John Lackey’s path to elbow surgery

It’s safe to say there’s a certain amount of skepticism regarding the announcement that John Lackey is getting Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2012 season.

The well-respected Damon Amendolara voiced his doubts on 98.5 The Sports Hub and a number of e-mails have arrived saying much the same thing.

I share those doubts. As somebody who is in the business of being lied to by people who work for teams, it’s never smart to take anything on face value. But let’s think this through.

Here are some events, in order of when they happened:


March 26, 2008: Lackey goes on DL with Angels with a triceps strain.

March 27, 2009: Lackey goes on DL with Angels with a forearm strain. This is often a precursor to ligament issues.

Dec. 15, 2009: Lackey agrees to terms on a five-year, $82.5 million contract. The deal includes a clause that gives the Red Sox an option for 2015 at the major league minimum if Lackey misses substantial time because of a “pre-existing elbow injury.”

May 16, 2011: Lackey goes on disabled list with an elbow strain.

June 29, 2011: Peter Gammons reports that the Red Sox have to decide whether Lackey needs surgery. Lackey reacts angrily to the report, but when asked directly if he has a tear in his ligament says, “Anything’s possible.” General manager Theo Epstein also evades a direct question about Lackey’s condition.

July 18, 2011: Lackey tells the Globe that he feels better, “but there’s definitely a lot going on in there.”

Aug. 17-Sept. 25, 2011: Lackey has a 7.16 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in his final eight starts. This after pitching fairly well (3.92 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) in his previous seven starts. That disparity would suggest some sort of physical issue.

Beyond that, would new general manager Ben Cherington really make medical fraud his first act as general manager? It’s hard to believe that a man would spend his life preparing for a job and on the first day concoct a wild scheme to get rid of a pitcher.


It’s equally unlikely that a respected surgeon like Dr. Lewis Yocum would be a party to it. Lackey has an agent behind him and the Players Association. Teams don’t send their players off to get reconstructive surgery without running it by a few other folks. Players also have medical insurance and surely somebody is checking out the veracity of surgical procedures.

Could Lackey try rest and rehab? Probably. But that is true of almost any arm injury. It’s also convenient that the surgery comes at the same time Lackey is universally unpopular among fans and is going through a divorce. It’ll probably do him some good to be away from the game for a year, which Cherington admitted today.

But the Red Sox didn’t conjure this up out of nowhere.

Lackey is done for 2012 and should be ready to pitch in 2013. If nothing else, be thankful that you’re rid of him for now. But don’t be too suspicious. This is one time when the Red Sox are probably telling the truth about a medical issue.

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