Answer Man: Craig Breslow talks 3-D printing, valuable facial hair, Red Sox brains and his pediatric cancer foundation

David Brown
December 4, 2013

Tuesday was 3-D Printing Day across the United States and that got left-hander Craig Breslow of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox excited. Reputed to be the smartest baseball player in the world, Breslow graduated from Yale with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and he was accepted at NYU med school after scoring a 34 (28 is considered average) on his MCAT. But how can someone become a doctor when he can still get guys out in the major leagues? It's been a good kind of dilemma for Breslow, who has a 2.82 ERA in 402 career innings and has settled in with the Red Sox, his sixth major league organization.

Breslow's interest in science stems in part from his sister, who is a 20-year pediatric cancer survivor. Her illness drove him to start the Strike 3 Foundation in 2008, and it inspired Breslow's first contribution to 3-D printing — the process of making a solid object of virtually any shape from a digital pattern. With the help of General Electric (where Breslow's wife and father-in-law have worked), "Strike 3" pendants manufactured with 3-D printing starting Tuesday. The future is here! And Breslow took a few moments to discuss it (and other stuff) in the most scientific Answer Man session yet.

David Brown: Why are you so excited about 3-D printing?

Craig Breslow: I'm kind of enamored by the technology. We live in a pretty interesting time in that, as they become available to more people, it's pretty fascinating to think about the limitless bounds that 3-D printing can take us to. Day to day, you look at the production of small and common household goods and you wonder if, someday, anyone could design, create and manufacture them yourself. As someone who has a science background, it's a pretty exciting event for me.

DB: When you first heard that this was real, did "Star Trek" replicators cross your mind?

Craig: I actually thought more of the "Jetsons," where the robot maid (Rosie) would just push buttons on what looked like a vending machine and an entire meal would pop out. The other thing I thought was whether 3-D printers can print 3-D printers.

DB: Whoa. That's like the picture of infinite TV cameras.

Craig: Inside of the looking glass!

DB: How has your charity gotten involved with this? What are you making?

Craig: It's been called a pendant. It embodies a few aspects of the Strike 3 Foundation. The public could tweet about any 3-D creation they like best. It takes just a few seconds to make. The designer was Juan Pablo Cilia. We've got this flaming baseball pendant that was inspired by our logo.

DB: Do you think 3-D printers could make a human organ someday?

Craig: Haha. I don't know about that. It seems like we're quite far away from something like that. But I certainly could see 3-D printing having a role in operating procedures. Materials for bone grafting and joint replacement — those kinds of things. I think that organs, because of the incredible detail of tissue, it would be incredibly difficult. I think, in our lifetimes, keeping our hopes to inanimate objects would be best.

DB: What about teleportation?

Craig: Haha. It's my understanding that it would break some fundamental rules of physics. It would cause a host of universal issues.

DB: What about applications for baseball?

Craig: I'd imagine we'd be able to manufacture bases, pitching rubber, baseballs. We could get amazingly consistent in manufacturing in of baseballs. The seams could all be of precise height.

DB: You're doing wonderful work with your foundation. But does it take an emotional toll on you?

Craig: I don't have kids of my own, but I can certainly appreciate how hospital visits, or things like that, naturally it would become more emotional if I did. I also think that it almost becomes selfish to know that you can change a kid's day by visiting, by spending some time with them, and choosing not to do so because it seems like it's too hard. When you rationalize things that way, it helps you to deal with those sadder moments.

It's amazing but often times when you go visit to the hospital, it's the kid who is the pillar of strength in the family. He or she is the person telling the siblings or parents everything will be OK. They're the rock. Is it instinct, or childhood naïveté? I don't know. It's become common to hear parents talk about their kids going through chemotherapy, and how they view this as "just another day," no different than when they've skinned their knee or bumped their elbow. It's just kind of next step in getting better, trying to get better. They don't understand why everyone is making such a fuss about them. It's pretty remarkable.

And every visit is valuable. As good as we athletes might make them feel in a visit, it's remarkable how much of their strength and courage rubs off on us. Invariably, in groups of players leaving a hospital, we'll talk about some kid who is 7 years old and how they made our day. They do it just by laughing, and being themselves and making their family more comfortable.

DB: Can you believe hair from Big Papi's face went for almost $11,000?

Craig: The short answer is yes. Given the mania surrounding it and anything hair-related on the Red Sox, and David Ortiz being David Ortiz, absolutely. Earlier in the year, a jersey he wore for our first game back after the Boston Marathon bombings was auctioned for $30,000 or 40,000. So it shouldn't be too surprising.

DB: What is your facial hair worth?

Craig: I think I had to pay someone $35 to shave it off.

DB: Did you keep any of it for future generations?

Craig: No I did not. Fortunately it's still growing back. Looking at my father and what he's looked like as he's gotten older, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to. But it's coming in again. For now I have ability to grow another beard. It was a pretty neat thing, the beards. We all got caught up in the camaraderie and chemistry of it — but I think I prefer to be clean shaven

DB: So they're not going to bring all of that hair back? Guys like Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes?

Craig: I don't know. I think Nap was insisting that he was never going to shave again for the rest of his life. I would imagine that if he starts to trip on his beard running to first base he'll trim it up, probably.

Hopefully we can come up with a new set of rallying gimmicks next season. Even if we don't, I'm just happy to be going back to Boston. There's so much volatility in this trade, and the amount of traveling is so high anyway, it's just good to be heading back to the same team. And it's such a great city.

DB: Glen Perkins of the Twins has talked about trying to bring back the bullpen car. Is that something you could get behind? How would you like to get to the mound in the future?

Craig: Well, let me add that 3-D printing could also have a big role in producing the parts in a bullpen car — haha. Anyway, the bullpen in Boston is not terribly far from the mound, given the layout of the ballpark. I am certainly OK with jogging to the mound, but if we were just going to come up with the neatest way... I'm thinking a Segway.

DB: What about a giant pneumatic tube, like at a bank?

Craig: Haha. That would work, but they'd need to create a structure that wouldn't affect balls hit into play. Something that let us out in foul territory by the dugout would be reasonable.

DB: Taking yourself out of the equation, who is the smartest player on the Red Sox?

Craig: Hmm. Probably Andrew Miller.

DB: Another left-hander. Coincidence?

Craig: A 6-foot-8 one, too. Maybe not [a coincidence]. When I think about players who are well-spoken and involved in Players Association matters ... left-handed pitchers are overwhelmingly represented when it comes to intelligence.

DB: I've seen him drink champagne and beer from another man's cup, and yet I feel that Jonny Gomes is smarter than he's given credit for.

Craig: No, he's smart. People tend to evaluate intelligence in terms on book smarts or being able to answer math and science problems. But anyone who can be quick-witted and sharp-tongued like Jonny is pretty intelligent. He's obviously a reporter's delight.

DB: Do you get tired of answering questions about how smart you are?

Craig: I get tired of having to fool more and more people. No, I don't get tired of it considering some of the other things that athletes might be known for. Being known as smart is not the worst thing in the world. I would say that there are times when I become frustrated that what I've accomplished on the field is overshadowed by the idea of "Let's write a story about how smart Craig is." But, all in all, there are worse things that are written. We're obviously all aware of some of the controversies that plague big leaguers. PEDs, night-life issues, stuff that happens off the field. Plenty of things that make backpage fodder. If "Yale graduate" is the worst thing that people say, that's got to be OK.

DB: Was your left hand ever suspected of being on PEDs because it is "so pretty"?

Craig: People see that and It's pretty atypical of my behavior in public, or anything else out there of me, so it's kind of freaky. But the story behind that: The comedy troupe (12 Angry Mascots) invited me to be a guest of their show the night we filmed the "Pretty Hand." Ticket sales from it went to "Strike 3" so that was a good reason to do it. And it was fun.

DB: Did writing about the big throwing error in the World Series help you get past it?

Craig: It was more of an honesty, loyalty and integrity thing. If I was going to turn out copy and have people read insight from some of my better games, then I also owed it to anyone who cared to read after a game that didn't go well. It was a sense of responsibility. Obligation. More of that than anything I felt from a therapeutic standpoint.

DB: I was afraid to ask this because of what happens in the movie, but ... you went to Yale. Are you in the Skulls?

Craig: I knew a few people who were in the Skull and Bones — that was the full name of the organization they shortened for the movie. I may — or may not — have been in a rival secret society.

DB: Oh, really. So you're a Mason!

Craig: I can neither confirm nor deny.

DB: If the Red Sox lost one their medical staff on a long road trip and were shorthanded, could you fill in?

Craig: Haha. We have a great medical staff and considering that I was hurt in spring training but I ended up pitching through the rest of the season, I 'd like to thank the training staff for helping me do that. I'd like to think that when it comes to stretching hamstrings and taping up ankles, I'll leave it to them.

DB: In 20 years, will you be Dr. Craig Breslow, esq.?

Craig: Heh. I don't know. There's certainly a chance. I've also become very interested in front office positions. The intricacies of running a baseball team — transaction strategies, evaluations of players, the trends of the market and those kinds of things. I can see myself going into a front office. But I have not given up on science.

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David Brown is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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