowan said. "They take all their revenue in at Canadian dollars, (which is) 62 cents to the dollar. They pay all their expenses in U.S. dollars. They weren't even on (English) TV and radio last year. Nobody comes to the ballpark. It's a terrible facility. They don't really have much potential for a new one. I don't see how anybody can make it work." Cracker Jacks, anyone?

ON THE MEND: Seffner's Sterling Hitchcock was not expected back with the Padres until June or July, but said his elbow surgery went so well he could be pitching by April or May.

THE INDIGNITY OF IT ALL: Tony Fernandez hit .328 with an on-base percentage of .427 with the Blue Jays in 1999. His reward is that he has not found a job with a major-league team in two years. He had to play last season in Japan and this season in Milwaukee.

THEY CAN'T DO THAT TO OUR PLEDGE: Keep this in mind the next time the Braves accuse the media of perpetuating the John Rocker-as-knucklehead story. When the Braves faced off against Rocker in arbitration last week, they used his off-field rantings against him in their case. "The player's appeal and image is one of the criteria," assistant general manager Frank Wren said. "It's a fact the arbiter takes into account, so it's something we take into account." The Braves won the case.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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