The baseball world lost one of its brightest young stars yesterday in Clearwater, Florida, as Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown suddenly became completely unable to play baseball. He was 23.
Team medical officials were baffled, and insisted there was no medical reason for Brown's newfound inability to field, hit, or throw the ball.
"The progression of what happened here was staggering," team physician Michael Ciccotti said. "We're currently looking at video of Dom in winter ball, because all the tests we could run - including a full body-scan, every kind of blood panel we could do, and full psychological evaluations all came up negative."
Ciccotti added that team medical officials were unable to make a prognosis on Brown's remaining gross and fine motor skills, although recent video suggested that he was still able to run and, at times, play catch. But he noted that there was no guarantee that even these skills would be intact by the end of March. "We've unfortunately gone past the point of concern and are in active mourning over his loss."
Brown was 0 for 12 with 8 strikeouts after the team's first four spring training games before suffering his ultimate and untimely fate.
Brown had been in line to assume recently departed free agent Jayson Werth's spot in right field prior to his demise. Werth signed a lucrative multiyear deal with the Washington Nationals this past offseason, and most Phillies fans expected, as did the Phillies, that one of 2010's top prospects would slide easily into the role. Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to temper the growing enthusiasm over the organization's top prospect, suggesting during the offseason that Brown might have been platooned with other outfielders such as Ben Francisco or John Mayberry, Jr., if not sent down to AAA Lehigh Valley to begin the season.
With Brown's departure, however, all of those plans are gone, unsettling a clubhouse that most sentient baseball observers have the inside edge on winning every possible baseball game that will be played in 2011.
"We work very hard on developing talent throughout the roster," Amaro said. "No doubt Dom's a loss. But we'll get over it. We're a resilient bunch, and we have every confidence that with Ben and John in the outfield we won't miss a beat."
Recent scouting reports noted that Brown had, in fact, been attempting to throw the ball with his foot, and the wrong one, at that. In addition to Brown, the Phillies have been rocked by an epidemic of baseball mortality stretching back to their 2010 season, when legendary pitchers Jamie Moyer and Hall of Famer Robin Roberts suffered from various forms of the malady.
Those losses pale, however, to Sunday's announcement that Chase Utley had also succumbed to a case of mortality that began as a knee injury prior to overwhelming his immortal baseball soul.
Brown's premature and inexplicable slide were reminiscent of other baffling cases of talent drop-offs, most notably the Cardinals' Rick Ankiel or the Dodgers' Steve Sax. But these cases usually involved discreet skills, such as pitching off a mound or making routine throws, rather than a total and systemic breakdown such as Brown's.
Brown's former teammates were still in stunned denial when informed of the news. "We were just talking about everything last night," said Phillies prospect Jiwan James, also an outfielder and a friend of Brown's. "I was just saying [to him] 2-3 more games and everything will be straight. But that was me talking, not him."
Brown was unable to be reached for comment because the lack of any baseball talent made whatever he had to say inaudible and not at all important.