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Morgan comments on firing

Fortunes shifted quickly for William Morgan, the Red Sox team doctor, during their championship season. In October, he was the toast of the town after improvising a fix of pitcher Curt Schilling's ankle during the team's postseason run. In December, he was unceremoniously fired.

Now, in Boston's status-conscious medical community, the race is on to win the high-profile job of team doctor at Fenway Park, but Morgan and others believe that business rather than medical concerns are driving the process.

At the center of suspicions is the $2.5 million deal the Red Sox struck last year with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that made the Harvard-affiliated facility the team's official hospital. Beth Israel assumed control of every aspect of medicine for the Red Sox -- except team doctor, which Morgan, orthopedics chief at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Boston, retained after players, notably departed shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, argued on his behalf. Speculation is rampant in the Boston medical community that Beth Israel wants one of its own as medical director.

A team spokesman yesterday did not return calls for comment. Last week, the Red Sox released a statement on the matter: "The selection of a team medical director is unrelated to the club's relationship with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center."

Last week team president Larry Lucchino said, "We're going to look at other institutions. There are a range of possibilities."

Judy Glasser, a spokeswoman for Beth Israel, said, "Our partnership with the Sox is focused on community outreach programs, we provide first aid for the fans, we take care of staff and their families. The team doctor has never been part of it."

But Morgan, who worked at Fenway Park for 17 years, said Red Sox officials still have not explained why he was fired. During a December meeting, Sox general manager Theo Epstein praised his medical talents, said Morgan. Minutes later, he was let go.

"It's clear to me that it's not an objective decision," said Morgan.

Several players, including Schilling, called Morgan to express dismay, with several saying they would consider retaining his service regardless of whom the Red Sox hire.

Yesterday Morgan was on the phone with Schilling's rehabilitation doctor. The All-Star pitcher was in Arizona undergoing physical therapy on his damaged right ankle. Morgan, who continues to closely monitor the pitcher, said the injury will leave him about a month behind in his offseason training regimen.

Morgan, despite his heroics with Schilling, has not been free from controversy. In November 2003, he was arrested for drunk driving and underwent a 16-week alcohol treatment program. Nonetheless, the Red Sox signed him for the 2004 season.

During the season, injuries to Garciaparra and right fielder Trot Nixon lasted longer than Red Sox officials expected. Some on the team grumbled that Morgan failed to adequately warn the team about this potential. Morgan, however, said team officials never confronted him about it.

Morgan met with Epstein and Lucchino early this month, when he was told he would be let go. He was stunned. The news filtered out to the media last week. Morgan said the officials told him they were "moving in a different direction" on the Sox' medical care, despite praising his medical abilities.

As team doctor, Morgan cared for more than 400 people, including players and coaches, as well as players in the minor league system. He estimated only 10 percent of his work dealt with sports injuries, with much time spent on garden variety medical problems. He essentially served as the Red Sox' family doctor.

"I was disappointed. This is something I've cherished," said Morgan, who started with the team in 1986 as a protege of Dr. Arthur Pappas, his predecessor. "Where their new direction is hasn't been made clear to me."

Morgan and others wondered if the Sox seek to hire someone from a more prestigious hospital. St. Elizabeth's, part of the Caritas Christi Health Care system, would be a top hospital in most other urban areas. But Boston is filled with medical heavyweights, beginning with Beth Israel and the two other Harvard-affiliated centers, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's hospitals.

Caritas Christi president and CEO Dr. Robert M. Haddad said Sox officials have told him nothing.

"How do I explain it? I just can't," he said. "We don't know where they're going or what their plans are . . . we just need to move on."

Morgan said his firing will free up time; he was often at the ballpark until 1 a.m. on game days. He plans to devote more time and energy to St. Elizabeth's new $4 million Bone and Joint Center, an expansion of its orthopedic services, which is scheduled to open in six weeks. His small office at St. Elizabeth's is noticeably bereft of Red Sox mementos, except for an article documenting his ad hoc surgery on Schilling's ankle back in the heady days of October.

"Life goes on . . . it was a fleeting moment," he said of his time in the spotlight, adding that he remains a Red Sox die-hard.

"I still want to see the team flourish," Morgan said.

Bob Hohler of the Globe staff contributed to this story. Raja Mishra can be reached at rmishra@globe.com.

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