To read the full article from Scott Springer at The Enquirer, click here.
BLUE ASH – If not for the injured foot of a left wing in the International Hockey League, one of Major League Baseball’s top experts on Tommy John surgery for pitchers might not have been discovered.
It wouldn’t have been for lack of effort.
Dr. Tim Kremchek graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1986. After an internship and a couple of residencies, he served a sports medicine fellowship with renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama. Upon returning to Cincinnati, he was medical director of the Cincinnati Cyclones in their “hockey barn of bedlam” days at Cincinnati Gardens.
Former NHL player Paul Lawless was at the latter stage of his career but had injured a foot that Kremchek had repaired successfully. Then-Reds general manager Jim Bowden had a relief pitcher, Jeff Brantley, who had the same injury. Bowden sought out Kremchek, who would eventually perform the surgery.
Along the way, he relentlessly lobbied to become the Reds team doctor.
“The guy was tenacious,” Bowden recalled. “We didn’t need someone new at the position he wanted, but he just wouldn’t give up. He kept reaching out to me. I agreed to see him. I will never forget: He looked me in the eye and promised to give 100% at every single game. He was a go-getter, and I was impressed.”
Kremchek describes the interview process as a three-hour grilling of his knowledge of the franchise as well as his commitment to being available
Whatever he said worked. In late 1996, at age 34, he was hired for his dream job by a GM who was roughly the same age.
“That was the beginning of the dream that I’ve always had. Growing up in Cincinnati, if I couldn’t play for the Reds, I wanted to somehow work for the team.”
Kremcheck used his time with Andrews in Alabama well. He had wanted to learn how to take care of baseball playersand Andrews was among the best at it.He brought the Andrews attitude of 24/7 365 days per year to the Reds.
Andrews marvels now at Kremchek’s follow-through.
“He’s become remarkably successful and has done a tremendous job not just for the Reds, but for players around the league, especially when it comes to Tommy John elbow surgery,” Andrews said. “He achieved what he set out to do, which is become one of the best in our field.”
The walls of Kremchek’s office at the spacious, sprawling Summit Woods location of Beacon Orthopaedics in Sharonville are full of signed photos of Reds and numerous big leaguers who have benefited from his talents.
“His track record as a medical director and orthopedic doctor is at an equivalent level of a Mike Trout, LeBron James or Tom Brady in their fields,” Bowden said, who continued to consult the doctor after he left the Reds for the Nationals. “If there was a wing in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for orthopedic surgeons. Dr. Andrews would be there, with Doc Kremchek not far behind.”
Ironically maybe, Dr. Frank Jobe, creator of Tommy John surgery, was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame but never inducted, nor was John who pitched 14 more years after the procedure.
Kremchek was recently named a Top 10 MLB surgeon by Bleacher Report. He’s done more than 2,500 Tommy John operations, including on the arms of such pitchers as Milwaukee’s Brent Suter (Moeller), San Diego ace Mike Clevinger. and Oakland ace Chris Bassitt. Bassitt was referred to Kremchek by local agent Joe Bick of Pro Star Management.
“Nobody cares about the people they work on more than he does.,” Bick said. “And he will do it on a moment’s notice.”
A long way from Plant City
It’s been 25 years since Kremchek signed on as Reds medical director. He experienced Opening Day for the first time after flying home with the team from one of their previous spring training sites, Plant City, Florida.
“Getting off the plane, I still get chills thinking about it,” Kremchek said. “You come off the plane with Barry Larkin, Reggie Sanders, Kevin Mitchell and Bret Boone. It was a big deal!”
Larkin was on that team and was one of the first Reds to welcome him in spring training, having known his past association with Moeller High School. (Kremchek’s father was Moeller’s team doctor for years and he has since maintained that position). His love and admiration for Moeller have also resulted in a sizable donation to the school to build their upcoming baseball stadium in Miamiville that will feature the family name.
The days and hours can be long. A typical day can run from 5:30 a.m. to an hour after a late-night ballgame at Great American Ball Park, with double-digit surgeries in between at Beacon’s Sharonville complex.
“When you do this and to do it correctly, it’s not just showing up and taking care of their injuries,” Kremchek said. “It’s developing a personal interest with the players, front office, ownership. You immerse yourself into the organization.”
Former Red Sean Casey added, “Doc Kremchek was more than our doctor,he was part of the team.”
After his preliminary work before a game, he joins Reds Chief Executive Officer Robert Castellini in the owner’s booth where they discuss the team’s health. Sometimes, hesays, he’s playfully chastised if he has worked on a member of the opposition who fares well against the Reds, though his loyalty is never doubted.
“I don’t think there’s another team physician in all of baseball that equals Tim’s love and devotion to a team,” Castellini said.
Becoming Doc Hollywood
A silver anniversary comes with a lifetime of memories and Kremchek has many from his time spent in the clubhouse. Among those are experiences with two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame (Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr.), a member of the broadcast wing of Cooperstown (Marty Brennaman) and a Pro Football Hall of Famer in Deion Sanders.
The latter once challenged the young doctor to a spring-training foot race. This came after Kremchek had teased “Prime Time” during a visit in spring training at Sarasota, wondering aloud if Sanders was really that fast.
Sanders then offered him a lead-off start off of second base saying he would start at the plate and beat him home. Somewhere, video of the match race exists.
“I’m chugging going around third and hitting it hard,” Kremchek said. “All of a sudden this breeze goes right by me and he’s at home plate. On the video you see him go around second base facing home plate. I said, ‘You win. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life!'”
In the end, Kremchek had and still has fun.And, he’s admired enough to have to have been mentioned by Larkin, Junior (Griffey) and Brennaman in remarks at Cooperstown.
It was Brennaman who first referred to Kremchek as “Doc Hollywood”.
That happened because Bowden didn’t care to discuss injuries, preferring to have his new medical director answer the questions. Soon, Reds Public Relations chief Rob Butcher was organizing media gatherings and Kremchek also had a regular spot in the Reds Radio Network pregame show.
“Every day I was on TV,” Kremchek said. “The spotlight was hot. Marty used to come by and call me Doc Hollywood. That caught on with everybody.”
Bridging the gap
In addition to the current players, Kremchek has had the privilege of working on some of the Big Red Machine players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan. Now, most of his patients were not alive when those Reds were world champs over 30 years ago.
Cincinnati was six seasons removed from the 1990 World Series title when Kremchek joined the organization. Rookie pitcher Tony Santillan was not yet born and second baseman Jonathan India was just a few months old in the spring of ’97.
“I could bond with Larkin, Reggie Sanders, Bret Boone, they were around my age,” Kremchek said. “These young kids come in and you have to find a way to relate.”
Kremchek talks every day to Reds Athletic Trainer Steve Baumann and has ties in other big-league clubhouses like Royals Head Athletic Trainer Nick Kenney of Wilmington. Kremchek gave Kenney his first job serving the Cyclones hockey squad.
“Doc taught me a simple lesson,” Kenney said. “Do what you do better than anyone else, stay passionate, be accessible and you will be successful.”
In addition to co-founding Beacon Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in 1996 and growing it from one office to 14 locations and 42 physicians, Kremchek serves as team physician for alma mater Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and Wilmington College. He also serves as medical director for several Greater Cincinnati area high schools, including Moeller, Indian Hill, Kings, Wyoming, Mount Notre Dame, Mason, Clinton-Massie, Wilmington and Lakota West.
He remains optimistic about the Reds and plans to continue his role until it’s no longer fun.
By all appearances, that’s not anytime soon.