Images Courtesy Palo Alto Medical Foundation

Chipper Needs Knee Surgery Again - Sadly Not A Surprise

Earlier today, the Braves announced that Chipper Jones will undergo surgery on his left knee and is expected to be sidelined approximately three weeks. General Manager Frank Wren said that he was looking to acquire backup outfield help even before the injury and will continue to do so. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

knees

You know you’ve had a bad day when you Google ‘torn meniscus” and see your picture four times in the first 50 images. If Chipper did that this evening that’s exactly what he’d find. For Chipper Jones it’s been a rough spring.

First he finds getting off the mark harder than in the past, he’s stiff, sore and sitting out more than he wants.

Then those rumors that he’s gained more than a pound or two. . . or ten.

Then he gets caught in an unguarded moment, telling someone how he really feels about retiring. The quotes bounce around the twitterverse and talking heads so willdy that has to go on TV more than once to try and quell them.

As a result he decides to end speculation and set up his farewell tour by announcing that 2012 is his last year. Everyone smiles, applauds and as planned that statement defuses everything. All is right in Braves country.

The next day during work outs he feels a familiar pain in his left knee and knows it will at least need surgery again. For the third time the left knee must be fixed – Jayson Stark reports it’s six total surgeries on his knees. Could it get any worse? Well, yes it can actually

A primer

According to Medicine.Net :

A torn meniscus is damage to the cartilage that sits on top of the tibia and allows the femur to glide when the knee joint moves. . . A forceful twist or sudden stop can cause the end of the femur to grind into the top of the tibia pinching and potentially tearing the cartilage of the meniscus. . . Meniscus tear injuries often occur during athletic activities. . . Motions that require pivoting and sudden stops can also cause meniscus damage. After the injury, the knee joint may gradually settle down and feel relatively normal as the initial inflammatory response resolves. However, other symptoms may develop over time, including any or all of the following:
  • Pain with running or walking longer distances
  • Intermittent swelling of the knee joint: Many times, the patient may feel that the knee feels “tight.” The knee is least compressed when flexed at 15 degrees. Straightening the knee can compress any fluid within itcausing that tight feeling.
  • Popping, especially when climbing up or down stairs
  • Giving way or buckling(the sensation that the knee is unstable and a sense that the knee will give way): Less commonly, the knee will give way and cause the patient to fall.
  • Locking (a mechanical block where the knee cannot be fully extended or straightened): This occurs when a piece of torn meniscus folds on itself and blocks full range of motion of the knee joint. The knee gets “stuck,” usually flexed between 15 and 30 degrees and cannot bend or straighten from that position.

(my emphasis added)

A baseball player, particularly a power hitting infielder, seems to be at high risk for all those things. At this point with multiple surgeries on the knee he’s left with essentially bone against bone.

 

 

The Dangers of a Quick Return For Chipper

What are the risks in Chipper returns in three or four weeks? He did it after the break last year without issue didn’t he?

Anyone returning from this kind of surgery risks re-injuring the knee. Some player are more at risk than others because of the way they play. We all know Chipper plays hard so lets take that as a given and examine what  he does.

Hitting:

As effortless as he makes it look when he dumps a ball over the wall 400 feet away, the mechanics are far from effortless. Power hitters load up the back leg (stress) and drive against it as they swing (more stress). A straight front leg gives them the rest of the solid foundation they need to hit against (stress). When they don’t hit a home run the knees immediately twist and provide launching power for the run to first and beyond. Remember how bad Troy Glaus looked when his knees wouldn’t support him properly?

In the field: When Carlos Beltran had his surgery reports that he couldn’t play center field anymore because of the stress on his surgically repaired knees were rampant. The stress on a third baseman’s knees is significantly higher and more frequent than any outfielder.

The third baseman is always in a flexed position when the pitch is thrown he has to be able to react side to side, it’s essential not only to make the play but for survival. A 95mph fastball takes 0.435 seconds to reach the plate. A line drive comes off the bat at about 110 mph and reaches third base in about 0.55 seconds; from pitch release to in a third baseman’s face in under one second The sudden twist and spring sideways from a knees flexed position is exactly what a damaged knee doesn’t need. Turning to chase a popup down the line is a less dramatic but essential play that puts a sudden twisting stress on the knees.

Base running:

Trying to stretch a single to a double, trying to score from second base and sliding put a big lateral stress on their knees. When he has time to think and knows the situation doesn’t  warrant risk Chipper will pull up of course. Does anyone think however that in a game critical situation Chipper wouldn’t go as hard as he can?

All of that leads to this question. Is Chipper’s return to play from this surgery worth the risk of permanent injury to his fragile already damaged legs? If we win a game, a series or a championship at the expense of his ability to ever walk or play catch with his kids pain free worth it?

Anyone who’s read my posts knows I am not only a Braves fan but also a huge Chipper fan. I have a Chipper’s Fathead © on the wall above my chair, his signed baseball in a case beside it and his jersey – saved for special occasions when we need runs – hanging in my closet . . . in a garment bag. Yep, I love the guy, I want to win and get him another ring. I’m also a realist and when you damage your knees every year for three years – this time in a no stress situation – it seems to me someone is trying to tell you something. In baseball terms I get the feeling watching this play unfold, listening to his statements and watching his retirement announcement press conference, that Chipper isn’t watching his coach closely and or he’s ignoring the signs.

Missed A Sign ?

It happens during a game,  the coach puts on a hit and run and the runner is thrown out by 15 feet because the batter missed it.  Life gives you signs as well. You had them and most of us have ignored them to say afterward, ‘something told me not to do that.’ I think Chipper may be missing his signs.

  • The first sign came August 2010 in Houston when that magnificent throw ended with the trainers helping Chipper off the field. Everyone I know expected him to call it a day. It was the second injury he’d done this to his left knee albeit 15 years after the first. Yet, comeback he did, determined not to let that be his final play.
  • Chipper started hot in 2011 then his right knee started to scream at him. He eventually needed surgery but postponed it until Martin Prado and Jason Heyward returned from their injuries.
  • Spring training 2012; during a routine workout his knee fails him again. The left knee again – for the third on this knee and sixth knee surgery altogether.

Last August after rehab he returned to put up remarkable numbers for a 39 year old coming off knee surgery. In the 49 games he player he had a slash of .303/.350/.545 with 10 homers and 24 RBI; heck he even stole a base. I suspect the good spring of 2011, his scorching August and the nightmare of the September Surrender encourages him to come back this one last time; just one more year please sir. This time however he’s 40 or will be the end of April and unlike last year’s return he’s not yet in mid-season form.

Choose Wisely

I remember seeing video of Mickey Mantle‘s last games, hobbled and without the elegance I admired and idolized when he played center field. It was sad and a shame that the first time many saw one of the finest baseball players to put n a uniform left memories of a worn out crippled man who should have retired two years earlier.

Four years before he waved goodbye to Yankee Stadium Mantle and his perpetually bad knees  had 25 doubles, hit 35 homers, drove in 111 runs had a .303 and led the AL with an OBP .423, an OPS of 1.015 and an OPS+ of 178. Mantle’s numbers dropped remained very good for the next two years. In 1966 his OPS was still .925.

Four years ago Chipper had 24 doubles, 22 homers, drove in 75 and won the batting title with a .364 BA. His OBP was .470 and his OPS+ 1.044. Two years ago his OBP was still .381 and he had 21 doubles but hit only  10 homers, drove in 46 run and his OPS dropped to .807. Not awful but his lowest since 1995. Part of that was due to his injury in August but he had not had a good year for most of 2010. There are many parallels between the careers of Chipper and Mickey.  My fear is that Chipper’s 2012 will play out like Mantle’s 1968.

Mantle needed to play, both financially and personally; baseball was his life, almost all he had. Chipper has no financial worries. He didn’t lead the hard drinking, partying lifestyle. He has a family and a baseball community that loves him. He has a life and doesn’t need to play.  When he wakes up the day after this surgery he has a choice to make and he should think carefully about it.

From my point of view, a fan who loves both him and the Braves, here’s what I feel.

I don’t want his last year to be like Mantle’s.  I don’t want to see a hobbled Chipper take the field three days a week and play below his personal standards because he thinks the team needs him.

I don’t want to see an injured Chipper leave another game; ever.  I really don’t want to see Chipper carried off the field with a leg or a hip so badly damaged he’s hobbled for life.

I hope the surgery goes well and nothing worse is found.

I hope as well that as he rehabs he doesn’t let his hard head, sense of duty to the team and the heart that kept him on the field when others left, override common sense and make him come back again because he said a few days before this injury that he would.

So Number 10, please check those signs again. Because Chipper ole buddy, someone may be trying to give you a very important sign; Don’t Miss It.

 

You may contact me on Twitter @fredeowens or via email [email protected]

Tags: Chipper Jones Favorite Injury Martin Prado

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