This week, news came out that Miguel Andujar will undergo season ending labrum surgery on this throwing shoulder. The labrum is the rubbery cartilage tissue that is attached to the rim of the shoulder socket and helps keep the ball of the joint in place. It provides stability to the shoulder and is commonly torn either by blunt trauma (dislocated shoulder) or gradually by over use. While technology has come leaps and bounds in repairing previously catastrophic injuries such as Tommy John and ACL tears, the shoulder remains as one area that eludes surgeons in providing consistently successful fix. Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL in the elbow now has about a 90% success rate of returning the player to previous form. Labrum surgery, on the other hand, has an abysmal 14% success rate of players performing at the same level prior to injury.
This author knows firsthand of the injury. I played college baseball at a small school in Southern California where I mostly pitched and DHed. Toward the end of my freshman year, I started feeling some pain in my right shoulder, something I had never experienced in my baseball career up to that point. The team doctors sent me for an MRI, but the prognosis was relatively good – bicep tendonitis. I played the next two seasons with this intermittent shoulder pain until my senior year. About half way through that season, I started getting hit around the park and I had no idea what was going on. One of my teammates told me my velocity was down about 7mph which is more than just an off day. I shrugged it off, but the next week the same thing happened. Though I was in denial the pain in my shoulder was getting worse. I was unable to sleep comfortably and eventually I couldn’t even lift my arm a certain way. I finally went to get another MRI and the results were not good.
As you may have guessed, I had a labrum tear. Through some later research, it turns out that bicep tendonitis can actually cause labrum tears since the bicep tendon attaches to the labrum. My season was over from a pitching perspective, but I was able to hit – however, I had to change my swing. This is why Andujar may have been struggling so much at the plate in his recent return. With a torn labrum, I was unable to finish my swing. I had to exaggerate my one handed follow threw to the point where I felt like I was swinging completely one handed. If I kept both hands on the bat all the way through, a stabbing pain would get me right in the shoulder. I was able to get away with this modified swing at my DIII level, but there is no way I would have been able to have success with that swing against the best pitching in the world.
The day after I graduated I had the surgery to repair my labrum. I went to the best doctor I could in Los Angeles, a co-worker of Dr. Neil ElAttrache at the Kerlan Jobe Institute. I did the usual prescribed rehab, but my playing days were over and I was in NYC earning my graduate degree. I wasn’t able to play catch as much as I should have, but my shoulder felt better. Four years later, I am back in California trying to play Sunday league baseball. And son of a gun, my arm still hurts. The surgery helped my everyday life, but I still can’t throw without pain. Looks like I am in the 86% of those athletes that don’t get back to form.
Now Andujar will have the best rehabilitation staff on the planet helping him recover from the surgery. Most of those people were probably helping Michael Pineda return to the mound after his labrum surgery. Pineda is one of the few pitchers to get back on a major league mound after such an injury. Andujar is not a pitcher and does not need to throw 95+mph, so I personally am very confident that he will be back next year ready to play. It’s a long painful road, but he is in a good situation. Lucky for the Yankees, the influx of young talent hasn’t made the loss of Andujar as painful as a labrum tear, but I know the team will be happy when the former Rookie of the Year finalist is healthy and back in the lineup.