Larry Pedegana, who died last Friday, helped prolong and revive the careers of many Seattle Mariners players under his care yet always had their best interests at heart.
Jay Buhner still chuckles when he remembers the time he and his wife, Leah, saw the hazy outline of a motorcycle cruising down the highway in the middle of an epic Puget Sound rainstorm.
“What kind of idiot would be out on a motorcycle on a night like tonight?” he said to his wife.
As they drove closer, they realized it was Larry Pedegana, the Mariners’ team physician, happily riding his vintage Triumph. The Buhners pulled up alongside Pedegana, and Jay called out the window, “You crazy SOB.” Pedegana laughed, gave the thumbs-up sign, and zoomed off.
Honoring Dr. Pedegana
A celebration of Pedegana’s life will take place Sunday, Dec. 13, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Safeco Field. Memories and tributes will be shared beginning at 2:30 p.m.
“That was Larry,’’ said Buhner. “He loved life. He worked hard and played hard — just a great man.”
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Pedegana, one of the pillars of the Mariners organization for nearly three decades, died last Friday of cancer at age 74. He is remembered for caretaking the health of Mariners players from the team’s inception in 1977 through 2006, but his legacy went far beyond that. Pedegana became lifelong friends with many of the players he repaired and then helped nurse back to health.
“He was part of the family,” Buhner said. “He worked on a couple of my kids. I consider Larry almost like a father figure. If it wasn’t for him, I definitely wouldn’t have had the career I had. He was able to repair me and get me back on the field.”
Pedegana, an orthopedist, performed hundreds of operations on Mariners players, including Buhner’s elbow, Norm Charlton’s shoulder, Edgar Martinez’s shoulder and knee, and Randy Johnson’s knee, and assisted on scores of others. When Dr. Ed Almquist repaired Ken Griffey Jr.’s fractured wrist in 1995, Pedegana was part of the surgical team but was content to let Almquist, a wrist specialist, lead the operation.
“Larry knew his own limitations,’’ said former Mariners president Chuck Armstrong. “He knew what he knew, and perhaps more importantly, he knew what he didn’t know. Even though he was a great professional and had a lot of personal pride, if a player wanted to go elsewhere, he’d set it up. He was very self-effacing.”
Armstrong called Pedegana “a man of impeccable integrity” and cited him as a pioneer in the field of orthopedics. Pedegana trained in Southern California under two of the legends of the profession, Dr. Robert Kerlan and Dr. Frank Jobe, and developed an enduring friendship with Jobe, the father of Tommy John elbow surgery.
A star running back and linebacker at Issaquah High School and then Whitman College, Pedegana’s football career was ended by a knee injury. He got the medical bug while closely observing the doctors working on his knee. He received his medical degree from the University of Alberta and did his residency at the University of Washington’s affiliated hospitals.
When the Seahawks launched in 1976, Pedegana served as an orthopedic consultant. The Mariners began a year later and named Pedegana as their team physician.
“I never knew Larry to be wrong on a diagnosis,’’ Armstrong said. “He was such an ethical, caring guy.”
One demonstration occurred in 1992, when Kevin Mitchell loudly berated Pedegana in the clubhouse for refusing to give him a cortisone shot for his sore hand. But Pedegana refused to yield to Mitchell’s physical intimidation because he felt a shot would have been endangered Mitchell’s health.
“He really wanted to protect and care for his guys,’’ said longtime Mariners trainer Rick Griffin. “It was a testament to Larry, and I say this in a proud way: We didn’t have a lot of our players get a second opinion during that time. They trusted what Larry said.”
Pedegana regularly donated his time to clinics in Seattle and Eastern Washington. Former Mariner pitcher Jim Beattie recalls that Pedegana once operated pro bono on the knees of a farmer from Othello, who in turn let him hunt on his property. Beattie accompanied Pedegana on some of those hunting trips.
“We’d go to a local bar on Friday, and he knew everyone in the place,’’ Beattie recalled. “Larry would walk right behind the bar and start fixing drinks. He made himself right at home. That was Larry — and I always called him Larry, not Dr. Pedegana.”
Besides his love of hunting, fishing and motorcycles, Pedegana’s eclectic interests included jazz and collecting Native American baskets. Though outwardly stern-looking, he was a legendary raconteur and joke-teller.
“He was very witty, and he was brilliant,’’ Griffin said. “He had a way about him. Larry could be very soothing, but he wasn’t afraid to put you in your place if you needed to be put in your place.”
As an example, Griffin recalled a former Mariners general manager, whom he wouldn’t name, telling Pedegana that he thought a player with a chronic back injury was back to good health. The GM’s reasoning was that he had seen the player bending and stretching while out cleaning his car.
“Larry said, ‘Excuse me, where did you get your medical degree?’ ” said Griffin.
Dr. Dennis Kvidera, Pedegana’s longtime partner with Puget Sound Orthopedic Physicians, noted the contrast between his personal and professional demeanor.
“As a physician, Larry was always kind of subtle in how he presented himself, never boastful, but you always knew he understood things and had good knowledge of medicine,’’ Kvidera said. “He was very low-key.
“Socially, he was a little different. He was very outgoing, and never forgot a name or face. At a gathering, he always had a new joke that lightened people up.”
Dr. Jourdan Gottlieb, a plastic surgeon and longtime friend, recalled the first time he introduced himself to Pedegana at Providence Medical Center. The year was 1998, a struggling season for the Mariners after a division title in ’97.
“I asked him if he could help me get playoff tickets,’’ Gottlieb recalled. “He got an impish smile and said, ‘Last year I was everyone’s best friend. You’re the first person to say hello to me in a month.’ ’’
Gottlieb described Pedegana as “Teddy-bear gruff,’’ but to Buhner and the rest of the Mariners, the Teddy-bear side was dominant. Griffin said that Pedegana had a “really cool, special relationship” with Griffey.
“They got on each other all the time,’’ he said. “It was classic stuff — comedy-routine stuff.”
When Buhner retired, he invited Pedegana and another Mariners doctor, Mitch Storey, to join him and his father-in-law in a five-day float down the Smith River in Montana. It was Buhner’s way of thanking them for their care.
“The fishing was great,’’ Buhner said, “but the campfires at night, hearing Larry tell joke after joke and never repeating one, was the best part.”