NEW YORK — The New York Yankees have been able to overcome a record-setting number of injuries this season in their quest to capture World Series title No. 28 — and the wildest injury of all didn’t even happen to a player.
Pat Murtaugh, a pro scout with 30 years of experience, is currently advancing one of the other AL playoff hopefuls, trying to help the Yankees gain even the slightest edge should the two teams meet in October.
Given what happened to Murtaugh a few weeks ago, he’s fortunate to still be preparing for the postseason.
An urgent care trip revealed a surprising illness — caused by a black widow bite — that turned into emergency surgery, none of which stopped this Yankees scout from doing his job. Not even for a day. It’s a story that proves just how dedicated baseball scouts are to their craft. Especially when the postseason is right around the corner.
The story starts in Arizona, in the third inning a minor-league game he was assigned to cover. Murtaugh, who turned 61 on Sunday, felt something on the inside of his left thigh.
“I just thought I’d been standing too long, so I did some squats and stretched out a little bit,” Murtaugh told Yahoo Sports. “When I woke up the next day, I had a knot on the inside of my thigh, but there wasn’t any discoloration or anything like that.”
Murtaugh visited with a team trainer who wasn’t sure what it was — perhaps an insect bite. He then had it checked out in Phoenix, and the doctor there thought it might’ve been a spider bite, “but it really hadn’t discolored yet.”
Murtaugh flew to Tennessee to cover his next minor-league game featuring the Greeneville Reds — and his condition worsened significantly. His thigh now contained a really dark circle. He began to experience flu-like symptoms. His neck was stiff. His joints were achy. He woke up the following morning and felt horrible. The dark circle had gotten bigger. His wife told him he’d better get it checked out.
So Murtaugh went to an urgent care in Kingsport, Tenn. And things escalated from there.
“They took my blood right away, and then the doctor came in, put her gloves on and looked at my thigh,” Murtaugh recounted. “She looked at it for about a minute and said, ‘Sir, this is so deep in your tissue that I’m not going to touch it. I’m going to call a surgeon.’
“And I’m like, ‘What?!’”
The doctor came back five minutes later and asked if Murtaugh could do an outpatient surgery at 1 p.m. that day. He went to the hospital, filled out his forms and underwent a 45-minute surgery in which a surgeon numbed him from his hip down to his knee and cut out the infection — which contained venom.
Yes, Murtaugh was told he had been bitten by a black widow and was close to having a life-threatening bloodstream infection that can lead to organ failure.
“The doctor told me things got worse with altitude when I was flying,” Murtaugh said. “I was close to becoming septic.”
Of course — being the gamer that he is — Murtaugh went right to the ballpark afterward his surgery was over and scouted a minor-league game later that night.
“My leg was numb, but I felt fine physically because I didn’t have the flu-like symptoms anymore,” Murtaugh said. “A lot of people think I was crazy, but that’s just what scouts do. They keep on trucking.”
Murtaugh has since received a clean bill of health from his regular doctor in Indiana.
“It ended up healing,” he said. “Today, it’s probably as good as it’s been.”
Scouts across the country rack up frequent-flyer miles and Marriott points as they scour the country evaluating talent for their respective organizations. Murtaugh said that since July, he’s been home about twice a month. “Otherwise, I’ve seen a game probably every day,” he said.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman and other members of the front office including VP of baseball operations Tim Naehring and director of pro scouting Dan Giese have since reached out since the incident.
“They’ve been really good to me,” said Murtaugh, who is in his fourth season with the Yankees.
Asked about his love of scouting, Murtaugh replied: “For one, you love the game. But more importantly, it’s that competition to get players right, get players into your organization that can help you win championships.
“There’s so many people involved in acquiring a player — from the analytics side to the team doctors — but it starts with the pro scout, and that’s why we take pride in the (DJ) LeMahieu’s that came here and all the different guys we got. That’s the competition of getting a player right. You keep digging and find out about his makeup and whether he can handle New York City.”
The Yankees — a model of sustainability given their ability to blend scouting and analytics in an effort to secure diamonds in the rough on the diamond — have managed to overcome their share of injuries, with the quest for their 28th World Series title about to begin for real.
Pat Murtaugh’s injury was the most serious of them all — a black widow bite.
Yet he did what he thought any baseball scout would do after undergoing surgery.
He kept on trucking.
There was another player to find, another edge to be gained.
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