Eric Gagne, the formerly dominant 30-year old closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been shut down for the rest of the season as a result of having back surgery. The team has said that Gagne’s back injury “had nothing to do with baseball-related activity” since the 2003 National League Cy Young award winner has been on the disabled list since June and has made only sixteen appearances over the past two seasons.
This is, of course, pure nonsense.
To believe that a 30-year old professional baseball player just wakes up one morning with severe back pain as a result of herniated disks that necessitate immediate surgery and that this injury has nothing to do with a baseball-related activity, a person would have to be naïve to an almost fatal degree.
Saturday night it was learned that Kerry Wood, who many thought to be the heir apparent as baseball’s next great power pitcher, has a partial tear in his rotator cuff. As a result of this injury Wood’s career is in jeopardy. At least the Cubs haven’t proclaimed that Wood’s injury isn’t baseball related.
In this day and age when a young athlete – especially a baseball player and a pitcher – experiences a total physical breakdown, the coverage of this story must discuss the player’s possible performance-enhancing drug use, their off-field/off-season training regimen or a combination of the two.
Over the past few years we have seen three prominent young pitchers suffer injuries of varying degrees of severity — Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Eric Gagne. Wood’s and Gagne’s injuries are the most severe at this point, but even Prior’s injury woes during the early stage of his career have people wondering if he’ll ever be healthy enough for a long enough period of time to reach his potential.
But we’ve seen little with regard to any info that deals with the training/rehab regimens of these players. Since these pitchers were injured in off-season and/or off the field situations, we should have heard a lot more about just what these guys are doing in their preparation.
And we haven’t heard anything about the possibility that PEDs could be responsible for these young pitchers breaking down.
A lot of people may not like to hear this, but in the year 2006 PEDs need to be discussed whenever anything unusual occurs in baseball whether it be “good” or “bad.”
Eric Gagne had a meteoric rise, as he went from mediocre starter to one of the most dominant – for a short-term – closers of all time. Gagne‘s dominance – he holds the major league record with 84 consecutive saves – came about after a period during which he underwent Tommy John surgery. He pitched unimpressively for several seasons before exploding on the scene with a fastball that was clocked in the high 90s during the 2001 season when he was predominantly as starter.
For the 2002 season Gagne earned the job as Dodger closer and he went on a three-season tear the likes of which baseball has never seen. By 2005 he had broken down, and it appears in 2006 that he has totally broken down. When he signed his 2-year, $19 million contract before the 2005 season Gagne was considered a bargain; now he looks like a bust, an all-time flash in the pan.
In trying to figure out what has happened here you have to consider if at some point Gagne used PEDs, and has he been paying the price as a result. Remember that Gagne had Tommy John surgery back in 1997. Also, remember that Jason Grimsley underwent this same surgery and turned to human growth hormone for help.
Does anyone really think that Grimsley was the first pitcher to use HgH to get help recovering from this major surgery? And as part of this “discussion” you have to wonder exactly why guys are able to “add” miles per hour to their fastballs after this surgery.
Do these extra “mphs” result just from the surgery itself or does pharmaceutical assistance – in the form of HgH or some other substance – deserve the credit? If you’re not thinking along these lines than you haven’t been paying close enough attention to what has been happening in Major League baseball.
Gagne’s high-90s fastball that made its appearance in the 2001 season was what made him the dominating, “sure thing” closer that he was for three seasons starting in 2002. Everyone attributed his new velocity as the unintended benefit of his surgery, but could something else have been responsible for his new fastball? Without this something else would Gagne have become a Cy Young award winner?
The latest injury suffered by Gagne is very odd. The story is that he woke up Tuesday morning with severe back pain, pain so severe he needed to get an epidural. Pain that ostensibly came from two herniated disks in his back.
All we’re getting out of the Dodgers is that Gagne’s latest physical woe just appeared out of the blue and that this injury is totally unrelated to baseball.
This is ridiculous.
Gagne underwent surgery in 2005 to repair a nerve in his pitching elbow, in early April of this year he had a nerve removed from his pitching elbow and has been on the disabled list since early June when he experienced problems with his elbow after a two strikeout performance against the Mets.
We need to find out what Gagne has been doing, not just for the past two months during the rehab for his latest elbow problem, but for almost the past decade, and with whom.
For even if Gagne didn’t use PEDs it’s quite possible that his training and/or rehab regimen has been responsible for the complete physical breakdown that he’s experienced over the past two years.
And then there’s Kerry Wood.
Wood’s injury problems have snowballed over the past seven years. He’s had elbow ligament replacement surgery, surgery to repair a torn labrum and triceps problems. He was on the disabled list three times last season and started this year with a knee problem that he brought into spring training that no doubt came from his off season training program.
After his first four starts this year, Wood complained of shoulder discomfort and was diagnosed as having a muscular imbalance in his right shoulder. Wood continued to suffer from pain, and as a result underwent the more detailed arthrogram that revealed the tear to his rotator cuff.
In the discussion of Wood’s fragility over the course of his career there has never been a real analysis of his training regimen, including information specifically related to what he does in the off season and with whom he does it. For someone to suffer such a constant barrage of serious injuries – especially in light of his diagnosed muscular imbalance – we need to know the details about what Wood has been doing.
In the cases of Gagne and Wood it is possible that PEDs have not played a role in their physical demise, but given the circumstances of their injuries it is more than likely that their training regimens have contributed to the misfortunes of these two young professional athletes.
It will be very interesting – and quite enlightening – to see if during the follow up stories to the reports of these injuries we get some real details and discussion as to what may have led to the downfall of these fine young arms.