Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Players Who Struggled With Mental Illness (Part IV--Roger Moret)

For years, no one understood Roger Moret's odd behavior. Depending on who was asked, his troubles were blamed on loneliness, a language barrier or drug use. The riddle was finally answered when he was diagnosed with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia--a debilitating illness characterized by delusions and hallucinations (both auditory and visual). Some patients become incoherent or catatonic.

Among the greatest left-handed prospects to come out of Puerto Rico, Moret grew up in an economically depressed area of Guayama. He worked his way out of poverty playing ball. He was nicknamed "The Whip" for the sound his pitches allegedly made when they crossed the plate. Signed by the Red Sox in 1968, he spent several seasons bouncing up and down from the majors to the minors. He played winter ball back home and, in '71-'72, he compiled a 14-1 record with a 1.81 ERA for the Santurce Crabbers of the Puerto Rican League. His breakthrough season with the Red Sox came in 1973, when he won 13 games while losing only 2. Though he was not as effective the following year, he returned to form in '75, leading the league with a remarkable .824 winning percentage.

Moret demonstrated erratic behavior while playing for Boston. He once took a car out for a test drive and kept it until police came to Fenway Park looking for it several days later. On another occasion, he crashed his vehicle into the back of a stalled truck while traveling from New York City on the day of a scheduled start. The Red Sox brass resented the publicity the incident generated and despite Moret's vast potential, traded him to Atlanta before the '76 slate. Club executives maintained that they "couldn't handle" the hurler anymore. 

Moret claimed that Atlanta's "vibrations were no good" and the irregular episodes escalated. To ward off bad luck, he drank an elixir of rum and kerosene. During a road trip to Pittsburgh, he had a psychotic meltdown in his hotel room and spent several weeks at Bellevue Hospital. The Braves dumped him after the '76 campaign.

In 1977, Moret had another mental breakdown before an April game against the Tigers. After behaving peculiarly during batting practice, he wandered to the clubhouse, stripped down to his undershorts and stood like a statue for roughly 90 minutes. Multiple attempts to bring him back to lucidity failed. He was eventually convinced to climb into a waiting ambulance. After several weeks in a psychiatric hospital, he returned but was ineffective on the mound.

He was out of the majors after '78, later failing a tryout with the Indians in 1980. Completing a downward spiral, he was arrested for marijuana possession in Puerto Rico and sentenced to five years in jail, which he never served. He lived in halfway houses and stayed at drug treatment facilities. He collected welfare before his modest disability pension from MLB kicked-in during the late-'80's. Talking to a Sports Illustrated writer in 1992, he said: "I have not been through Hell. Hell has been through me." 

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