Black Jack

Mark Buehrle, the Hall Of Fame and the end of my career

 It's so much fun to project an athlete's future.  We project college athletes as Hall of Famers before they get an out in A-ball.  By the way, how are those Strasburg negotiations going Nationals?  I love to say I told you so.  And we love to project things on current players such as Mark Buehrle being a future Hall of Famer.
  I guess with all the hype from Buehrle's amazing week, and amazing career to date, I have been hearing and reading many projections about his "Hall-Of-Fame credentials" etc.  I thought it was appropriate to point out how easy all that can change.

  Most folks don't have any idea why I stopped playing baseball.  I mostly hear that "all those complete games caught up with me" and I just burned out.  Well let me give you a quick run down of my post White Sox career.

   1995 with the Yankees I had my typical year.  In the strike shortened season I was 15-10 with 217 innings and 8 complete games. I then signed a two year deal with Cleveland.

  I began the 1996 season throwing the ball as well as I ever had.  By the middle of May I was 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA.  I would strain my forearm throwing a curveball later that year and with trying to balance both pitching through the injury and going on the DL while rushing back to get into the playoff mix, left me with a 13-9 record at year's end.  Not great, but definitely not horrid!

   In early 1997 I was experiencing what I can only describe as pinching on the outside of my elbow, in the area where "tennis elbow" usually occurs.  The team doctors had a difficult time diagnosing what it could be, but I continued to throw with it while the pain increased.

   I was able to pitch effectively once I got my rhythm going.  In my last 27 innings prior to opting for surgery, I had a 1.33 ERA. Yeah, opting for surgery.  My pain was finally diagnosed   as a pinching of what is called plica between the bones of my outer elbow. 

   Plica is basically the sheath of fibrous material that holds your joints together while you are developing as a child.  This is not an injury they had ever heard of and it was basically a fluke.  But that wasn't the fluke that ended my career.

   We had an amazing team that year.  Almost guaranteed post-season just by throwing our gloves out there.  So, I could have a series of cortizone injections which would hopefully shrink the inflamed tissue and I'd be fine in 2 weeks or so. They described my elbow as similar to biting your cheek.  Once you bite it and it gets inflamed, you tend to keep irritating it because it sticks out between your teeth. So, if the tissue became inflamed again, I could be messing with the postseason.

   The other option was for Dr. James Andrews to surgically remove the plica that was effected.  This option was described as one of the most basic and non-evasive surgeries a pitcher could have.  They'd just go in and out, not mess with ligaments etc.  When the outside skin was healed, the inside skin would be healed and I'd be back in 4 or 5 weeks.

   Well to make a super long story significantly shorter, Dr. Andrews placed the scope in an area behind my elbow that severed and killed the nerve to the anconeus muscle of my elbow.  I was 31 years old. The end.  I tried to pitch without that muscle but the instability of my elbow would not allow me to stay out there consistently.

   The point of this story, besides clearing up an issue that I often hear, is to remember that a decade is a helluva long time.  Projecting numbers out for players over 10 years is fun but dangerous.  You never know what's gonna happen, be it fluke injury or even normal injury that will completely alter or end a career.  Enjoy Buehrle's feats right now.  Watch it as it happens and appreciate what these athletes do.  

  By the way, the post-operative report on my elbow stated that the ligament was in excellent shape and there were absolutely no signs or even beginnings of spurring in there.  It was as clean an elbow as the doctor had seen from a throwing athlete.  Bummer!

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35 Comments

folky15 said:

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So the famed Dr. Andrews effectively ended your career? Did you receive any kind of financial considerations from him to compensate for your severed nerve?!?

Jack McDowell said:

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That's another complete book in itself. I'll get into that at another time. A lawsuit was pursued and never taken to court because nobody would testify against him...because he owns Health South, and they own everyone. Crazy shit.

gravedigger said:

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Maybe he'll return the favor and sue you for this post?

Noneck said:

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Jack,

Did you and do other players have the choice of which doctors you can see? And are all doctors covered by whatever the health insurance your team, mlb or the union provides? I am not going to 2nd guess your decision to see Andrews because he was and still the choice of most pro athletes. I am just wondering if it costs more to players that stray away from the "house" doctor.

eriqjaffe said:

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Going off to see a doctor in Vienna without informing the Sox seemed to work out well enough for Magglio OrdoƱez.

It wound up working out fairly well for the Sox in '05, too, not having to pay him. ;)

Jack McDowell said:

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Yeah, for the most part. The team doctors would diagnose but you'd always get second opinions on major stuff that possibly require surgery. The funny thing is that team doctors often are just the highest bidders to take that position to represent and work with a team, not always the best choices or best qualified. Funny how everything is about money! As far as Andrews goes, I grew up outside L.A. and so I was brought up with the Jobe-Kerlan clinic being the place to go. That was the first time I'd seen Andrews.

Noneck said:

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Jack,

Why did you have this procedure performed by Andrews and not Jobe? Was it because of pressure by the club or agent?

Jack McDowell said:

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Well I was in Cleveland which makes Birmingham the closer option, plus Jobe et al were always considered the shoulder knee guys and Andrews the elbow guy. Plus, iit was supposed to be this super simple thing!

Alligator Derski said:

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That is really brutal. My guess is that pursuing a lawsuit was probably a waste of time because a high-profile doctor like that would have the highest paid team of lawyers available, to protect him against something just like that. You should seriously consider a flaming bag of poop on his doorstep to send him a message.

Jack McDowell said:

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It wasn't about lawyers. I visited the Mayo clinic's elbow specialist who actually pointed to the place where the nerve runs through that muscle. When he lifted his finger off the spot I told him that there was a "scope" scar there because that's where they went in. he replied that "they never would have gone in there..." only to look and see the scar exactly in that spot! it was obvious what happened, but he refused to testify to that fact in court. It's next to impossible to get a doctor to go against another doctor, although while pursuing action we had several who had some pretty negative things to say about Andrews. EVERY SINGLE ONE told me they'd only talk "off the record" and if they were to testify their careers would basically be over. The Angels team doctor, Dr. Yocum told me that he would testify. The very next day he said that he received a call prohibiting him from doing so. Guess who owns their hospital in Anaheim? Health South. Guess who owns Health South? Andrews. It was amazing the threats, the fear and the overall shadiness of the thing.

Alligator Derski said:

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That's beyond frustrating. In reality, you are doing the best (and only) thing possible by speaking out about it on your blog.

Jack McDowell said:

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Well it's been 10 years since my career officially ended. Just figured since I hear all the negatives about the "workload" I had etc. and my own strong opinions about pitch counts etc. It kind of all ties in to talk about it.

JulieDiCaro said:

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Wow, Jack. I had no idea that was how your career ended. And I had no idea that Andrews was so . . . shady, I guess.

If you don't mind, I'm going to link to this on my site. Also, if you feel the need to weigh in as to what the hell is wrong with the Cubs' farm system, feel free to let fly.

Noneck said:

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I find it quite strange that one that feels the "Best Thing About Chicago: Cubs, Bears, Bulls, Hawks"(Absolutely no mention of the White Sox) is asking the opinion of a White Sox icon on a White Sox blog about a problem with the cubs.

gravedigger said:

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yeah, probably has nothing to do with the fact that they are both CN bloggers and have a history of back-and-forth.

Jack McDowell said:

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Well if you need knowledge about baseball, you go to a Sox fan.

Jack McDowell said:

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Minor League systems are so complex. Without a complete knowledge of who's running the show, the last 10 year history etc. I can have no official comment...that's worth a crap!

angus said:

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Hey Jack, are you still playing with a band. I think we need you at the Black Potatoe Music Festival next year http://www.blackpotatoe.com.

peace,

Matt

Jack McDowell said:

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We haven't played in years. Semi-permanent hiatus I think they call it! At least nobody is in rehab, jail or on the run! Just living our lives off the road while we raise kids!

Noneck said:

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Thank for the honesty, it is truly refreshing. You were my favorite pitcher during your era and I look at Halladay now and see him as a horse like you were. Yea, Yea I know it won't happen but I got a couple more days to dream about it.

wyoming73 said:

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Jack...woulda/coulda/shoulda question, if things had been different about your career, would you have retired as a White Sox?

Jack McDowell said:

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I would have loved to. I loved the city, I was comfortable there. But for whatever reason there became this negative thing around negotiations, contract extensions etc. Do you know i was NEVER even offered a one year deal for my first two arbitrations? There was absolutely NO negotiation, or offers or discussions. Here's how my contract status went with the White Sox. First year minimum, I was 5-10. Second year renewed w/ a slight under market performance raise, I ended up 14-9. Third year renewed again 17-10. Fourth year arbitration after zero offers for either a single year or multi year contract 20-10 Cy runner up. Fifth year, almost zero negotiations, but the late Jack Gould (White Sox negotiator) met with my brother (who was my agent) the day before arbitration. My bro came home with a napkin with 4 different four year deals written in ink on it. I saw the napkin and told my brother, "let them pick which one, we'll take any of them. We celebrated that evening thinking I would remain a White Sox only to arrive the next morning at the scheduled arbitration and be told that the deals were no longer on the table! One day I'll sit down with Jerry Reinsdorf and see why they busted my chops so much.

Noneck said:

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Jack,

You don't think Reinsdorf didn't know or wasn't behind busting your chops? hmmm Probably because you cost a buck and he only had 50 cents again.

Rick S said:

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That sounds pretty damn disrespectful towards you Jack. Seems to me that Reinsdorf has been notoriously cheap all along, but after Williams came in, the team started behaving more professionally and started spending competitively. Don't feel too bad though, look how long Reinsdorf stiffed Michael Jordan until he had no choice but to pay him.

I'm still getting over another tough loss -- this time to the Twins. Sometimes I wonder why it bugs me so. I doubt the White Sox spend a whole lot of time worrying about me.

Anyhow, you've talked about your formula for how the Sox can win the division this year. But did you discuss their terrible defense?

SO here are my questions:

1) Do you think Ramirez is ever going to learn how to focus and make the routine plays, well, routine?

2) Are the Sox ever going to get a legit center fielder? Pods filled in beautifully for a time, but I see signs he's fading. Anyone can see he can't play center or even left.

3) What the hell are the Sox going to do about AJ? Is it really like Hawk has been selling? That teams are stealing on the pitchers? I can see how deliberate Contreras is when he comes to the plate, but are the other starters as bad? It seems to me that AJ simply doesn't get rid of the ball quick enough and his throws are rarely in the right spot. He's hitting .300 but his RBI count is for s--t. Is it time to give Castro more playing time or should the Sox be looking for a catcher outside? From what I hear about this kid Flowers, he's all bat and no glove too.

Jack McDowell said:

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I truly feel like Beckham will be their shortstop. I don't know why they haven't already made the change and at least put Ramirez in center to see if he's capable out there. It seems the Sox are just back to their old ways of early in the season of not winning the close games right now. We all blamed it on the lack of Quentin's bat, but he hasn't gotten back to expectations yet. But Beckham has become a threat. He's producing pretty darn well for being at the bottom of the order most of the time. As far as A.J. goes, I haven't paid close enough attention to the running game to know what's what. And for the future Flowers is young enough that he can improve defensively just by putting the work in.

Noneck said:

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Tough situation now by putting Ramirez in center. They can't sit Pods and you have to give Quentin a decent shot before they sit him.

Rick S said:

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I like the idea of trying Ramirez in center. It's strange that Ozzie will put a guy who never played 3rd in his infield, a light-hitting rookie at three different positions, but absolutely refuses to address the gaping hole at center. Having Wise for defensive purposes is an odd choice. Wise can't and will never hit. He could have taken two walks last night but made outs on ball four three times. He's been pressing at the plate since April. The catch he made for Buerhle was sensational but this is a journeyman with a career .220 average. It's time for Wise's DFA. I never much liked Anderson, but he was a slightly better hitter and offered a right-handed option to Pods. I'm glad he's gone and will be surprised if he ever makes it up to Boston.

It's time to make Pods the fourth outfielder and either stick Ramirez out there or make a last minute deal. Pods is a huge liability in the field. His gaffe yesterday turned the game around. He looks like a Little Leaguer out there. At the plate, it should be obvious that he's back to slapping at the ball and praying. Granted, he's still over .300, but that will change.

Sox need defense at three key positions, SS, CF and C. I know it won't happen but Victor Martinez is everything AJ will never be. Could we get Coco Crisp for CF? Kotsay is no glove man either, but you can bet the farm he'll soon be playing ahead of Wise and Pods. Quentin is pressing really bad and I fear that if he doesn't lock in soon, it's going to be a lost season for him.

Bottom line, I don't care how they do it but THEY MUST WIN TONIGHT!

Jack McDowell said:

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Just remember, it's never JUST about tonight until it is.

Rick S said:

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You were right of course but last's night loss was another mind-burner and if the Sox don't upgrade their defense up the middle it will eventually end their season.

webegeek said:

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thanks for the background, Jack, that was interesting. Glad to see you made a good life for yourself and didn't turn bitter and against the world.

MB needs another decade of success before talking about HofF. Like I like to kid Cub fans, are they making travel arrangements for the day Mark Prior gets inducted into the Hall?

I've seen can't miss pitchers my whole life coming up with the Sox, Baumgarden, Kravec, Tex W., Barrios, Burns, Dotson, your three mates - especially Bere, Baldwin, Parque, Siroka(?), Rauch, etc. Haven't seen one yet come near HoF careers.

That is why I'm never upset when we trade can't miss pitchers in our minor leagues, because they usually are misses. Package up 3 or 4 of them with Fields and get Holladay or the guy in AZ right now, I say.

part-time pariah said:

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it is very interesting to get it from the horse's mouth. i had always kinda wondered what really happened. thank you for sharing black jack.

i had been advocating ramirez in CF throughout spring training. of course, that's when i figured we'd be an experimental, rebuilding team (ie. beckham at SS, Getz/Lilli/Nix at 2B, fields at 3B, dye traded, etc.).

judging from his defense at SS, i'm a bit terrified to throw him in CF, though, anything would be better than podsednik (though, his UZR in the OF is on the rise, ironically...).

for ozzie preaching defense above all else, it's astonishing that we put up with such garbage defenders.

jmargarite said:

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Jack, I hate to hear what all has happened. Did Dr. Andrews ever explain how this could have happened, or that this is a common complication?

I know he's "the doctor to the stars" but I have heard mixed reviews like yours before as well. Did he atleast take the time out to apologize or discuss with you?!

Jack McDowell said:

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I did get to sit across from him in legal depositions, and he DID apologize for the "bad outcome" of my surgery. But in the end, their claim was they stayed within the "standard of care" to be expected and it was not challenged by any doctor.

jmargarite said:

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If it was "within the standard of care", then why were the docs at the Mayo clinic so surprised with the location of the scar?

Also, isnt Dr. Andrews the team Doc for Tampa Bay anyway, and i think i read somewhere he has ownership in them also....doesnt that create a conflict?

Not that it matters now, but I'd like to hear more about the lawsuit and what happened. If the doctors effectively "turned off their ethics" I'd like to hear about it. Sounds like a real John Gresham style thriller!

Jack McDowell said:

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Their defense was that the surgery fell into the standard of care. To bring a lawsuit against a doctor, you need another doctor who is willing to take the witness stand against the accused doctor to argue that the care was "substandard." This is where the problem began. We could find many doctors who KNEW what happened, knew it was a screw up but refused to testify. They ALL to a person claimed their career would be devastated or over if they went against Andrews. It was cover your ass ethics out the door three monkeys no see, no hear no do no evil!!!

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