COMMENTARY | They are the three most horrifying words in sports -- Dr. James Andrews. When you learn that one of the cogs of your team is headed to see the esteemed surgeon, it makes you cringe. You're filled with dread. I can't even imagine the anxiety an athlete must go through as they tentatively stride, or limp, through his Birmingham, Alabama doors.
But Dr. Andrews is not the only healer of hopes and decreer of doom. There are others just as esteemed with long histories of shattering seasons and mending million-dollar muscles and ligaments. In 2010, Baseball Prospectus released a list of the ten most influential surgeons in sports. These "Super Surgeons", as the e-zine dubbed them, have been the orthopedic answer to the prayers of millions of fans. Listed just under Dr. Andrews is Dr. Lewis Yocum, a sports medicine guru working out of the Jobe-Kerlan Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. He's also the team physician for the Los Angeles Angels.
If you're Philadelphia Phillies' ace and future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay, Dr. Yocum has become as important as your family, your team, your idols, even God -- just for this week. They say that doctors can play God. Well, when Yocum places Halladay in the shoulder scanning machine of his choice in Los Angeles on May 7, the pictures he sees and the results he shares with Halladay, ironically nicknamed Doc, could very well spell the end of a brilliant career. We often hear folks say that God is cruel. At times, so are doctors.
After being dismantled by the less than hapless Miami Marlins, surrendering nine runs in less than three disconcerting innings of work on May 5, Halladay announced that he began having pain in his shoulder after a start against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 24.
The question being debated in Philadelphia all week is whether or not Doc did more damage to himself, subsequently hurting the team further, by not revealing the pain before he took the mound against the Fish. You'll see most fans split down the middle on this topic. On the one hand, you want your players to be warriors. At $20 million per year, Halladay should be out there with some pain. On the other hand, no one knows Halladay's shoulder like Halladay, and if he felt something out of the ordinary, something alien to the make up of his meal ticket body part, he should have said something.
But maybe, just maybe, fear plays a role. Roy Halladay is one of the most fiercely competitive and professional pitchers to ever take the bump in the MLB. His passion and work ethic are revered throughout the league by up and coming players, veterans and former stars alike. He came to Philadelphia to win a World Series, but has come up short in each of his now 4 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love. The Phillies had played in both the 2008 and 2009 Fall Classics, taking home the title in '08. Halladay saw a nucleus still intact and poised to make another run, so he approved a trade.
He was brilliant in his initial season in Philly, winning 21 games in 250 innings while taking home his second Cy Young Award. But the Phillies were thwarted by a game San Francisco Giants squad in the NLCS. The following season, the Phillies won a franchise-best 102 games on their way to a fifth straight NL East Division championship. But once again, they ran up against the eventual champ in the NLDS, falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games, the finale featuring a 1-0 pitching gem hurled by Halladay and Chris Carpenter.
In 2012, Halladay similarly began having shoulder discomfort in May, when the Phillies stood within range of the division at 28-25. Halladay's absence sent them into a tailspin that they could not recover from and their division title streak ended.
Thus far in 2013, a slow start, featuring a lineup bereft of players with the will to work a count, coupled with sub-par starts by Halladay and ace Cole Hamels, have left the Phillies at 15-18, looking up once again toward the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, who have successfully staged a coup d'etat to overthrow Philly from their perch as division kingpins.
And so Halladay will visit with a super surgeon after throwing more than 2,500 innings since the year 2000. The only pitchers to have logged more in that span -- Mark Buehrle, Livan Hernandez, CC Sabathia and Tim Hudson.
The likely outcome is that he be put on rest for a month or two, and they send him back out to the bump to see if there is anything left. The other outcome is tragic. If Doc has surgery to fix his shoulder, the likely scenario is that he will miss the rest of this season and at least half of next year. He's 35 now. He'll be 36 then.
Halladay would have to ask himself what else he has to prove if surgery is the answer. Could he pull off a storybook ending and return to help the Phillies or another team win a title before he rides off into the sunset, or will he be lumped into the myriad names in professional sports who hung on too long? Philadelphians already watched Steve Carlton go through a multi-year denial phase. We don't want to watch it again. It hurts too much to watch.
That's all in Dr. Lewis Yocum's hands now. For the Phillies' season and Doc Halladay's career, it may be those three words that brandish dread.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer who has covered the Phillies for more than three years and has followed them since long before Lefty looked ludicrous in a Twins' uniform. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
The Jobe-Kerlan Clinic Web Site
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