One of Us (Zack Greinke and Mental Illness)

Growing up as a Dodger fan, I often forget that we discussed other players over the dinner table. Yet this was the case several years ago when my late mother talked about Royal’s pitcher Zack Greinke. You see, Greinke was “one of us.” What my mother meant was that he had spoken openly about his battle with Social Anxiety Disorder and Depression after it nearly ended his major league career.

Zack Greinke warms up before a 2011 Spring Training game at Camelback Ranch in Arizona.

Zack Greinke warms up before a 2011 Spring Training game at Camelback Ranch in Arizona.

It wasn’t until Zack was traded to the Dodgers that I really understood what my mother was talking about. In 2012 a quiet and almost unspoken worry was how Greinke would manage playing in his first large market team when traded to the Angels. Until then, he had been playing for Kansas City and Milwaukee. After surviving the test of time, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed the former Cy Young winner on for their second ace, after Kershaw. At this point his battle with mental illness was basically forgotten. Then in his second start last season he accidentally beaned Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres (who has the highest HBP by far). This resulted in Quentin charging the mound and breaking Greinke’s collarbone.

It also resulted in the Padres CEO making some disgusting remarks the next day. “Zack Greinke is a different kind of guy. Anybody seen Rain Man? He’s a very smart guy. He has social anxiety disorder. He doesn’t interact well with his team; he doesn’t have meals with his teammates. He spends his life studying how to get hitters out….”

Honestly, WTF? Is anxiety the same illness as autism? This statement as discussed at SBNation was not only false but ignorant. As someone who suffers both from disabling anxiety and depression from Huntington’s Disease I know firsthand how incorrect this statement is. So while Greinke successfully has found treatment in Zoloft and talk therapy, I have with another medication and my service dog. Does this also make me suffer from an inability to socialize as a character flaw? I would quickly answer “no.” What it does offer me is a rare ability to look at almost any situation and weigh it out beforehand. I need to judge them in terms of where my energy is best spent. This is something Greinke has also discussed when agreeing to the rare interview (outside of post-game questions).

In the end, there shouldn’t be any difference between Greinke’s anxiety and depression, which are in remission and any other medical conditions. Sadly, as long as the stigma surrounds mental illness he will be treated slightly different. Instead of simply reserved he is “crazy.” Trust me, I know this firsthand all too well.

On that note, I’m going back to listening to The Irish Tenors until the Giants-Dodgers match-up tonight. After all, isn’t that what most insane people do?