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Concurrent surgery shelved Jenks, for good

Players’ Tribune piece details his flubbed back procedure, aftermath

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies
Downward spiral: A pop in his back on a 2011 pitch with the Red Sox led Jenks into a botched back surgery in Boston.
Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

Bobby Jenks released the untold story of his botched back surgery with Boston on Thursday, via The Players’ Tribune.

It is a harrowing tale, and really, a must-read.

You’ll recall that the disappointing 2010 season was the end of Jenks’ career with the White Sox. Jenks had 27 saves that season, but scuffled throughout. He ended his career on a high note, though, with saves in both games of a doubleheader at the Red Sox on September 4.

Manager Ozzie Guillén then chose to use the rest of the month to look at players who might realistically pitch for the White Sox in 2011 — already fatigued by Jenks’ frequent bellyaching — and thus would never pitch for the White Sox after that.

I was covering the White Sox at the time. During the season goodbyes after the 2010 finale, I recall Jenks being treated like a pariah. No one was talking with him — not reporters, teammates, even. Jenks sat in his locker, cleaned out and looking like a dorm room in June, chewing tobacco, alone. I don’t know what the circumstances of such an odd dynamic of star closer-turned outcast, but I chalked it up to Jenks knowing he would not be returning to the only major league team he’d ever known. Even though that was common knowledge for all of September, and perhaps all of 2010, it was sinking in at that moment.

I tried talking with Bobby, but he wasn’t too receptive: “It’s over man. All over. What else is there to say?” He did seem hurt, but also angry, as some of that tobacco juice was making its way to the floor of the clubhouse. We shook hands, and I wished him luck.

The next time, and last time, I saw Bobby was in Boston the next season. Things seemed on an upswing, to the point where you had to wonder if the White Sox cut bait too quickly. Jenks was measured, but still jovial, as we swarmed around him in Fenway Park at the end of May. No hard feelings, happy to be in Boston, that sort of jazz; it did seem like Jenks had moved past the hurt of leaving Chicago.

After the scrum dissipated, I approached: “You good?”

“Yeah, everything’s good. No pressure here, just pitching my way back,” Bobby said.

He’d pitch against the White Sox for the first and only time in the eighth inning of the sandwich game of the series, on May 31: Juan Pierre fly out, Alexei Ramírez single, Brent Lillibridge single, Paul Konerko line-out double play.

Jenks would pitch in just seven more games in his career. On June 7 in New York he felt a pop in his back, the beginning of the end. Still, he muscled through four more games after that — three of them scoreless outings.

Jenks was one of the heroes of the 2005 White Sox, and perhaps the least expected one of all. As a closer, he’s a White Sox legend. What happened to him on the surgery table in Boston — his surgeon juggling his “minor” back procedure with a paralyzed crash victim and botching the delicate work in the process — should never happen to any patient, and certainly not without permission.

Read Bobby’s story today at The Players’ Tribune. You won’t forget it.