Thursday, August 4, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Medicine and the modern pitcher

On his 43rd birthday, Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens has become his generation's Nolan Ryan, the Official Hero to American Middle-Aged Men everywhere.

No Red Sox fan can have an uncomplicated opinion of Clemens -- however, this Alan Schwarz article in provides a nice illustration of how medical advances made Clemens' long career possible:

[F]or most of baseball history, a "sore arm" was like a malevolent genie who visited pitchers in the night, entered their joints and corroded their futures from the inside with no explanation or recourse. Johnny Beazley, Karl Spooner, Mark Fidrych ... they all faded into anonymity before medicine could fix them, medicine we now take for granted. When you consider that almost every top modern pitcher has gone under the knife at some point -- heck, some throw harder after ligament-transplant surgery -- you realize what a lucky era we're in.

So lucky that most people forget that Roger Clemens could have been one of those pitchers we never heard from again. It was 20 years ago that he and his throbbing shoulder lay on the operating table -- before any 20-strikeout games, before any Cy Young awards and before arthroscopy was a sure thing. Before Dr. James Andrews was sure he could fix him....

In June 1985, Clemens learned that a shoulder tendon and nerve were rubbing together, causing "the nerve to rise and get as big as shoelaces," Clemens said then. He tried to pitch through it but ultimately couldn't. On Aug. 23, he was told that he had a "flap tear" in his shoulder and was reportedly "devastated" by the news. The only good news was that the arthroscope, which originally had fixed knees in the 1970s, had come far enough that it could be used, instead of the more invasive scalpel, to shave down the damaged tissue.

"We had very little knowledge [about pitchers] -- they hurt and that's about all we knew," recalls Dr. Andrews, who performed the hour-long surgery on Clemens. "We began to arthroscope shoulders and started being able to see what was inside. Roger was one of the early ones."....

Clemens has been such a machine for the past 20 years that many people can't (or don't want to) believe how close we were to losing him. I asked Andrews to consider what might have happened had Clemens been born just 10 years earlier and hurt his shoulder before the scalpel gave way to the arthroscope.

"We probably wouldn't have been able to fix it," Andrews says sadly. "He probably would have fallen by the wayside."

posted by Dan on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM


Pfui. Mister claimed Red Sox fan. How about, 'his generation's Luis Tiant'???

posted by: dave s on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

For pitching iron men, try Atlanta's John Smoltz. From Tommy John surgery to reliever and back to starter (

And for continuing on and on and on, Atlanta's Julio Franco. 46 and still ticking

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

So why is surgery OK but steroids are not?

posted by: Whitehall on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

It's unreasonable to require average players to assume the health risks of steroids in order to be competitive. That isn't the case for surgery, which doesn't come with the same risks, and serves as an attempt to repair an injury in order to restore them to their prior ability (bionic implants to boost performance would be a different matter).

posted by: fling93 on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Modern orthopaedic surgery gets more miraculous by the day, for athletes, trauma injuries, seniors etc.This is improved further by modern physical therapy techniques and procedures.

Whitehall, even if an athlete were not going back to the sport, the surgery would usually be necessary to control pain. A torn rotator cuff or torn ACL (knee) can be extremely painful.

So if you ever wonder about the good parts of American medicine, this is one of them.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

To the contrary, I think most Red Sox fans have an utterly uncomplicated view of Clemens:

posted by: alkali on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

I was greatly disappointed when Jose Canseco declined to support the use of steriods before the Congressional commitee as he had in his book. This is not to say that I support their use, or Canseco's position in "Juiced". But I think the argument should be made, particularly because I think there is a strange taboo which hovers over enhancements by way of drugs, and not those by way of surgery. In the long run, this taboo ought to be diffused. As an earlier post argues, the harmful consequences of steriods should justify their prohibition. But what if a company created a steriod with less harmful side-effects? Not to mention other advances in drugs which may help attention, memory and a whole other host of mental abilities. If these should enhance play, ought they to be illegal?

posted by: Michael Patrick Gibson on 08.04.05 at 04:51 PM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?