Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

It’s Official — Brewers First Baseman Mat Gamel Tears His ACL Again, Is Out for the Season

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Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Mat Gamel apparently has the worst luck of any major league baseball player going these days.

Not one full week into the official start of Brewers’ Spring Training, Gamel has been confirmed as having torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.  This is the same ACL he tore during his ill-fated 2012 campaign while running into that ditch the San Diego Padres call an infield.

So Gamel’s now torn the same ACL two years in a row.   That, my friends, is abysmal luck.

Consequently, Gamel will be out all of 2013.  (See this link, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, for further details.)

There are a few odd things about this particular injury according to the Journal-Sentinel report.  First, Gamel tore the middle of the ACL, not either end as is more common.  Most surgical failures — which constitute about ten percent of ACL surgeries — will re-tear on either end of the ligament, rather than in the middle where the ligament should be the strongest.  Second, Gamel had spent eight solid months of rehabilitation prior to reporting to Spring Training.  His rehab consisted of strength and flexibility exercises, and I’m sure his therapy was of the absolute best.

Consider, please, that in order to be able to hit, run, and field — strenuous activity by any other name — a baseball player has to be able to move laterally without strain, swing a bat with full extension and run without noticeable problems.  Gamel had been able to do all of this prior to reporting to Spring Training.

In addition, he’d passed two physicals, where presumably he ran on a treadmill, had to do various arcane flexibility exercises (some akin to yoga poses), and did so in front of various doctors and physical therapists.  He was given a clean bill of health because he had proven that he was ready to resume his life as an active, everyday baseball player.

Otherwise, he never would’ve stepped out onto the field.

And now, Gamel won’t get the chance to prove that he has what it takes to make it in the major leagues.  At least, not in 2013.  And possibly not at all, as two ACL tears on the same knee within eighteen months are a huge red flag to every general manager of every team in major league baseball.

However, I had a thought that might prove useful . . . if not to Gamel, maybe to someone else recovering from such an injury.  It’s a long shot, but hear me out.

Last year, I read GOOSE, an autobiography written by ex-Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa.   Siragusa doesn’t actually have a working ACL in one of his knees, but he was able to work around this by coming up with a unique strengthening and conditioning plan.  Because of this, Siragusa was able to play for twelve years in the NFL and he never missed a game.

But you’d have never known he had that sort of durability coming out of college.

That’s because Siragusa was told that maybe he’d play two years, or perhaps three, for the NFL, all because he didn’t really have an ACL.  From this article from 2001 at Philly.com by Jerry Brewer of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

(Siragusa’s) quite the story, perhaps a great symbol for the NFL today. It is hyped as a league of parity and a league in which a hardworking player can become a success without having a great pedigree.

It is a league in which a then-280-pound tackle from the University of Pittsburgh could go undrafted (mostly because he has no anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee), endure nine knee surgeries, and play 11 years in an NFL career that reaches a plateau on Sunday when he plays in his first Super Bowl.

A wise old doctor from Indianapolis once told Siragusa his knee would hold up for two years in the NFL. Maybe three.

“The doctor examined my knee, and he said, ‘You have no ACL in your knee,’ ” Siragusa said. “I said, ‘You’re a good doctor.’ “

Boiling it down to brass tacks, Siragusa set out to prove the doctor wrong.  And he did — by going to one of his trusted past college coaches, if memory serves (it’s been well over a year and a half since I read GOOSE, mind you), then setting up his brutal training regimen.  This is what allowed Siragusa to play, and play well, for twelve long years without a working ACL in his knee.

My thought is that if Siragusa could do this and play football, it might be possible for Gamel to do the same thing.  Gamel is only 27 years old.  He may, if he’s fortunate, be able to find a strength and conditioning coach that can duplicate whatever it was that Siragusa managed to do.  If so, this would allow Gamel to build up his legs to the point that even if his ACL fails for an unprecedented third time, he can still play despite the injury.

As I understand it, what Siragusa did in his conditioning program was to strengthen all of the muscles around where the ACL should be.  These other muscles took the place of the ACL — or at least bore the strain of a rough and tumble NFL season — so isn’t it conceivable that Gamel could strengthen these same muscles around his ACL, which might take enough pressure off the soon-to-be twice-repaired ligament to allow him to continue his career?

However, if what Siragusa did is not able to be duplicated, perhaps Gamel would be better off to consider coaching.  Or figure out some other passions to cultivate along with baseball to help him pass the time.

As of right now, it surely seems to me that unless Gamel is able to duplicate whatever it was that Siragusa did, Gamel’s body is telling him that it’s time to make other plans.  Gamel has heart, moxie, and drive — everything you want in a major league baseball player — but if his body won’t hold up, he just isn’t going to be able to continue.

That’s why I hold out at least a slight amount of hope that Siragusa’s regimen may work for Gamel.  Because it seems to be the best hope Gamel has.

And any hope beats no hope at all.  Especially if you’re the unluckiest Brewer this side of Brad Nelson (Mr. “0-for-21” himself).

————

Note: Corey Hart has said publicly here that he will help Gamel all he possibly can.  Hart, who is truly a class act, said he feels for Gamel and will encourage him to continue to pursue rehab.  The Journal-Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak quoted Hart as saying:

“I’m just going to hug him and hope things work out. He’s going to have to have support everywhere. This is a tough situation. The biggest thing for him is suport (sic) in here. I told him to move in with me and I’ll help as much as I can. I’ll be leaving before him (to go on minor-league rehab) so I’ll let him stay at the house.”

(This is just one more reason why Corey Hart is my favorite current Brewers player.  Just sayin’.)

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