Rozner: Mourning the passing of a legendary Cubs doc
When you talk about the greatest NFL coaching trees of all time, the conversation usually begins with Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells.
If there were such a conversation in sports medicine, the conversation might begin with Dr. Michael Schafer.
The Cubs' team surgeon for 25 years beginning in 1980, while also working at times for the Bears and Blackhawks, not to mention raising a family and holding down the fort at Northwestern as a professor and chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the university medical school, Schafer passed away a few days ago at the age of 76, leaving behind quite a legacy.
As the news spread quietly within the baseball community, there was much sadness among his many friends, colleagues and former players.
"I bet the thing people don't realize about him is how many doctors he is responsible for that have gone on to have professional sports careers and private practices around the country," said John Fierro, the Cubs' trainer from 1987-96. "You would be hard pressed to find someone working in sports medicine who didn't work for, or with, Doc Schafer somewhere along the line, or worked for someone who learned from him.
"Doc's residents are all over the country working for sports teams, and several right there in Chicago right now.
"If you dug deep enough, there's probably a dozen branches, and off that dozen branches there's probably three or four dozen more branches filled with surgeons.
"That's the kind of impact he had on orthopedic surgery and sports."
Schafer's influence went beyond the operating room and classroom, as he was known for his affable demeanor and the calming effect he had on those who were ailing and those who attended to their patients.
"He was such a sweet man," said Andre Dawson, who mentioned Schafer in his Hall of Fame speech and had so many surgeries and procedures while with the Cubs that he couldn't guess on a number. "I never really looked forward to a doctor visit, but I will say Doc Schafer was one of my favorites. He was a genuinely good person.
"He had a very gentle way about him that would always make you feel better about your problem, encouraging you and letting you know it would be OK and he would get you back on the field.
"He always had a smile on his face and he could alleviate the uncomfortable feeling you had when you had an appointment to see him.
"He made you feel better. That's a skill."
Schafer was also an innovator in his field, discovering and refining surgical techniques that would help a professional or amateur return to action, but never at the cost of their long-term health.
"His surgical techniques made him one of the leaders in the country. I watched a couple. He was an artist," Fierro said. "As far as sports medicine is concerned, he was so progressive and such a great surgeon, but you judge by outcome, and he prolonged careers and saved players' ability to perform again.
"Beyond that, he always thought about a guy's ability to play with his grandkids. As far as outcomes, he was tremendously successful and a lot of that comes from staying ahead of the times.
"Every decision he made and every conversation we had was based on sound judgment, never emotion.
"Everything he did to keep Hawk on the field was just sound judgment."
And still, aside from Schafer's obvious ability, his genius was his bedside manner.
"His No. 1 attribute was his ability to connect with his patients, the athletes and co-workers," Fierro said. "When you talk about good people, and how people say, 'You can't find someone who would say something bad about this person,' this is one of those guys.
"I've heard from so many former players, guys you would know and some you would never remember from the minor leagues, and you realize he touched so many people. They all talk about how he treated them with respect no matter who they were.
"You can't put a value on compassion, and he just had compassion for everyone. You just could not tell the difference in the way he treated a high-profile person from any other patient."
Schafer's teaching continues today, even though he is no longer among us.
"He was so humble, and that's something many of us tried to emulate," Fierro said. "I never sensed at any time that he would big-time someone, and that had a huge impact on our business.
"Sadly enough, I don't think he ever understood his impact. I don't think he ever knew how important he was. I don't think he wanted to know how important he was. That's what makes this so hard."
Godspeed Doc, and on behalf of all you have touched, thank you.