The Doc Is In (Yankees History)
(Note – The following essay comes from the original manuscript The Least Among Them – An original and unique history of the New York Yankees. This manuscript is in its final editing stages. Interested literary agents or publishers can reach the author through the CONTACT tab at the top of the page.)
Through the 2017 season, there were 86 players in Major League history that were named or used the nickname “Doc” during their playing days. Of those 86 players, nine played for the New York Highlanders or Yankees and a few actually became medical doctors. Let’s take a look at these nine Yankees.
Possibly the most well-know “Doc” to current fans is Dwight Gooden. “Doc” Gooden earned his nickname not from studying medicine, but from being a strikeout artist in his youngest days as a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher with the New York Mets. He was Dr. K. (Doctor Strikeout). The practice of hanging signs with the letter K following each strikeout originated with Dwight Gooden’s pitching prowess for the Mets in Shea Stadium in 1984. Unfortunately Gooden’s career, which began with such promise, including earning the 1984 Rookie of the Year and the 1985 National League Cy Young Award, was derailed by substance abuse issues. Gooden became a free agent after the 1994 season and did not play in the Major Leagues in 1995. The Yankees took a flier on Gooden in 1996 and he etched his name in the Yankees’ record books when he threw a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on May 14, 1996. Gooden was a contributing member of the Yankees 1996 World Series Championship team. He pitched three seasons for the Yankees 1996, 1997, and 2000. In his sixteen year career, Dwight Gooden won 194 games against 112 losses.
The first player in Yankee franchise history to actually become a doctor was Doc Adkins who pitched two games for the Yankees in 1903, their inaugural season. In 1902, Adkins played briefly (four games) with Boston’s American League franchise. Adkins played in the Minor Leagues, on and off, through 1914. During his playing days, he attended Johns Hopkins where he studied medicine and picked-up his nickname. As a Major Leaguer, he may have been known simply as Merle, his given name. Adkins later become a coach at what was known at the time as Trinity College in North Carolina. That college today is known as Duke University. After his playing days, Adkins served as a physician in Durham, North Carolina.
During the 1905 season, the Highlanders had two “Doc’s” on the team. These were Mike “Doc” Powers, a catcher and first baseman, who enjoyed an eleven year playing career from 1898 through 1909, and Doc Newton, a left-handed pitcher, who had an eight year career that lasted from 1900-1909.
Doc Powers spent the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Athletics, but in 1905 played in eleven games with the Highlanders. Powers was a medical doctor who studied at the College of the Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame, and the Louisville Surgical College. His life was cut short during the 1909 season as he suffered from a rare intestinal condition. At one time this illness was attributed by some to an injury he suffered after diving for a foul ball, but his illness was not related to his baseball injury. The Philadelphia Athletics held a tribute day in honor of Doc Powers in 1920 to raise money for his family. That day consisted of a skills competition and an exhibition game between the Athletics and other baseball stars of the day.
Doc Newton was a practicing dentist. As a ball player, it seems he had a penchant for drinking alcohol and supposedly believed that the more he drank, the better he performed. Newton pitched for various teams, including the Brooklyn Superbas (the predecessors to the Dodgers). He was a Highlander for five seasons, from 1905 through 1909, pitching to a 20-25 won/loss record. The manager of the Highlanders, Clark Griffith, believed that Newton’s inability to stay in shape cost his team the 1906 pennant. Before joining the Highlanders, on November 8, 1903, Newton pitched the first no-hitter in the history of the Pacific Coast League.
Luther “Doc” Cook was a right fielder who played 288 games over four seasons as a Yankee (1913-1916). At this time, the author cannot determine the origins or reason for his nickname “Doc.” Cook was the starting right fielder for the Yankees in 1914 and 1915. Cook batted .274 in his four year Major League career (all spent with the Yankees).
Edward “Doc” Farrell was an infielder who played in the Major Leagues for nine seasons between 1925 and 1935. Farrell came up with the New York Giants and also played for the Boston Braves, the Boston Red Sox, and the New York Yankees. He is the only player in baseball history to play for the two Boston and the two New York City Major League Teams. In 591 big league games, Farrell batted .260. He was a Yankee in 1932 and 1933 appearing in 179 games. In 1934-35 Farrell played for the Yankees AA Newark Bears franchise and was originally included in the trade between the Yankees and the San Francisco Seals for Joe DiMaggio. Farrell refused to report to the Seals. Instead he played his final four games with the Red Sox in 1935 before beginning a career in dentistry.
The most notable Yankee to actually become a doctor was Bobby Brown who played for the Yankees from 1946-1954. For four seasons, Brown was the Yankees regular third baseman. Brown hit .300 in 1947 and 1948 and ended his career with a respectable lifetime batting average of .279 over 548 games. Bobby Brown played on four World Series Championship winning teams. His career was put on hold by his serving in the United States military during the Korean War where Brown was assigned to the 160th Field Artillery Battalion. In this duty, Bobby Brown headed the battalion aid station and served at the Tokyo Army Hospital. Brown had also served in the Navy during World War II prior to his big league days. After his playing career, Bobby Brown earned his degree in medicine from Tulane Medical School. He began serving as a cardiologist in 1958. Dr. Bobby Brown, though, never ventured too far from the game. In the 1970’s he served as an Interim President of the Texas Rangers and from 1984 through 1994, Bobby Brown was the President of the American League. Dr. Bobby Brown has been honored throughout his lifetime both in sport and in medicine. His legacy and reputation is unblemished. Dr Bobby Brown stands as one of the most honored and respected members of the New York Yankees family.
“Doc” Edwards was a catcher who played in the Major Leagues mostly from 1962 through 1965 but with a brief return to the big leagues in 1970. Edwards earned his nickname by serving as a Navy Medic with the United States Marines. Edwards played most of his career for the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City A’s. He played 45 games for the Yankees, batting .190, in 1965. In his return to the majors in 1970, Edwards played for the Philadelphia Phillies. After his playing days, Edwards became a manager. He managed for 33 years, mostly piloting teams in the Minor Leagues, but he was the manager for the Cleveland Indians from 1987 through 1989. Edwards’ first opportunity as a Minor League Manger came with the Yankees organization. He piloted the AA West Haven Yankees in 1973 and 1974.
In the 1970’s, the Yankees has a right-handed pitcher named George “Doc” Medich. Medich was drafted by the Yankees in 1970 and rose the Minor Leagues making his first Major League appearance in 1972 to begin an eleven year Major League career. As a Yankee, Doc Medich won 49 games against 40 losses in four seasons from 1972 through 1975. His best year was 1974 when we won 19 games. Medich was an up and coming star pitcher, but his greatest contribution to the Yankees was being the centerpiece of the trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates that landed the Yankees their star second baseman Willie Randolph and two other players including Dock Ellis. After leaving the Yankees, Medich never attained the greatness predicted for him. He bounced around a lot, playing one season or less for five different clubs. Medich’s longest tenure was with the Texas Rangers where he pitched from 1978 to 1982. Interestingly, Medich began medical school at the University of Pittsburgh the day after his Major league debut in 1972. He graduated in January 1977 while still a Major League player. There are three documented instances where Doc Medich used his medical skills in conjunction with his playing. He twice went into the stands to administer CPR to fans, saving a fan’s life in 1978. Medich also tended to Yankee legend Whitey Ford after Ford collapsed following pitching a batting practice session in May 1975.
While not the centerpiece of the Willie Randolph trade, the Yankees did acquire Dock Ellis in that 1975 trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Doc Medich. Ellis had also been a star pitcher. In 1971, Ellis pitched to a 19-9 3.06 record for the Pirates. He pitched in the All-Star game that year and allowed a gigantic homerun to future Yankee Reggie Jackson then playing for the Oakland A’s. Ellis, of course, also achieved notoriety for pitching a no-hitter while under the effects of LSD in 1970. Ellis’ Yankees career lasted slightly more than one season. In 1976, he went 17-8 for the American League Champion Yankees. This performance earned him the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award. But, in 1977, after only three games, he was traded to the Oakland A’s with two other players in exchange for Mike Torrez. Dock Ellis spent twelve seasons in the Major Leagues, pitching for five different clubs.
Doc Medich and Dock Ellis spent much of their careers on similar teams and at times were teammates. In their careers, they both pitched for the Yankees, Pirates, A’s, Rangers, and Mets. They were teammates on the Oakland A’s in 1977 and with the Texas Rangers in 1978 and 1979. In addition to the teams listed, Doc Medich also pitched for one season (1983) with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Dock Ellis is the only player in this short history to not have “Doc” as a nickname – his given name from birth was Dock Phillip Ellis.