By Dave Lomonico
Imagine the Colts without Raymond Berry at receiver, or the Orioles without Jim Palmer on the mound -- two Hall of Famers, two Baltimore icons, suddenly erased from the record books.
It might have happened without the services of Dr. Joshua Breschkin, a noted Baltimore optometrist who practiced for 51 years and was at the forefront of the contact-lens revolution during the 1950s. Breschkin died of stroke complications in early November at the age of 94, but his contributions won't be forgotten by two of Charm City's most renowned athletes.
"I don't think I could have come across anybody in America that knew more about contact lenses than Dr. Breschkin did," said Berry, who retired as the NFL's all-time receptions leader and whose nearsightedness affected his vision. "Without him, I don't think I could have continued playing. I mean, you have to be able to see the ball as a pass receiver, and it just wouldn't have been acceptable to remove myself from games because I couldn't see."
Palmer, meanwhile, had a severe astigmatism in his left eye, and when the winningest hurler in Orioles history tried to pitch in poorly lit ballparks, his eyes tired and he suffered from headaches.
"As a pitcher, obviously you have to have perfect vision," Palmer said. "So without Dr. Breschkin, I might have ended up as an outfielder or not in the game at all."
Berry was one of the first athletes to seek out Breschkin's services. As a Colts rookie in 1955, Berry said, he simply tried to get by without optimal vision, but as his nearsightedness continued to worsen during the next season, he knew he needed help. The Colts' trainer at the time, Eddie Block, suggested Berry pay a visit to Breschkin, who had an office on West Saratoga Street.
Berry did just that, and Breschkin immediately went to work on custom contacts, which were larger and offered more stability than the standard lenses at the time.
"I needed more stability," Berry said, "because as a receiver, my eyes were constantly moving, and plus you're constantly getting hit around the head and face area. But Dr. Breschkin arrived at the exact formula that was needed, and after that, I was under his care the rest of my career."
Berry had another set of problems in 1957, when the Colts embarked on a three-week-long West Coast trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Baltimore pass catcher said the sun began to set around the third quarter during games at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and as it crept lower, the beaming rays had a tendency to blind players. Berry recalled one time when he ran a curl route against the Rams, but the sun caused him to completely lose track of John Unitas' pass.
"So I talked to Dr. Breschkin again and he came up with dark-tinted lenses that were like sunglasses," said Berry, who hauled in 631 passes during his career. "After that, whenever I was out in LA or in a situation where the sun was right in my eyes, I could still see the ball the whole way."
A little less than two decades after Breschkin -- who by this time had become the Colts' team eye doctor -- first treated Berry, Palmer became his patient. The Orioles' ace said he had tried wearing contact lenses during the 1960s, but because his eyes were so sensitive, it was like putting a stone in his left eye. Eventually, Palmer's astigmatism became so bad that it could have severely affected his pitching, so he called on his ophthalmologist friend, Alfred Kronthal, who in turn recommended Breschkin.
The reasons, Palmer said, were manifold: Breschkin had a track record of having helped Berry, he was a conscientious worker who understood athletes and he was a perfectionist who cared about his patients.
"Dr. Breschkin was never satisfied, because he was worried that down the road, I might throw a pitch and the lens might move a bit and cause a blur reaction," Palmer said. "He did absolutely everything to make sure I'd be able to pitch without any problems."
And just like Berry before him, Palmer found that the lenses did the trick.
"Oh yeah, without a doubt," said Palmer, who won 268 games during his career. "When it came to contact lenses at that time, Dr. Breschkin was the best. Without him, I probably would have been out of baseball."
Palmer and Berry, of course, were just two of many whom Breschkin was able to help. He became an icon in his own right, trusted and beloved throughout Baltimore.
"He developed a national reputation with the contact lenses, but [as a person], he was just a caring individual and a wonderful, wonderful guy," said Bill Fox, who knew Breschkin for 50 years and is married to the doctor's niece. "I can honestly say his patients truly became his friends."
More Cheap Seats:
• Noted Man Of Vision Passes Away At 94
• Durban And Reynolds To Compete In S. Korea
• Hall Is Coming Home As A Wee Globetrotter
• Orioles Offering Suite Deals For Fans In 2013
• Westminster Team Improves In Hurry
• Forrester Tees Off In New Position
Issue 180: December 2012