Why the Strasburg-Rizzo-Dr. Yocum controversy matters

32 Comments

UPDATE: The he-said, he-said is over. Yocum has reversed himself. Call off the dogs.

5: 54 PM: As of now we have a he-said, he-said when it comes to Dr. Lewis Yocum and the Washington Nationals. Mike Rizzo and Scott Boras say that they consulted the man who performed Stephen Strasburg’s Tommy John surgery before arriving at the shutdown. Yocum says they didn’t, and that he hasn’t spoken to the Nationals since Strasburg’s surgery two years ago.

Who is telling the truth? I dunno. It’s quite possible that Yocum, who doesn’t have the same vested interest here, is forgetting random conversations or wasn’t clear about what Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times was asking him.  It’s also possible that the man who once compared Oliver Perez to Sandy Koufax is … not being completely accurate.  Only time will tell.

But I think it’s wrong to believe that this is all just a little media spat. I think there is a significance to this, because in large part Mike Rizzo and Scott Boras have used the credibility of Dr. Yocum — and medical studies Yocum says do not exist — to defend their decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg. If Rizzo and Boras are being less than honest here, it says something important about their candor with respect to this issue. And when one’s candor is in question, it calls into question their judgment as well.

The shutdown rationale cited by Mike Rizzo, Scott Boras, their media surrogates and many Nationals fans over the past few months clearly relies on Yocum and said medical studies. Look at this Thomas Boswell column from July 5. And when you do so, note that Boswell is widely considered to have very good sources in the Nats’ front office, and many assume he speaks directly to Rizzo on such matters:

Doctors and baseball’s best brains have studied the recovery of pitchers from Tommy John elbow surgery since 1974. That’s 38 years, folks. The data has been interrogated, tortured and water-boarded. Each decade, the total recovery rate has improved. It’s now 89 percent. Partly, it’s medical. But it’s also experiential. Baseball ultimately asks, “What works?”

And the methods that work best — not 100 percent, but very high — become best medical practice. That’s what the Nats are following.

Except Yocum — who performs Tommy John surgery for a living and is the Angels team doctor — says that there is no such consensus. He is aware of no studies, he told Bill Shaikin, which provide any statistical rationale which support the shutdown decision.

And it’s not just the data. Rizzo has relied, he says, on Yocum’s own advice and counsel.  In August, Boswell wrote another column on the matter. There, he talked about Mike Rizzo running into Stephen Strasburg’s father, who was questioning the shutdown decision.  Boswell gave voice to what Rizzo told Mr. Strasburg he was basing his decision on:

The answer takes a long time. It includes decades of statistics on rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and how annual “innings load increases” have led to disastrous re-injury in the past.

It includes the view of the surgeon, Lewis Yocum, who’s performed all the operations on Nats pitchers in recent years. It is Yocum’s belief that pitchers who break down from premature returns from elbow surgery — sometimes ruining their shoulders, and their whole careers, rather then their new elbows — don’t usually do so during the first big stress year but rather the following season.

If Rizzo spoke to Yocum, Yocum’s comments today are inexplicable.  If Yocum is not lying, however, Rizzo never talked to him and thus could not truthfully tell Stephen Strasburg’s dad that Yocum thought this was a good idea.

Two days later the middle man was eliminated and Rizzo himself said he consulted with Yocum:

“We’re looking at the long term health of the franchise and for Stephen Strasburg,” said Rizzo. “We’ve got a plan, we’ve got a blueprint of how to do this. This isn’t Mike Rizzo’s plan, he didn’t go to Medical school but Dr. Lew Yocum did and Dr. James Andrews did. We’re taking their recommendations and putting them into place.”

Again, Yocum says he never talked to Rizzo. Is he, in light of Boras’ comments this afternoon, going to go back and think harder about whether he was consulted?  If so, what was incentive to say what he told Shaikin?

I have no idea how this is going to shake out. But no matter how it does, it is significant. Not with direct respect whether the shutdown is a good idea. Indeed, it may, ultimately, be a great idea no matter who talked to who. And if Strasburg never gets hurt again and has a fabulous career, give Mike Rizzo his kudos for his prudence.

But make no mistake: if Yocum is telling the truth, the shutdown was Mike Rizzo’s decision, not that of some overwhelming medical consensus, let alone the input of the operating physician. And, if Yocum is telling the truth, it means that Mike Rizzo has been misleading in defending his decision.

Maybe this isn’t significant to you. If I were a Nationals fan, however, I would consider it pretty significant.

The Rangers release artists’ renderings of their new ballpark

Texas Rangers
4 Comments

There’s a lot people can say about the Rangers getting a new ballpark so soon after they got their last ballpark. There’s a lot that can be said about its funding and the priorities society places on professional sports as opposed to other things public money can be spent on. It’s also the case, however, that no matter how much is said about it, the Rangers are getting a new Globe Life Park. Which they’ll call Globe Life Field, but close enough.

Today the architects behind it all released artists’ renderings of the new joint. Necessity and priorities aside, the place looks pretty good for a park with a roof. We’ve come a long way since the old domes:

They’ll break ground on September 28. The Rangers are set to begin play in the new place in 2020.

The top 100 Jock Jams

Getty Images
7 Comments

Why yes, it is a slow news day. So here’s a fun list from Billboad: The 100 Greatest Jock Jams of all time.

You know ’em when you hear ’em. “Seven Nation Army.” “Rock and Roll Part 2.” “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project. Songs that existed before they were used at sporting events but songs you rarely ever hear outside of them anymore and, frankly, kinda don’t want to because they’ve been forever turned into sporting event anthems.

It’s hard to disagree with this list. Queen’s “We Will Rock You” is at number one. I’ll grant that, even if you hear that way less now than you used to, mostly because it was SO overused as, perhaps, the original jock jam from the 1980s-forward. All of the rest make sense.

Baseball lends itself far less to jock jams than the other sports as the intensity level of the game is so much lower for the most part. Also, since the rankings tried to intentionally stay away from songs that relate to only one sport there is no “Centerfield” or “Glory Days” or songs like that. Baseball is represented, though, with “Sweet Caroline” at number 20. Likewise, you might hear any number of these songs when the bases are loaded and the visiting manager comes out to make a pitching change. A lot of players use these songs as walkup music too.

A good time killer on a slow day.

(h/t to my wife, who sent me the link and said “Did you see this? Could be a good garbage post”). Um, thanks?