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On Cardinals baseball: What Greene needs is help, not baseball

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 25, 2009 - When does the Major League Baseball season really start?

If you ask manager Tony La Russa, he’ll probably say the season is as serious the first day of spring training as it is the final game of the year. So, he’d say the season really starts in February.

My friend Mike Claiborne at KTRS, who is doing some play-by-play action during select games this year, says the season really starts on Flag Day in mid-June.

I think the season really starts today (Memorial Day). Enough games have been played to have a true core sample of a team’s strengths and weaknesses. Some games have been won that should have been lost. The opposite is also certainly true.

With a bit more than a quarter of the season complete, the St. Louis Cardinals entered Memorial Day with a 24-16 record. That was good for a first-place tie in the National League Central Division.

So, with the season still somewhat new and things just beginning to get serious, one of the Cardinals’ stars probably wishes the 2009 campaign was already complete.

Welcome to the troubled world of shortstop Khalil Greene.

By his own admission, Greene is battling the demons of obsessive compulsive behavior. He is the target of his own doubt and fear.

After a solid spring training, Greene was the Redbirds’ starting shortstop and batted cleanup in the April 6 season opening game at Busch Stadium.

By the completion of that first week though, some teammates had witnessed Greene’s frightening habit of taking out his frustrations on himself. Greene punches walls and reportedly inflicts pain on himself.

Last week in Pittsburgh, he left the clubhouse with his hand bleeding. He was not injured in a game.

We now know that the San Diego Padres have a grievance filed against him that seeks to have some of Greene’s 2008 salary returned to that team because his season-ending hand injury was self inflicted.

Did the Cardinals not know this when they traded for Greene in the off-season?

Or did GM John Mozeliak and the Cards’ front office mull over Greene’s obvious mental frailty and decide that playing at Busch for La Russa in front of one of the game’s most loyal groups of fans would help rid him of his problem?

One can only hope that a mental illness of this magnitude – or any illness - was not ignored by the Cardinals.

At the same time, Greene is being paid more than $6 million to play baseball as the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.

He is not receiving this level of compensation to pinch hit and/or come into a game late as a defensive replacement while he gets himself together.

La Russa wants to keep him involved and not “bury him,” according to reports in the Post-Dispatch. Greene wants to help in any way he can, but it’s obvious he wants no part of starting right now.

I’m far from a psychologist, psychiatrist, manager or general manager. But I do know this:

Greene needs to be placed on the disabled list, needs to leave the team and needs to get full-time treatment.

He is sick, and he needs help. Cardinal Nation can’t cure him nor can Albert Pujols or La Russa. He needs a physician’s care, and he needs it quickly. There is the possibility that a doctor has said that playing baseball while working on the illness is the best course. But if not, Greene should be on the DL.

A game-winning home run or great play at shortstop will win him cheers and make things seem OK. But it won’t put an end to Greene’s woes. In fact, it might delude him, the Cardinals and fans into thinking that all is well. That would be far from the truth.

Greene’s condition must be taken on immediately, or he could leave a tragic scar on all of else by seriously injuring himself - or even worse.

Alvin A. Reid is a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly.

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