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Ruminations on John Danks' shoulder surgery

John Danks will officially miss the rest of the 2012 season, and 2013 is in jeopardy depending on what the exploratory shoulder surgery discovers.


After the 2000 season, the White Sox had an epidemic of shoulder injuries to contend with. Jim Parque, Kelly Wunsch, Antonio Osuma and Jon Rauch all had labrum woes, Lorenzo Barcelo and Sean Lowe had rotator cuff surgery. James Baldwin had a bone chip removed, and Bobby Howry a spur. And that's not counting Mike Sirotka, whose torn labrum procedure was on the Toronto Blue Jays' dime.

The sheer number of surgeries raised a lot of questions about shoulder health in general, and Herm Schneider had some answers.

From the Sun-Times on Jan. 30, 2002:

Excuse White Sox trainer Herm Schneider for being brief when he discusses the injuries that were especially hard on the pitching staff last season.

"It's like your underwear," Schneider said. "After a while, it doesn't grip you as well on the sides. You know what I'm saying? That's kind of what happens to shoulders."

I'll give you a second to picture Herm snapping the band of his undies. A couple months later, in another Sun-Times story from March 3, 2002, Schneider talks about the problems with finding the problem:

Schneider is waiting for a day when injuries such as labrum tears are easier to identify. He said the only way to detect one now is to do arthroscopic surgery.

"People say, 'You do an MRI and you can see a labrum tear.' That's not true," he said. "That's why there's a lot of controversy about doing an MRI. It's still not foolproof. Maybe in time they'll come up with something better than an MRI that will pick it up. Until then, we'll just have to go with what we have available to us."

That day is not here yet, as John Danks shows. He underwent an MRI in mid-June, and the results were encouraging:

  • Results revealed a mild Grade 1 strain of the subscapularis muscle in his left shoulder.
  • Tests show no tendon or ligament damage, and his labrum is intact.
  • The strain has shown improvement from the previous MRI he underwent on May 23.

All that good news amounted to nothing, as Danks made zero real progress. He said he occasionally felt good enough to pitch in a rehab start, but after exerting the effort needed, he couldn't bounce back. The strain had healed, but the problem remained. Now they're out of ideas, and so he'll undergo season-ending surgery on Aug. 6 to finally fix whatever it is.

Given the depressing range of possible injuries, it's was a little odd seeing spring bandied about as the target date on Twitter. Then, when reading through all the stories, Danks is the only one saying spring, which is understandable. When you're the guy going under the knife, you're hoping for the best.

It wouldn't make sense for anybody above him to share that outlook, at least not until after surgery is performed. Out of all the pitchers above, Howry would be the best-case scenario -- they removed the spur, and then cleaned up the labrum and rotator cuff while they were in there. He was ready to pitch by Opening Day, but he battled velocity issues and had a down year as a result.

Given the mysterious problems Danks has battled for months, it's hard to imagine Danks needing only a "clean-up." Everybody else who had more intensive work on their rotator cuff or labrum needed at least 11 months. There are scarier return forecasts, but since we won't know the official injury for another week, there's no rush to try to predict it now. But it's also prudent to not count on Danks for 2013 if the Sox are taking the step of exploratory surgery. As we've seen this season, it's way better to be pleasantly surprised than be forced to delay the ETA.


Two more thoughts:

No. 1: Of course this had to happen to the one pitcher for whom Jerry Reinsdorf approved a five-year commitment, because this situation was the exact reason why Reinsdorf didn't go beyond three until Mark Buehrle's deal in 2007. Even when the Sox went three years at a time, they didn't have problems putting together a good rotation, so I'm assuming the market-rate five-year contract for a pitcher will be the Halley's Comet of White Sox financial obligiations. It's something you can tell your kids about.

No. 2: After the surgery was announced, the first thought for a lot of us, "Hey, wasn't Kenny Williams supposedly surprised and irked to hear Danks even bring it on Friday?" After all, it hadn't been "discussed at length."

Then you read the stories about the Danks surgery and see that they had Aug. 1 in mind as judgment day all along.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaiiiit aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinute ...

It makes all the sense in the world that Williams wouldn't want to openly discuss Danks' season-ending surgery if he's trying to shake a starting pitcher loose from another team. Ideally, nobody would want this level of doublespeak to be commonplace, because it would make it awfully hard for people to present an honest account of the day's events, and for fans to ever buy into any kind of hype.

It is conveniently timed, however, since we've been talking about the limited utility of accounts that only come from one side. Whether it's Zack Greinke trade rumors or velocity concerns or service time or tampering or surgery timetables, any one team is only going to say so much before it risks putting itself at a disadvantage. Then it's up on the listener. You have to roll it around in your head and talk it out and drum up comparable situations and see if it actually holds up. Sometimes that's the fun part of this whole thing, but in this case, it doesn't seem like any "Aha!" moment is going to be pleasant.