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Game Changer

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

While stumbling through some sheet music, I noticed a young man, maybe thirty, who walked by the piano several times during the course of the week. He appeared to be “dead fit”—to use a race track term. Tanned, flowing blond hair with biceps as large as my body and a waist that was probably 28 inches. He had that look of a rock star, a professional athlete, or a politician. With each passing he gave me a congratulatory thumbs-up, which I really needed since my marginal piano skills were clearly being eroded by fatigue and the usual distractions of life.

Early that Friday afternoon, as I was packing up my materials, he was walking by and joined me as we headed to the parking ramp together. I used the usual hackneyed introductions: Where you from? And I hope everything is going okay with your medical checkup?”

And then I heard the rest of a fascinating story.

“The news was not good,” he told me, “but this was no surprise and was expected. I need to regroup with my connections and my family and plan out the rest of my life.”

He introduced himself and I vaguely recalled the name from a recent issue of Sports Illustrated. He had been a prominent college pitcher with a career destined for the Hall of Fame. He had a “cannot miss” label. His first eight years in the majors were iconic. He had a blistering repertoire of demonic pitches and equally importantly was able to avoid the distractions that derail the careers of many young athletes.

He was in the final year of a long-term contract and was faced with a dilemma of signing up at a fraction of his current salary or go into “free agency” and sell his skills on the unpredictable open market. Historically, baseball players like this gentleman could ask for an enormous amount of money, and the check would’ve been written on the spot. But like all businesses, the game has changed.

With the advent of in-depth statistical analyses, owners of teams and agents and players now know that the career of someone in their early thirties is limited with deteriorating skills and a high risk of injury. Teams are making far better investments by bringing on board some unproven twenty-three-year-old from the Dominican Republic or sign him to a contract at a fraction of the superstar’s salary.

Our hall-of-famer faced the grim reality that he was a commodity, he was a product, he was selling a service, and his value had dramatically diminished with time and with a change in baseball economics.

So what do we mere mortals learn from this game changer? One does not have to be a genius to understand that the power of relationships has eroded. Most professionals are now deemed to be selling a product or service, and we need to recognize the importance of viewing ourselves as a CEO, we must invest in and take care of ourselves, or we may well be left on the team bus.


Edward T. Creagan, MD, FAAHPM, a cancer specialist, is the first Mayo Clinic doctor board certified in hospice and palliative medicine. His new book, Farewell: Vital End-of-Life Questions and Candid Answers, is about navigating those precious last days, at the bedside, and saying farewell with hope, love, and compassion.

In the glorious marble lobby of the soaring, sun-filled Gonda building on the campus of the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, sits a concert-quality grand piano. The diminutive figure in a black suit often found playing this magnificent instrument may often be Dr. Edward Creagan (Dr. Ed). These blog posts are written from his encounters with patients and others who are drawn to his music and compelled to tell their stories. He listens. He plays. And he writes stories about people others don’t take time to get to know.

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