The Red Sox's Bloodiest Day

J.R. Moehringer is a Times national correspondent.

Everybody remembers the bloody sock.

Even people who don't follow baseball remember the bloody sock, the most enduring image from the most improbable comeback in baseball history, last October, when the Boston Red Sox overtook the New York Yankees and put an end to 86 years of misery by capturing the 2004 World Series.

Few people, however, know about the man behind the bloody sock. Few know what befell him after the Sox won. While the bloody sock was preserved, hand-delivered to the Hall of Fame, mounted and placed under special light-shielding glass in a humidity-controlled room, the man behind the bloody sock was casually thrown away.

Maybe it's gone unnoticed because it defies belief. During the last eight months, while Sox players have become the toast of the nation--writing bestselling books and recording pop songs, appearing on talk shows and reality shows, starring in commercials and films--the quiet hero behind their victory, the man without whom their victory would have been impossible, the man behind that bloody sock, has been spurned, banished, forgotten.

Worst of all, no one will tell him why.

No, that's not quite true. The team told him. It's just that he can't make sense of the answer.

His story would be a classic baseball fable, a kind of Ring Lardner yarn about the occasional cruelty of the national pastime and the amnesia that afflicts fans and owners--except that fables tend to have morals, and it's hard for the man behind the bloody sock to find any moral in what's happened to him.

So instead of a fable, maybe it's a mystery.

Does anyone care? Does it matter that some poor guy in Boston saved a baseball team, then found himself thrown away by the team he saved? Does it matter that a professional sports team was guilty of being disloyal, in an era when disloyalty on the part of teams, players and fans has become an everyday fact?

Yes, it matters if you believe that the Boston Red Sox were supposed to be different, that Boston is one of the most beloved franchises in all of American sport: On the eve of baseball's annual convention, Tuesday's 76th All-Star Game in Detroit, Sox players dominate the fan balloting. It matters because Boston's long struggle to break the chains of its "curse" and reach the Promised Land is American cultural history as much as baseball lore. It matters because the Sox were said to be cursed in the first place because the last time they won a championship, in 1918, they threw away the man who helped them do it--Babe Ruth.

Also, it matters if you realize that non-fans as well as fans derived inspiration from the 2004 Sox, a sense of hope and uplift that transcended baseball. Boston's against-all-odds triumph served as a thrilling reminder to millions that a history of failure doesn't prefigure an endless future of failure, that sometimes the lowliest underdog actually rises up and wins.

But when that underdog turns around and bites, how are we to feel?

Above all, the mystery of the man behind the bloody sock matters if you believe that baseball is always about something more than baseball. "So much does our game tell us, about what we wanted to be, about what we are," said the late baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti. Summer, fathers, America, race relations--baseball is a small, concrete way of talking about vast subjects. It's about loneliness, says John Updike. It's about hard work, says George Will. And right now in New England, baseball is all about gratitude. Elsewhere, when the home team wins, fans tell players, "Congratulations." But for these last eight months New Englanders have been telling their Sox, in person and in hundreds of thousands of letters and e-mails to the team: "Thank you."

That's why it's so odd to see the man behind the bloody sock--Dr. Bill Morgan--going around Boston with a long face, as though he feels profoundly unappreciated.

See if you can make any bloody sense of it.

The man inside the bloody sock was Curt Schilling. Tall, imposing, supremely confident, a right-handed ace with a nasty repertoire of unhittable pitches, the 38-year-old Schilling was signed by Boston in late 2003 for one simple reason: to beat New York. Boston put their faith in Schilling, along with 37 million of their dollars, because he'd beaten New York once before, pitching for Arizona in the 2001 World Series, and because he all but promised that he could do it again. From the start, Schilling talked like a gunslinger, a proven winner who would succeed where other Bostonians--nine decades of others--had failed.

"I guess I hate the Yankees now," he said the first day he met the media as a member of the Sox. He didn't sound as if he was kidding.

After Schilling's signing, after his tough talk, after an ugly on-field donnybrook last summer between the two teams, Boston and New York seemed destined to meet last fall, so it was no surprise when they both wound up in the American League Championship Series. Nor was it a surprise when Schilling was named the starter for Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

Then came the surprise. Schilling got battered, pounded senseless by the Yankees, the worst postseason outing of his life, because he'd recently become a cripple. A dislocated tendon in his right ankle, which had nagged him all year, had become so painful, so distracting, that he couldn't walk, let alone pitch.

I plant my foot, he told Morgan, the longtime team doctor for the Sox, and I feel the tendon flicking across bone.

After Schilling's disastrous outing in Game 1, Sox officials suggested his season was done. No one, not even a white knight like Schilling, could be expected to slay the Yankees on one leg. Schilling's ankle needed surgery, followed by weeks in a cast and months of rehab, which meant he'd have to be shut down. Which meant the Sox would be shut down. Again.

Sure enough, demoralized by the loss of their ace, the Sox lost the next two games, falling behind 0-3 in the best-of-seven series. In the annals of baseball no team had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game series. Thus, New Englanders did what they had done every October since World War I. They turned to raking leaves and baking pies--and watching the Yankees make ready for yet another trip to the Series. (Of the 100 World Series played since 1903, New York has appeared in 39.)

While others were writing off the season, however, Morgan was having a brainstorm. Instead of fixing Schilling's ankle, he wondered, what if it were somehow possible to temporarily freeze its malfunction? What if the dislocated tendon could be held fast to the bone, just to keep the thing from flicking back and forth?

An intriguing idea. Just one small problem. It had never been done before. In the annals of medicine, in the annals of ankles, the procedure Morgan proposed was unprecedented, the surgical equivalent of coming back from 0-3. "I've never thought of doing it myself, nor have I ever read of someone else doing it," says Dr. Robert Leach, professor of orthopedics at Boston University Medical School and former team doctor for the Boston Celtics.

Morgan ran his idea by Schilling and found the pitcher willing. Nervous but willing. "I walked in the training room," Schilling recalls, "and Doc looked at me and said, 'Let me throw this at you.' It was a last gasp. We'd exhausted all our options. It was either this or I didn't pitch. I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was done."

Once Schilling--and Sox officials--agreed to the procedure, Morgan decided he'd better practice first. He needed to make sure the procedure was even feasible, that the tissue around a human ankle bone was soft enough to be penetrated by sutures. With time running out on the season, Morgan performed a dry run on a dead body.

The practice surgery worked. Sort of. There was no way to really test it because there was no way to send the dead guy out to face the Yankees. Then, turning from corpse to ace, in a remote training room far below Fenway Park, Morgan knitted Schilling's ankle with five or six deep O-shaped stitches.

Schilling's teammates, meanwhile, partly inspired by the specter of their comrade laid out on a makeshift operating table, managed two wins against the Yankees, staying alive until Schilling could take the ball again.

October 19, 2004. Game 6. Cameras zoomed in on Schilling's ankle and millions of Americans saw the sock slowly turn red, as Schilling's face turned white. "I was scared to death," Schilling says. Tentatively, perilously, he stood propped on his Morgan-repaired joint, peering at New York's batters over the webbing of his glove.

Fans everywhere held their breath. Morgan, watching on a TV in the clubhouse, held his breath, too. Some bleeding was normal, he knew, but what he looked for, what he dreaded, was blood on the sock that appeared "frank," or dark red, which would mean the sutures had torn.

Everyone in the Sox organization had a lot at stake that night, but Morgan and Schilling were risking the most. They both knew that if Schilling's tendon ruptured, if infection set in, if any number of things went wrong, Schilling could fall to the ground like a man shot with a deer rifle. More, he might never heal properly. He might date the end of his brilliant career from that night, that game, that unprecedented procedure.

If the worst happened, however, at least Schilling would be lauded for his courage. Morgan would be vilified, harassed and possibly threatened with violence, because Boston fans never forget and never forgive. Just ask Bill Buckner, the first baseman blamed for booting the World Series in 1986. After the ball squirted through his legs, Buckner had to go into hiding somewhere in Montana. Good luck trying to practice medicine in New England if you're the sawbones known for ruining the career of the Sox ace.

But Morgan didn't have to become a fugitive, because Schilling survived. In fact, he shone. He threw seven sterling innings, yielded one meager and meaningless home run, and the Sox won, tying the Series at three games apiece. Riding the momentum of Schilling's stirring performance, Boston went on to win Game 7 the next night, finally vanquishing their archrivals and rewriting the record books.

They then steamrolled the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, almost as an afterthought. Schilling won Game 2, doing pirouettes on his bad ankle, which had been stitched together yet again with a second set of Doc Morgan's Miracle Sutures.

In every post-game press conference, in every locker-room celebration, Schilling always shared the credit for his achievements with two divine interveners--God and Doc. A born-again Christian, he never failed to thank the Lord, and always sang the praises of his surgeon.

Fans heard him and took up his chant. During the victory parade through Boston, many in the crowd of 3 million were waving signs with his name, including one that read: "Doc Morgan for MVP: Most Valuable Physician."

Those were heady days for Morgan, a beer-drinking guy from the bad side of Boston, a workingman's son who never thought he'd go to college, let alone medical school, a lifelong Sox fan who used to cut class as a kid so he could hang around Fenway and sneak or talk his way inside. Along with the birth of his three daughters, that victory parade was the high point of Morgan's life. The cheers were still ringing in his ears when he got called down to Fenway four weeks later.

He didn't know what management wanted to see him about. Probably a new contract. Maybe a raise. He stood in the waiting area outside the executive suites, looking through the windows at the field. The late-autumn sunlight was pale. The air held a chill of oncoming winter. But the field still glowed with the summery magic of the team's remarkable feat. Gazing at the grass, the groomed base paths, the pitcher's mound, Morgan spoke three little words to himself:

We did it.

Then he was ushered into a room. He sat across a table from general manager Theo Epstein and team President Larry Lucchino. They thanked Morgan for his 18 years with the club, and they briefly acknowledged his heroics with Schilling. However, they said, the team had decided to "go in another direction." The doctor's services were no longer required.

Morgan felt his heart beat harder. He began to sputter. What? Why?

The two men merely repeated themselves. The team had decided to go in another direction.

Meeting adjourned. In less time than it took to stitch up Schilling's dislocated tendon, the Sox severed all ties with Morgan. Dazed, Morgan walked out of the room, out of the ballpark, vaguely aware that his own dislocation would take much longer to heal.

His first memory of life is Fenway.

"I was 6 years old," he says, "and my father and my Uncle Bill took me. I remember seeing the field from way back there by the Green Monster. I thought it was magnificent. The aura of people having fun. Seeing your old man smile. He didn't smile a lot in those days."

Morgan was born in 1953, in South Boston, back when "Southie" was a wasteland of Irish gangsters and run-down corner bars. He was saved from that world, that fate, because his father managed to move the Morgan family over the bridge, to Quincy, a suburb where life was slightly easier. Morgan played ball--decent outfielder on the diamond, hard-working guard on the gridiron--until high school. Then he began spending most of his free time at the local hospital, working as a janitor.

Wafting the buffer across the floors each day after school, Morgan would gaze at the doctors, admiring them, envying them. They spent their days helping people. Healing people. That sounded cool.

Morgan's father, "Big Jim," an ex-prizefighter who didn't hesitate to send his son flying whenever the boy said or did something wrong, supported the family with his hands, repairing trucks, making cabinets. His mother, Jean, was a registered nurse. Neither had attended college--no one in Morgan's family had, going back generations--so he was committing an act of impertinence by merely dreaming of college. His high school guidance counselor didn't hesitate to tell him so. "He kind of looked at me," Morgan remembers, "and, really without thinking a whole lot, he said, 'I don't think that's in your cards.' "

Flouting his counselor, defying everyone's expectations, Morgan applied to Boston University. Remarkably, he got in. More remarkably, Big Jim agreed to pay.

Four years later, Morgan graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Nevertheless, because he scored low on entrance exams, medical schools rejected him. Undaunted, he went to grad school at Baylor, studied biophysics, and applied to medical schools the next year. Again he was rejected. He applied once more the following year and got into the University of Texas Medical School.

Around that time, Morgan married Sharon Adams, whom he'd known since childhood, and upon his graduation from medical school the young couple looked to move back east. They were homesick. Every residency program in Boston rejected Morgan, so he settled for a spot 45 minutes away, at Worcester City Hospital. There he met Art Pappas, the esteemed surgeon and longtime team doctor for the Sox. Pappas was famous in New England, though controversial, because he owned part of the Sox, which frequently exposed him to charges of conflict of interest.

It was 1981, the year Morgan's father died. Pappas moved seamlessly into the void left by Big Jim. Father figure, friend, Pappas advised Morgan, guided his career, persuaded him to specialize in "upper extremities." At just 33, thanks partly to Pappas' tutelage, Morgan became chief of hand surgery at UMass Medical Center.

Often, while assisting Pappas in surgery, Morgan would entertain his mentor with risque stories. Proper, straitlaced, Pappas took a vicarious pleasure in this brash young surgeon who came from a different world, who wielded the f-word as smoothly as a scalpel. Then, in 1986, it happened. Pappas mentioned casually during surgery that he was leaving town for the weekend and needed someone to cover for him at the ballpark.

Morgan phoned all his friends and family to tell them he was going to be the on-call doctor that night--at Fenway. Get out of here, they said. They didn't believe him.

Nor did the guards at Gate A. When Morgan arrived hours before game time, he couldn't convince anyone that he was a doctor. He looked 18. He was a boy again, trying to talk his way into the ballpark.

Minutes after guards finally waved Morgan through the gate, someone shouted for help. A fan was choking on a hot dog. Morgan hurried over and managed to dislodge the hot dog, but the fan immediately went into cardiac arrest. Morgan stabilized the fan and took him by ambulance to the hospital. Hours later, returning to Fenway, Morgan was exhausted, and baseball was the furthest thing from his mind. A rocky start, he says shyly. Still, let the record show that during his first day on the job at Fenway, he saved a life.

The Sox came within one strike of winning it all that year, and Morgan had a close-up view of their collapse, one of the most extraordinary chokes of all time. The Curse, New Englanders said ruefully. But Morgan--quietly, inwardly--felt blessed. He was now part of the Sox family.

Summer after summer, Pappas gave Morgan a larger role in the family, and Morgan began to look the part. His thick hair silvered into a Clinton-like coif. His pink cheeks deepened to a ruddy crimson, partly from all those hours in the sun at the ballpark. Gradually he became not just a fixture at Fenway but a reassuringly patriarchal presence. He operated several times on Buckner's infamous ankles. He talked the tightly wound Roger Clemens through what looked like an anxiety attack. He earned the trust of distrustful players. "I'm good at what I do, there's no doubt about it," Morgan says. "I don't think I'm the best in the world--well, I am the best." He laughs. "Yeah. I am."

Beyond his skill, players liked that Morgan was one of them--roughhewn, clannish, proud. They liked that he cursed as much as they did, maybe more. They liked that the many rejections he'd endured had given him a certain swagger. They liked that he'd die before snitching about their injuries to reporters or team officials. They began sidestepping Pappas, migrating toward Morgan.

Eventually Morgan was spending eight hours a day at the ballpark, on top of his work at the hospital, and the hours put inevitable strains on his marriage. In 2000, he and Sharon divorced. The same year, Pappas named Morgan team physician. The year after that, just before the team was bought by its current ownership group, Morgan was named medical director of the Boston Red Sox. Already semi-retired, Pappas proudly handed the reins to his protege.

The job always paid very little, Morgan says. A nominal fee. A fraction of what he made at the hospital. Sure, it was good advertising for his practice, but Morgan says he didn't care about that. This was the Sox. This was baseball. Fenway was where the different parts of his identity seemed to peacefully coexist--doctor, son, father, fan--and where he could always be in touch with the spirit of Big Jim.

Morgan had a feeling. Now and then during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, he could sense that his job with the team was in jeopardy, partly because the new owners were methodically shedding all traces of the old regime. And yet each time Morgan's number seemed up, players rallied to his defense.

"All the guys fought for him to stay," says Nomar Garciaparra, longtime star of the Sox, who was traded last year to the Chicago Cubs.

Garciaparra, whose dislocated wrist tendon was surgically repaired by Morgan four years ago, says Sox players were deeply devoted to Morgan because he was devoted to them. "There's no ego with him," Garciaparra says. Though Garciaparra says he "didn't pay attention" when the Sox were in the postseason last fall, and didn't know anything about Morgan solving Schilling's ankle, he was staggered when he heard his friend had been fired. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "When you have a doctor you trust like that--why would you want to let him go?"

Among current Boston players, nearly everyone is appalled at Morgan's firing, according to Kevin Millar, the team's first baseman. "Ninety-nine percent of the players, they are pissed off," he says. "It was done without any player's consent, and I don't think that's fair. He was a part of us."

Tim Wakefield, the Sox player with the longest tenure on the team, calls Morgan "the 26th member of our club."

Such loyalty, Millar says, speaks to a simple point: After Schilling, Morgan was the hero of the Series. "Without Dr. Morgan I don't think we win the Series," Millar says. "If he doesn't do what he did, we don't have Schilling--and without Schilling, we don't win."

No matter what team policy dictates, Millar and Wakefield vow to continue seeing Morgan, as do other players. Schilling, for instance, chose Morgan to operate on his bad ankle during the off-season, and still consults with Morgan about his rehab.

Schilling, who has taken the mound only a handful of times this season because of new ankle problems, says he marched up to the front office last fall as soon as he heard his doctor had been fired. But team officials, he says, were unmoved by his lobbying for Morgan. He got the impression that they had been planning for months to let Morgan go, and nothing--neither the first World Series victory since Kaisers and czars ruled Europe nor the pleas of the team's ace--could dissuade them.

"Obviously I was incredibly disappointed," Schilling says. "He was part of our family. He was as much a part of the team as any player."

Morgan went on vacation. He sat on a beach and tried not to think about baseball, but he couldn't think about anything else. While he was away, news of his firing broke. A Boston reporter phoned for comment. Morgan wouldn't say anything. "I took the high road," he says.

When he got back home, friends and family and more reporters besieged him, peppered him with questions. How could this happen? What are the Sox thinking? Aren't you furious? He never gave anyone a real answer. He responded always with stock phrases. It is what it is. What're you gonna do?

He still hasn't given vent to his true feelings, not publicly, and he doesn't plan to. The high road, he says, the high road. Besides, he doesn't know what to say because he doesn't know--or can't accept--what actually happened.

Some nights he stays up late, trying to figure it all out. What the Sox told him about going in a different direction--he doesn't believe that. Why would they go in a different direction when the direction he took them led to the World Series? It has to be something else, he says, something more. Or a combination of things.

Was it his personality--the rough edges, the swagger, the cursing? He thinks that may be part of it. Was it his arrest for driving under the influence in November 2003? No way, he says. "They never brought that up." Besides, he adds, if team officials wanted to fire him over the DUI, they could have done it long before last season.

Was it money? Not likely, he says. He would have worked for nothing.

For the record, Boston's general manager cites none of these things as a factor in Morgan's firing. Instead, the root cause was "a paradigm shift," Epstein says. "We decided to take a broader view, a different view of the medical department, and so in looking for a medical director, we were looking for the best person on the planet to run that department."

That person? Epstein says it's Dr. Thomas Gill of Massachusetts General Hospital--who happens to count among his patients John Henry, principal owner of the Sox.

Epstein says firing Morgan wasn't easy. "It was a very difficult day," he says. "Difficult for me personally. But I think often in this job you have to deliver bad news if it's right for the organization." (Henry and Gill declined to comment.)

There was no outcry in New England about Morgan's firing, maybe because fans were so besotted with the Sox that they couldn't bear to hear or say anything negative. And yet eight months later, not a week goes by that some waiter or new patient or stranger at a cocktail party doesn't ask Morgan if he feels betrayed. As always, Morgan shrugs, reaches for the stock phrases. It is what it is. What're you gonna do?

Partly it's that high road. Partly it's his ongoing sense of confusion about what happened. Mostly it's his nature. Getting him to talk about his feelings, says his fiancee, Colleen O'Brien, "is like pulling teeth."

No matter how much Morgan strives to be diplomatic, his face is brutally honest. In private moments, O'Brien says, she sees the disappointment writ large. Sitting in the living room of their new house, she gets teary talking about it. "I can be sitting here and my heart will break, because the Sox come on"--she points to the TV--"and I see it in his eyes."

Maybe, one colleague suggests, Morgan's disappointment is simply too great to express. "Being a doctor, you know you can't hit the ball or throw it, but you're accepted as a member of the group," says Leach, the former Celtics doctor. "I would think it would be very hard. I would be devastated to contribute something like that and suddenly be gone."

Tthey wait forever to see Morgan.

"If you make an appointment to see me at 3," he says with a sigh, "you'll probably see me at 5 because I have too many patients, and because I cannot blow people off. That's not my nature. I have to sit there and talk to them and make them feel like they're the only person seen that day."

Three months ago he opened a bone-and-joint center on the ninth floor of Caritas St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton, a Boston suburb. Today, a typical weekday, the new treatment rooms are full of patients, and Morgan is running up and down the halls, well behind schedule. Among those waiting to see him are a boxer with a bad elbow, a high school hockey player with a fractured forearm, a little leaguer with tendinitis.

Every time Morgan walks into a treatment room, the patient beams. Morgan does too. While talking with a sick or injured person, he visibly changes. More animated, more confident, he doesn't use stock phrases. He may have trouble talking about his own feelings, but he's downright eloquent when getting others to describe how they feel.

Between patients, Morgan stops in the hall to consult with Stephen Pap, a plastic surgeon. Morgan tells Pap about a new patient, Joshua, an 8-year-old whose family was in a car accident on their way to a Sox game. The family's minivan rolled over, Morgan says, and Joshua lost all the fingers on his left hand. Pap grimaces.

Fixing the hand, fitting it with prosthetic fingers, may be less difficult than mending the boy's shattered psyche, Morgan tells Pap. The boy can't bear to look at his injured hand. During their initial consultation, Joshua was sobbing, staring at the floor, as was his mother, who was driving at the time of the accident.

Morgan asked what Joshua wanted, what he hoped for, and the boy answered without hesitating. He wanted to be able to catch a baseball again.

We can do that, Morgan told him. We can. But first you've got to look at your hand.

When you come back to see me, Morgan told Joshua, I want you looking at that hand.

Morgan stands on the field, at the edge of the outfield grass, recalling the ceremony when he and every other member of the championship team received their rings. It was the Fenway home opener, a few months ago.

He was nervous about the crowd, he admits. Would they remember who he was? He stood in the dugout, waiting for his name to be called. "I looked over to my seats," he says, "and Tom Gill was there. The doc that took over for me. That pissed me off. It was like someone coming into your house. It's like, 'What're you doing in my seats?' It just didn't seem right."

A thousand summer nights Morgan sat in those seats, often with his daughters, often with sick children he brought from local hospitals so they could enjoy a few carefree hours at the ballpark. Row 1, A20. So many times he leaped from those seats onto the field. When pitcher Al Nipper was covering home and the sliding runner's cleats tore open Nipper's knee, Morgan ran out, calmed Nipper, rushed him to the hospital. Every time someone blew a ligament, tore a tendon, blacked out after taking a beanball to the head, Morgan was the first to reach them as they lay writhing because he was able to launch himself from those seats. His seats. His former seats.

Moments before the ring ceremony began, Morgan talked with 85-year-old Sox coach Johnny Pesky, ex-teammate of the great Ted Williams. Morgan told Pesky that he didn't look well. Pesky suffers from anemia, and as team doctor Morgan often gave him B12 shots. Pesky told Morgan that he was feeling poorly because his wife was ill. It sounded dire. They discussed her condition, and Morgan made suggestions about her care.

Then Morgan heard his name. He recalls the ovation. A burst of recognition, then loud adulation. Not as loud as the ovation for the players, certainly, but louder than Morgan expected. He walked along a red carpet, waving to the crowd. His name flashed on the scoreboard. The 1812 Overture blasted from on high. He shook hands with Lucchino, then Henry. Morgan remembers Henry saying, "We couldn't have done it without you," and Henry may have, but for the brief second the two men were on camera, the only thing audible was Henry saying to Morgan, "No one did more to win this ring than you!"

Morgan stands near the spot where the exchange took place. He cradles his new 18-karat gold ring like a grenade. He stares down at his hand.

"Couldn't have done it without me," he says softly, "but canned me afterward."

Tthe last patient of the day is a friend of Morgan's oldest daughter. The young woman has a sore shoulder, and Morgan leads her into a treatment room while his daughter waits in the hall.

Andrea Morgan, 26, doesn't like baseball. She thinks it's "overrated," that players are overpaid, and she didn't enjoy growing up as the daughter of the famous Doc Morgan. She avoided telling friends who her father was, she says, particularly boyfriends, because it made them act goofy.

And yet she has many happy memories of visiting Fenway with her father. "I loved being there with him," she says, "because he loved it so much."

She lowers her voice. Only twice, she whispers, has she seen her father so sad that she worried about him. "When his mother died--and when the Red Sox fired him."

Jean Morgan was the ultimate nurse," her son says. "She cared for everybody. All my friends, if they were sick, they'd come over: 'Mrs. Morgan, could you look at my throat?' "

Like baseball--like illness--mothers bring out the child in certain people. Sitting at his desk on a Sunday afternoon, catching up on paperwork, Morgan suddenly looks years younger as he remembers his mother and the way she showed each person the same degree of gentleness and care.

He describes a day when he was 15 and he accompanied his mother to the hospital where she was a nurse--the hospital where he would soon be a janitor. "There was a worker in the cafeteria named Muriel," Morgan says. "Muriel had Down syndrome and she loved my mother. We were there getting breakfast, and my mother was introducing me to everybody, and Muriel said, 'Oh, your mother's so beautiful! So wonderful!' She's--"

He stops. His eyes glisten. He clears his throat.

If baseball is the link to his father, medicine is the link to his mother. It was his mother who taught him the secret of medicine, the meaning of medicine--gratitude.

For instance, more and more of Morgan's patients these days have no insurance, and he doesn't care; he treats them anyway. He gives them "love," they give him gratitude, and he comes out ahead, he says: "They send me cards. They make me something." One Italian woman paid him in pasta. Some pay with a peck on the cheek. "They have nothing to give," he says, "but they do give you their thanks."

Colleagues call him a sucker. They urge him to turn away patients with no money, and they nag him to go into private practice rather than remain with a hospital, earning a pittance of what he could make on his own. He tells colleagues he's not in this for the money. He gets satisfaction helping people, healing people, as his mother did.

That was the spirit in which he treated ballplayers, he says, and maybe that's what got him fired. "I probably got too close to the players," he says glumly. His first loyalty was always to players, and the owners must have known.

He takes a sip of his coffee, thinking. He may never learn precisely why he was fired, and that's fine. Doesn't matter, he says, though he looks as if nothing else matters. The main thing, he says, forcing a smile, is that he doesn't want to sound like an ingrate. He's deeply grateful for his 18 years with the team. He's grateful for his new house, grateful for his fiancee, grateful for his daughters, his practice, everything.

"Look out over Boston," he says, pointing out the window. "I should be somewhere in Southie right now, in some little bar. That's my family, that's where I came from. So, yeah, I have a huge amount of gratitude."

Lining the windowsill are stacks of case files, the reason Morgan's here in the office this afternoon instead of home watching the game. Somewhere in those stacks is the file for Joshua, the boy who lost his fingers.

He's doing better, Morgan says. He even attended the grand opening of the bone-and-joint center the other day. He got to hold Morgan's ring, to read the engraving along the side:

Greatest Comeback In History.

"He was pretty impressed," Morgan says.

Joshua even slipped the ring onto a finger on his good hand and stared at it. A boy who had been sobbing weeks earlier, who had been on the verge of despair, was suddenly happy. Grateful.

"He's like a new kid," Morgan says. "He's smiling now, he's got a baseball cap on."

Sox cap?

"Oh, yeah," Morgan says. "Oh, yeah. They all come in wearing Red Sox caps."

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