Greene moves on after injuries cut career short
Former pitcher content with life after shoulder problems derailed promising
Tommy Greene is happy.
Which doesn't sound like a remarkable statement until you consider that when he was just 26 years old, the big right-hander went 16-4 with a 3.42 ERA for an underdog Phillies team in 1993 that made it all the way to the World Series. He started 30 games that magical season. His future seemed unlimited.
And that he started a total of 15 more big league games in his career, sabotaged by shoulder problems that led to three surgeries. He made his last appearance for the Astros on July 4, 1997. He was still just 30 years old.
"At one time I was a bitter, angry guy," Greene said during Alumni Weekend at Citizens Bank Park. "There's one guy who was a big help for me. [Phillies employee assistance professional] Dickie Noles. He called me and he asked me how I was doing. And I told him. I was down in Clearwater at the time and he was on a plane the next day. This was while I was still with the organization. And it changed me. He got me with some people I could talk about it with. I didn't like to look at baseball anymore. I didn't want to be around. I didn't keep up with nothing. I was angry because I felt like it had been taken away from me. I had always worked hard to prevent injuries. And it kept happening. It was very humbling.
"It didn't take long. But once I got it in my head that I was doing all I could do, it was okay. When I walked away, I was good with it. I do love the game. I miss playing it at the level I've played it at. But I've done all I can do. I can walk away and say, 'Hey, I gave it all I have to do it.' I tried to persevere, but it just wasn't in the cards at the time. Life moves forward. That's the way I dealt with it, and it was good."
Life wasn't through throwing Greene curves, though. In 2010 his wife, Lori, passed away.
"It was a shock," he said. "A lot of people didn't realize. She passed away from cancer, but she'd been under pain management for like 12 years before that. Major back issues. Scar tissue. All kinds of high-powered drugs to control the pain. She was always in pain, lived a life of pain. I don't know if the good man upstairs decided it was time. Maybe that's the way he handled it. And that's the way I dealt with it."
He has since remarried and, in fact, moved back to the Philadelphia area because that's where Wendy is from.
He is comfortable after making a total of $4 million in 1994 and '95 alone. He does some alumni work for the Phillies, dabbles in radio, works with youth leagues.
"I try to give back to the kids a lot," he said. "You know, everything's not always going to be hunky-dory. And that's okay. You put forth the work and the effort and the time. And if it doesn't work out, you can look back and say you gave it 100 percent. Nobody can take that away from you. You don't look back with any regrets. And I don't regret nothing. I retired and walked away from it when I was ready."
He's also a spokesperson for the St. Mary's Hospital Endoscopy Center, urging people to have periodic colonoscopies.
"You should usually start at age 50 unless you have a predisposition in your family. My first wife didn't pass away from that kind of cancer, but still cancer. So it hit home to me," he said. "I had to go through the procedure myself. I'm not 50 yet, but I did it and they found a polyp. It wasn't cancerous, which is good. But I want to bring awareness to stuff like that."
He always worked out but has paid even closer attention to conditioning since being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago.
He has learned the hard way how quickly things can change. Released by the Phillies after the 1996 season, he signed a Minor League contract with Houston. Although he still wasn't completely healthy, he pitched well enough to earn a callup, but his shoulder gave out again after just two starts.
"I kept trying to hang on," he said. "I had that surgery and then another surgery at the end of '98. That was a bigger surgery, and I had to choose whether or not I was going to have it. They found out the root of my problem, so to speak, which had been going on for a long time, but was missed before. There were no guarantees I could come back, but I still had to rehab it."
He went to camp with the Braves, the team that had drafted him in the first round in 1985 before trading him to the Phillies, along with Dale Murphy, for Jeff Parrett, Jim Vatcher and Victor Rosario in August 1990. The following season, he won 13 games for the Phillies. But the homecoming didn't work out. He eventually went to extended Spring Training with the Pirates. His last shot was with '93 Phillies manager Jim Fregosi, then with the Blue Jays.
"It just never would hold up," he said with a shrug. "So I said, 'You know, I worked my tail off. I always worked hard. But it just didn't ever work out.'"
By then, after the 2000 season, he was at peace with the decision. Because by then he had learned that if you've tried your best, you never have to look back and wonder what might have been.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.