Sunday, July 18, 2004

Cardinals' Womack brings success

By John Erardi
Enquirer staff writer

Tony Womack, who is hitting over .300 and batting leadoff and playing a fine second base, is a big reason why the St. Louis Cardinals are running away with the National League Central Division.

"I wanted to play this year from the start - that was my goal," Womack said. "Being able to play only five months after having Tommy John surgery was the key."

Womack's surgery was done by Dr. Tim Kremchek, the Reds' medical director and chief orthopedic surgeon.

"(Nationally), he may be a little bit under the radar screen, but he was on my radar screen," Womack said. "I wanted somebody who I could relate to, somebody I knew would give me that personal touch, and that was Dr. Kremchek."

The Tommy John procedure is elbow-ligament replacement surgery. Womack injured his right (throwing) elbow Aug. 24 while sliding into home plate. He had his surgery in early October.

Womack, 34, a former Arizona Diamondback, did most of his rehab in Phoenix, but he followed - to the letter - the rehab program of Kremchek and his physical therapists, Womack said.

"If I was a pitcher, obviously I wouldn't be back in five months after Tommy John surgery," Womack said. "But as a position player, I set my mind to it that being ready for (spring training) was what I was going to do."

A series of conversations convinced Womack that surgery and a rehab program from Kremchek were his best chance to play this season from the get-go.

What an acquisition the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Womack has been for the Cardinals. They picked him up March 21 from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for minor-league pitcher Matt Duff.

Like so many of the Cardinals, Womack is an achiever. He won a World Championship ring with Arizona in 2001. He stroked the tying double off New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 in the World Series.

Womack, who was born in Danville, Va., and earned his bachelor's degree in sports management from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., led the National League in stolen bases (60) in 1997, his first full season in the major leagues. He was a Pittsburgh Pirate back then.

In 1999, his first season with the Diamondbacks, he led the majors with 72 stolen bases, becoming the first player to lead the NL in stolen bases for three straight seasons since Vince Coleman did it six consecutive times (1985-90). Womack scored 111 runs that season and had 10 triples. In 2000, he hit a league-leading 14 triples. In 2002, he stole 29 bases with five triples.

Last year was a transitional season for Womack. He started the year with Arizona, was traded to Colorado July 18 and finished the season with the Chicago Cubs.

In 103 games overall, he stole 13 bases.

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