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His Disdain for Spotlight Is Healthy

September 10, 1996|BILL PLASCHKE

The Dodgers' veteran cancer survivor sits on the dugout, taps the fat end of a bat on the floor in front of him, tapping, tapping.

"It's not like I don't want to be an inspiration," he says. "But I don't feel I have to tell the world."

So the world sits in relative darkness, cheering Brett Butler last weekend as if he were the first Dodger to fight cancer, surrounding him in awe and wonder.

Knowing not that in the bullpen sat a guy who, two years ago, beat Hodgkin's Disease.

His name is Scott Radinsky, and he says the view from the left-field corner is fine.

"This has nothing to do with Brett . . . but I didn't have anything like that for me, and I didn't want it," he says. "I couldn't have handled it."

With a baseball team and city still basking in Butler's glow, Radinsky reminds us the deadly disease has many faces and different voices.

Radinsky reminds us that not everyone's fight with cancer is an event.

Not everyone can go from the radiation room to the soap box.

Not everyone wants the world to see their scars.

And we have no right to call them selfish.

"You don't hear a word about Joe the Repairman fixing refrigerators while battling chemo[therapy]," says the left-handed pitcher from Simi Valley. "There's a lot of people out there who just want to get through it."

In more than one way, Radinsky is the Dodgers' Joe.

While others stand out front and apply the shine, he crawls under the back, works the pipes.

His kind enters games in the late innings with the team in trouble and a powerful left-handed hitter at the plate. His kind must retire that hitter, then run off the mound to prepare for the same situation the next day.

His kind breaks hearts . . . and wins championships.

Radinsky allowed Orlando Merced to hit a three-run double in the eighth inning Sunday that gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a 4-1 victory.

But Radinsky has held left-handed hitters to a .238 batting average, allowing them no home runs, striking out 17 and walking only two in 63 at-bats.

Earlier this season he had 11 consecutive scoreless innings. Later this season, he will be involved in a dramatic battle with San Diego's Tony Gwynn or San Francisco's Barry Bonds or some other left-handed hitter who could end the Dodgers hopes with one swing.

"I thrive in those types of situations," he says. "I don't panic."

He treated his cancer in the same fashion. Fix it, leave it, and forget it ever happened.

He was diagnosed before 1994 spring training with the Chicago White Sox, when doctors discovered a lump on his neck.

He sat out the 1994 season while undergoing six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation.

He returned to baseball in 1995 like nothing ever happened, pitching decently in 48 games before signing with the Dodgers this winter as a free agent.

He visits a doctor every three months to make sure he remains in remission, anything else is not an option.

"I just run in, don't even think about it," he says.

Not once has any Dodger official talked to him about publicizing his comeback. Not once has he offered.

"I think what Brett has done is great for him, he is well-spoken, it is perfect," says Radinsky, 28. "But for me, it's such a private thing. I guess, to each his own."

If it wasn't for gossip, his teammates and coaches might still not know.

"I know nothing about it, other than he had it," says Bill Russell, Dodger manager. "He never talks about it."

Could it be, perhaps, that Radinsky is an example of how cancer need not change a life?

Radinsky never lost his hair during chemotherapy. Never lost weight. Never even threw up after they initially removed the intravenous tube following the six-hour procedure.

"They would pull it out, I would vomit, and that would be it," he says.

Because he had no surgery, he also has no scars.

"Everybody wanted to know how bad I felt but . . . except for being a little weak . . . I felt so good," he says.

Actually undergoing the treatments was, "a living hell," Radinsky says. But with emphasis on living.

During that spring, he served as pitching coach and groundskeeper for his Simi Valley High baseball team.

"He acted like his cancer didn't exist," recalls then-coach Mike Scyphers. "Except for those few days he missed because of chemo, it didn't."

He also played on an adult baseball team known as the Simi Valley Pirates. Played first base and led the league in home runs. Even occasionally pitched.

Helped the team win a national championship while playing in high school parks, in front of girlfriends and children.

"I was only going to play as long as I felt like it, but I played every game," he remembers. "It was the most awesome time I've ever had. Being an everyday player, high-fiving guys on the field, playing for the love of it."

Since returning to baseball, he has visited children in hospitals, but only those who asked, and only when nobody is looking.

Once there, he is as likely to talk about singing for a popular local punk rock band known as "Pulley," as he is about the disease.

"Tell people, 'You can do it because I did it?' " he says, raising his voice in mock dramatic fashion. "Not me."

Visit with Scott Radinsky for a few minutes, and it becomes clear that he is telling people something else.

Telling them cancer doesn't have to be scary, doesn't have to be bandannas and baggy pants, doesn't have to be tears, and doesn't have to be anybody else's business.

There is a message of comfort there, even if 50,000 people never give it a standing ovation.

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