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Where've you gone, Jim Lonborg?06/24/2002 2:08 PM ET
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
It was 35 years ago, but the scene remains indelible. Jim Lonborg had just recorded the final out of the 1967 Impossible Dream season for the Red Sox, when 24 of his teammates and thousands of Fenway fans all seemed to run at him in one unimaginable eruption of joy.
The occasion was one for jubilation, but a little frightening if you were the man of the moment. Complete strangers rushed Lonborg and began clawing at his uniform.
"Initially it was what you would dream about in Little League," said Lonborg. "The winning pitcher, being on the mound to win the pennant, everyone congratulating me. But a few minutes later, you realize you're not going where you want to go. I was trying to get back in the dugout. Thank God for the Boston police, they were able to control the crowd. It was delirium."
Things are a lot more peaceful for the 60-year-old Lonborg these days, but no less rewarding. He is nearly two decades into the career after his baseball career.
Say hello to Dr. Lonborg, who finished dental school in 1983, and runs his own practice in Hanover, Mass., which is less than 30 miles south of Fenway Park.
But the close proximity of the Red Sox hasn't tempted Lonborg to get back into baseball in some capacity, as so many former players do.
"I was blessed to be a Major League ballplayer for 15 years," said Lonborg, "and to come into a beautiful career like dentistry. It's hard to compare. The life of a dentist is a little more realistic, a little more grounded. I've enjoyed my patients and their families, and providing service to them. A lot of people take it for granted but I take it very seriously."
How does a former All-Star pitcher wake up one day and decide he wants to be a dentist? Allow Lonborg -- who retired in 1979 -- to explain.
"I was a pre-med student at Stanford, and I was always interested in healthcare, always interested in taking care of people and their needs," said Lonborg, who won 22 games en route to the AL Cy Young award for those '67 Sox, and co-starred in Boston's improbable ride along with Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski.
"When I got out of baseball, my wife and I took a vacation, and during the, 'What am I going to do for the rest of my life' conversations, she said, 'Why don't you become a dentist? You have control of your life. It's not like being a doctor where you're fully committed 24 hours a day, seven days a week'. The more we talked about it, the more sense it made. I went to UMass-Boston for one year, and got my act together academically again, and went to Tufts Dental School and went straight through for three years."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Lonborg is a regular working man. He isn't one to throw stories of his baseball career around to impress patients.
"Ideally I'm just Dr. Lonborg," said the man who was known as Gentleman Jim in his Red Sox days. "Most people involved in healthcare, they don't care if you played baseball or were a radio announcer, they want to make sure you're taking care of their needs. That's how I approach my care to people. The fact many of them are baseball fans gives me an entree to making them feel more comfortable."
Work isn't the only thing that gives Lonborg joy. He is a dedicated family man, with a wife of 32 years and six children. They are the main reason he has never entertained getting back into baseball.
He loves spending summers working in his garden, which is why you don't see him at Fenway very often.
And though many Red Sox fans might cringe at this, he still loves to ski.
Following that '67 season, which ended with Lonborg losing to Bob Gibson on two days of rest in Game 7 of the World Series, the Red Sox thought they had an ace right-hander for the next decade or so.
But Lonborg injured his knee in a skiing accident and was greatly hampered in 1968. He was never the same pitcher for the Red Sox again, going 27-29 in the four seasons following '67 before being dealt to the Brewers prior to the 1972 season.
Lonborg, who rallied back to win 18 games for the Phillies in 1976, doesn't regret going skiing that winter of '68. He knows that it was hardly careless recreation.
"It was part of a conditioning program I adopted the year before. I left Heavenly Valley (in Lake Tahoe) on a Friday, and I was at (Spring Training) Saturday. I had never been in better shape in my whole life than I was, and that was a big reason I had the success I had in '67. I tried to be careful, but it just didn't work out (in the winter of '68). I got hurt, it's just something that happened."
Another unfortunate thing happened to Lonborg last fall. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"I was able to get connected with some absolutely great (medical) people, and we attacked the problem. We got the cancer out of there," Lonborg said. "I feel absolutely great, I have no concerns at all about my future."
And though his past contains some great memories, he has been able to create a satisfying post-baseball life.
Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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