Cardinal lefty, Jamie Garcia, has decided to rest his shoulder and not undergo surgery. Why would he do that? Simply put, leading baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews states that if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed. There has been ONE pitcher diagnosed with a torn labrum that has return to near pitching quality that they had before the surgery in the last five years. Keep in mind that he has not been diagnosed with a torn labrum because only exploratory surgery can find that out.
Brandon Webb was Cy Young winner in the National League in 2006 and had just completed four years of quality pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He developed arm and shoulder injuries and now has had to retire due to issues that made it impossible to pitch.
Webb’s agent, Mike Montana, stated ‘‘He has worked so hard over the past three years to come back but his shoulder just wouldn’t allow it to happen, he’s a first class guy with a great family that he’ll get to spend more time with now.’’
Robb Nen was a leading relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants before his surgery in 2002. He went in to clean his shoulder and they found he has a torn labrum. He has not returned to pitching in the major leagues.
Mike Sirotka was traded to the Blue Jays in 2000 after a stellar 15-10 season for the White Sox. Before he made his first pitch for them his shoulder began hurting and had a torn labrum. He was a pitcher in demand and he went for the surgery. Of course, the Blue Jays claimed a foul trade with the White Sox but the commissioner deemed it fair. After missing three seasons, he was finally released and never pitched again.
The words “torn labrum” is key here. Doctors can’t agree on how to detect a tear, don’t know the best way to fix one, and aren’t sure why, almost without fail, a torn labrum will destroy a pitcher’s career.
According to WebMD the labrum is a thin matrix of collagen seated between the head of the humerus bone and the glenoid fossa. This is where the humerus fits. It acts as a shock absorber, cushioning the blow when the bones in the shoulder collide.
Baseball pitching is hard on this function. A pitcher’s arm moves at 23 rotations per second. This, on a regular basis, rips apart the structures designed to keep the shoulder together. There are several common types of labrum tears. The most common is the superior lesion (anterior to posterior) also known as SLAP. The SLAP tear feels like a “catch”, a slight click or pop in the normal overhand motion. The only way to know if a pitcher has a torn labrum is to conduct exploratory surgery. It is not uncommon for major league teams to show test results to up to five different doctors to get their evaluation.
Tommy John surgeries have had some success to tout but no torn labrums. It has become obvious that the leading surgeons are stating that they can’t rebuild them. The best option today is to do nothing.
That is what Jamie Garcia has done. Let’s hope for the best.