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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 29, 2010 at 6:53 PM

Kendry Morales is the new Tagg Bozied

morales.jpg

You probably don’t know the name Tagg Bozied, but it popped into my head immediately when I saw the celebration injury to Kendry Morales. A lot of people are saying they’ve never seen anything like it, but Bozied went through something painfully similar six years ago.

Bozied was a rising prospect in the Padres’ organization, a slugging first baseman out of that baseball powerhouse, the University of San Francisco. I followed Bozied more closely than I would have because of the fact he came out of USF (where he and Jason Bay of Gonzaga played at the same time in the West Coast Conference; in 1999, Bozied beat out of Bay for conference player of the year as a result of winning the triple crown — .412, 30 homers (10 more than runnerup Bay) and 82 RBI)

Bozied had some draft adventures, failing to sign after being picked in the second round by Minnesota and third round by San Diego. But he eventually signed with the Padres out of independent ball and rose through the system. In 2004, he hit .315/.374/.629 with 16 homers and 58 RBI through 57 games for Portland. The Padres were taking notice. A callup was imminent. But on July 19 of that year — against the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate, no less — he hit a game-winning grand slam off Tacoma pitcher Scott Atchison. Exactly like Morales. Bozied leapt on the plate, and as with Morales, the celebration quickly turned ugly. He had ruptured the patella tendon in his left knee and wound up hospitalized — and out for the season.

One player was on the losing team in both games: Jose Lopez, who was the second baseman for Tacoma that night in Portland.

The incident is well-described in this Associated Press article by Ben Walker:

Tagg Bozied could hardly wait to get home. Rounding the bases, he saw his Triple-A Portland teammates gathering, waiting to celebrate his game-winning grand slam in the bottom of the ninth.

“It was probably the coolest moment I’ve had on a baseball field,” the San Diego Padres’ prospect said.

Then suddenly, agony.

Because as Bozied jumped for joy at the plate, just like the big leaguers do, he felt his left knee give way Monday night. He blacked out before landing and when he came to, there was no doubt: He was done for the year.

“It was real scary. I saw my kneecap pushed up into my quadriceps. I thought my career was over,” Bozied said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Oregon.

“To go from hitting a walkoff home run to being wheeled off the field in an ambulance, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “Guys were hitting me on the helmet, kicking me, congratulating me, and I was down in the dogpile. Then one of them saw the look in my eyes and realized I wasn’t kidding, that it was serious.”

Talk about adding injury to exult.

Bozied ruptured a tendon upon takeoff after the 8-5 Pacific Coast League win over Tacoma. He was to fly to San Diego later Tuesday and have an MRI on Wednesday.

Surgery is likely this week and he’ll be sidelined for six months. Doctors told him he’s expected to be OK for spring training.

Bizarre injuries during celebrations are rare, yet not unique.

Kicker Bill Gramatica tore a knee ligament while jumping after a 42-yard field goal for the Arizona Cardinals late in the 2001 season, and was lost for the year. Washington quarterback Gus Frerotte sprained his neck when he celebrated a touchdown run by headbutting a padded concrete wall in 1997.

Minnesota infielder Denny Hocking injured his hand when a teammate stepped on it during a final-out pileup in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, and was out for the ALCS.

“It’s a tragic thing for Tagg,” said his manager, Craig Colbert. “It’s something you see every day – a winning home run, teammates waiting for him, a guy jumps up and hits home plate.

“But not this time,” the former San Francisco catcher said. “It is something that I wish I’d never been a part of.”

A third-round pick by the Padres in the June 2002 draft, Bozied was enjoying his best year as a pro despite missing six weeks earlier this season because a hamstring injury.

The first baseman hit .315 with 16 home runs and 58 RBIs in 57 games for the Beavers. In 2002, he led all Padres minor leaguers with 24 homers while splitting the season at Class A and Double-A.

Bozied, who turns 25 on Saturday, had been honored before the game as the PCL’s Batter of the Week.

Popular with the home crowds, the Beavers had scheduled a Tagg Bozied bobblehead doll night for Aug. 21. Now, a “Get Well” banner will be put up at PGE Park for fans to sign.

Bozied’s slam came after an intentional walk with one out loaded the bases. He launched a shot to left-center field and tried to keep his emotions in check as he headed toward home.

“I was keeping it in. I saw the guys running in from the bullpen, everyone was there at the plate. I was saving it,” he said.

Instead, he said, “It felt like my leg got shot off. There was no pain, I couldn’t feel anything. That’s the last thing I remember. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground and the guys were on top of me.”

The crowd of 2,982 that had been cheering wildly after the Beavers’ sixth straight win went silent, as did the music blaring over the stadium sound system. An ambulance took Bozied to a hospital.

Despite what happened, Bozied said he wasn’t being too harsh on himself.

“I mean, it’s not like I was doing anything crazy or dangerous. You just can’t explain things like this,” he said. “But I’ll tell you one thing: If I ever get lucky enough to hit another game-winning home run, I am definitely not jumping on home plate.”

Bozied’s career has never been the same. He played just 26 games in 2005, and then drifted from organization to organization, including stints in the Mets, Cardinals, Marlins and Pirates organizations, along a short stay with the Brother Elephants in Taiwan. Bozied is now 30 years old and playing for Double-A Reading in the Phillies organization.

In an interview with the Mad Friars website, Padres scouting director Bill Gayton said of Bozied’s injury:

“He was looking really good and got hurt. It was sad because he would have been in the big leagues.”

Here’s what Bill Bryk, Padres’ minor league field coordinator, told Mad Friars a few years ago:

“Bozied, before he got hurt, was the best bat prospect we had at the Triple-A level. Power bat prospect. He hasn’t come back fully from that injury. I saw him in the Instructional Leagues and he went to winter ball and unfortunately I don’t think he is back at full strength.”

Those quotes and more on Bozied can be found in this story on scout.com.

The moral of the story: Be careful during celebrations. Maybe Bozied can call up Kendry Morales and commiserate.

(Photo by McClatchy Newspapers)

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