Many of my friends and acquaintances are wondering why Joe Nathan and the Twins organization are waiting so long since they discovered his UCL injury to decide whether he should undergo Tommy John surgery. He's planning on testing his arm sometime soon to see if he can continue pitching through the pain or if there's no alternative but to have the procedure. Unfortunately, the collective gut feeling is that he won't be able avoid going under the knife. Many fans, myself included, believe that he should have it done so we still have a chance to see him in 2011.
It turns out the injury may not be as significant as originally reported; there's still a slim chance that he'll be able pitch in 2010. It's all about whether he can grit through the pain. If he goes that route, there's a risk that he just wont be very effective. Plus, he'll always be sore and may not be able to go on consecutive days. And then, there's an even bigger risk that he'll blow the ligament completely sometime down the road when it's too late to satisfactorily fill the void.
Now, there are plenty of fans who want to immediately ship him off and get him fixed. However, we need to stop thinking about him as merely an asset to the team -- nothing more than a machine -- and start thinking about him as a human. He's a guy with a sore arm who has a difficult decision to make, one that will affect every aspect of his life for the next year-plus. Damned if he does; damned if he doesn't. Either option is pretty crappy, and I'm sure he's pissed he even has to decide.
He's doing the Twins a favor by trying to get them an answer in a two-week time frame. I'm certain he would like several more weeks to allow it to heal more. And I don't blame him a bit for being hesitant to immediately decide. He's doing everything possible to avoid having this surgery. And he should. This is a procedure that not only takes away his livelihood for over a year, but also puts a serious dent in his quality of life for awhile.
Surgery is risky. Anytime someone goes under general anesthesia, there's a risk of dangerous and permanent complications. Reconstructive surgery includes the extra hazard of being difficult to recover from. And that's assuming all goes as planned. If he's a slow healer, if he doesn't respond well to pain medications, or if he contracts an infection, recovery will be even worse.
After surgery, the road from not even being able to make a sandwich to throwing a fastball again is long and difficult. In fact, the whole following year will be absolute hell. It will not only be physical hell, with awful pain and the inability to even use his arm, but it will also be emotional hell. He'll be mad and frustrated, angry that it happened, disappointed that it's taking so long, helpless, hopeless, lonely, and depressed, all while the team has moved on without him.There will be crushed optimism and setbacks -- more than once. And, every step of the way, he'll second guess himself. After all that, there's a very good chance he'll never be the pitcher he was. Just because others come back, it doesn't mean necessarily mean he will. Healing at 35 is much different than healing at 25. He'd get through it, but, trust me, he doesn't want to.
I expect he knows about the hell that is recovery. He's a smart guy; he's asked around and done his research. He wants to do everything he can to avoid this, so he's taking his time and figuring out what's best. Either way, it sucks, and the route that sucks less isn't readily apparent.
However, don't think for a second that the Twins are handcuffed by this delay. They certainly want what's best for him, and they can't rush him much, but they're also not sitting on their hands. They have roadmaps drawn for plans B, C, D, E and probably F and G.
So, give him time. He needs to figure this out. Two extra weeks in a 50 - 70 week recovery is nothing. And, regardless of which route he chooses, he'll need all the positive vibes from fans he can get.