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Kansas City Royal Zach Greinke deals with depression and social anxiety disorder and wins Cy Young award as best pitcher in the American League.

Each year, Major League Baseball names two pitchers (one from the American League, one from the National) as the best in the game.  This year’s American League Cy Young Award went to Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals.  The voting for the award wasn’t close.  Greinke’s 16-8 season, combined with a major league-low 2.16 earned run average garnered him 25 of 28 first-place votes by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

And, oh yes, Zack Greinke happens to be a consumer of mental health services.

Greinke came to professional baseball directly after high school in Orlando, Florida.  He was selected at age 19 by Kansas City in the 2002 player draft.  Working his way up quickly from the minor leagues, he made his major league debut in 2004.  He did well that year but had a rough season in 2005, losing 17 games.  He left spring training the following year and stayed away from baseball for 7 months.

During this period, he was diagnosed as having social anxiety disorder and depression for which he began treatment.  He returned to the majors in 2007 on a one-year contract.  He did well enough to return in 2008 and had a good year for the hapless Royals, going 13-10.  In 2009 he was the best in the majors, pitching 24 consecutive innings without giving up a run.

In an interview in the Kansas City Star after he returned to baseball, Greinke talked about his experience.  When his problems started, he did not attribute them to an emotional disorder.  He was just unhappy playing baseball.   “It was always, once I got away from baseball, I was fine.  I just thought that, at the baseball field, I was unhappy.”

“I’d talk to my agent all the time and ask him: ‘How can I tell the Royals that I don’t want to pitch? That I want to try hitting?’  I thought that was why I hated baseball. I thought it was because I wanted to hit. It would be at least once a month that I’d be crying to myself while I’m going to bed with a bat in my hand, just swinging it. It’s stupid. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

When interviewed, he still didn’t know what to make of his diagnosis.  “Depression kind of runs in my family.  But I don’t know if that’s what I was actually going through.  The medicine I take is an antidepressant. So [depression] must have something to do with it. That and social anxiety. But I don’t think it was a serious case. I mean, I never thought about killing myself.”

Since that time, Greinke has not spoken publically about his depression or social anxiety diagnoses.  Some sportscasters have speculated whether Greinke has Asperger’s at the root of his social issues.  Zach has let his pitching speak for him.

Whatever the label, the Kansas City Royals admire Greinke’s performance on and off the field.  Dayton Moore, the Royals General Manager, stated it this way: “I can’t speak to this because I’ve never experienced it, but I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him to recognize his condition and evaluate it honestly and do something about it,” Moore said. “He’s been able to take all of those experiences and combine them and that’s why he is where he is today.”