How Bad Is The Red Sox Medical Staff?

Is it fair to blame the Medical Staff for the past three years?

The latest news on David Ortiz’s Achilles injury is… well, no one really knows what to make of it, besides from the fact that he’s not coming off the disabled list nearly as quickly as many suspected.

It’s no secret that a big part of the Red Sox still being under .500 as we enter August is the fact that for most of the season, the disabled list has housed more players than the field at Fenway Park. As Peter Abraham noted in the Boston Globe this morning, the Red Sox have had a total of 1,119 games missed because of the disabled list this season. According to him, that’s a Major League record, and honestly it’s not surprising to hear that.

Most of these injuries are ones that couldn’t be helped. Jacoby Ellsbury injuring his elbow in the home opener after Reid Brignac essentially fell on it. Dustin Pedroia hurting his thumb after taking a bad swing, and then re-aggravating it after diving for a ball. Will Middlebrooks simply cramping his hamstring after a bad defensive play. All of these are unfortunate fates of circumstance, part of the game. There’s nothing the Red Sox medical staff could have done to prevent these from happening.

But what of Carl Crawford’s misconstrued and contradicting absence? What of the diagnosis that Ellsbury would miss 6-8 weeks, when in reality he missed three months. Now the same situation is beginning to unfold with Ortiz, and you have to wonder if he will even set foot on the field again this season.

The question that all these strange and misleading diagnoses inevitably lead to is this: just how bad is the Red Sox medical staff?

The Red Sox have not made the playoffs for two years running, and each year there are key examples of botched handlings of injuries.

Last year, it was Clay Buchholz, who didn’t throw a pitch after June 19th because of a lower back strain. Based on the initial report, reporters were saying things like “It’s not a serious injury, and the hope is that he will return to the major league rotation around July 2nd, the first day he’s eligible.” Obviously, that was not the case. Buchholz never returned, and Boston’s lack of pitching depth was one of the main reasons they plummeted out of contention over the last month of the season.

In 2010, there were two key injuries on the team, and likewise, two terribly mishandled early returns. The first was Jacoby Ellsbury, who suffered multiple broken ribs after colliding with Adrian Beltre in the first week of the season in Kansas City. After stumbling to a poor record, the Red Sox rushed Ellsbury back in just over six weeks time, only to have him re-injure himself three games later, after diving to make a catch in center field. It was immediately clear that they had brought Ellsbury back too early and they shipped him off to Arizona to rehab. Three months later, they tried to bring Ellsbury back once more, and again he injured the ribs, this time after a collision at first base. He returned to the disabled list and did not touch the field again that season.

The same year, Dustin Pedroia suffered a foot injury after fouling a ball off of it during an interleague game in San Francisco in June. The Sox scuffed along for the rest of the summer, slowly losing ground on the second place Yankees, before they were finally overtaken late in mid-August. Pedroia was brought back just a week later, with his foot reportedly in good condition. Pedroia played just two games before he placed back on the disabled list after stealing a base, and reinjuring his foot He did not play another game, and the Sox missed the playoffs.

And now we have the Carl Crawford debacle. By now you know of the confusing language that has surrounded the Red Sox’ handling of Carl Crawford and his left elbow/wrist from the beginning of this saga. Whether it be a four-day program that has never run on a four-day schedule, or required days off that aren’t really required. Now, the Sox are in a position where “if they’re not in it” then Crawford will end the season early and get tommy john surgery which he supposedly needs. Despite all of this, Crawford is on quite the tear right now, a tear that we didn’t even come close to seeing last year.

Pile the Ortiz debacle onto all of this, and once again you have an example of an injury that no one really seems to know what to do with, or how serious it is.

Of course, it’s unfair to pin all of this on just the medical staff. It seems obvious that there was pressure from the front office to bring these players back earlier than expected, but even so, the last few years have to call some of the practices of both the front office and the medical staff into serious question.

Obviously, all the blame for the mess this organization has become can’t be placed on just one group or branch of the staff. Yet, with this year’s team breaking the record for most games missed via the disabled list, the Medical Staff has to raise a few eyebrows.

Categories: Adrian Beltre Carl Crawford Clay Buchholz David Ortiz Dustin Pedroia Jacoby Ellsbury

Alex Convery is a student at the University of Southern California where he studies screenwriting. He spends his time procrastinating. Follow him on twitter here:

13 Responses to “How Bad Is The Red Sox Medical Staff?” Subscribe

  1. marcos August 6, 2012 at 9:23 PM #

    Terrible!!!! That's how bad it is. They overdo things. The rehab stints are ridiculous. How did Joba make it back before Bailey? Smfh

  2. Walt in Maryland August 7, 2012 at 8:47 AM #

    Impossible for non-medical folks like us to know for certain, obviously.

    But I will say this: There have been several occasions where players miss signficantly more time than expected at the time they got hurt. I don't know if they're being misdiagnosed, or if it's taking the doctors too long to get the correct diagnosis, but something doesn't seem right.

  3. EducatedFools August 7, 2012 at 12:48 PM #

    I wrote about this last year during the Buch issue. The team changed doctors after 2004 (and Schilling's bloody sock) and it has seemed to be all downhill since then. I included a timeline of events:

    • Lyndsay August 15, 2012 at 10:44 PM #

      Wow, that was a great timeline. Any way you could do an updated timeline to include the 2nd half of 2011, and 2012 injuries?

  4. Walt in Maryland August 7, 2012 at 1:22 PM #

    Pretty amazing history, EF.

    This year, we can add Crawford, Ellsbury, Ortiz, Bailey, Pedroia, Dice-K and Beckett to the list. Not assuming the Sox' medical staff reacted incorrectly in all, or even most of their cases. But you have to wonder, given the history.

  5. Mr Punch August 7, 2012 at 2:53 PM #

    The Sox might be healthier if they'd stop acquiring players who are already injured. Three of their last four big contracts went to guys who were injured when they signed (Lackey, Beckett, Gonzalez). When they needed innings last year, they went out and traded for Bedard. This just isn't working.

    I think the problem with the medical staff is the same as that with Beckett: less a matter of being bad than of being overrated, which leads to bad decisions.

  6. Tim August 8, 2012 at 3:03 PM #

    "Medical staff" is too vague a term, the doctors involved with each player differ, the injured parts of the body differ, and the facts in each case are different. Injuries heal at different rates for many reasons, MRIs and x-rays don't always detect injuries or abnormalities for many reasons (including in the case of some of the players reported on in this article), and top notch medical experts can reasonably disagree with each other about what the best possible course of treatment is for a condition. Although it is a science, the human body is complicated and defies easy conclusions about what is wrong, how to solve it and how long it will take for a body to recover. The "how bad is the Red Sox medical staff" framing of the issue seems contrary to the general philosophy of this website which usually emphasizes a more careful, measured and nuanced view of issues.

    • EducatedFools August 10, 2012 at 4:16 PM #

      Tim I agree there are a lot of variables here and it's tough to throw everyone under one umbrella. My biggest issue with the doctors and medical staff is the perception is out there that they are bad. And players talking to the media openly disagreeing with the staff. I think this hurts the team in recruiting players towards the end of their careers who could be useful with the right staff like (different sport) the Phoenix Suns were able to do with Nash, Hill, Shaq. Of course this perception point is probably moot right now with the other perception problems that exist and the continued image raping done by the Boston Media.

  7. Sean August 10, 2012 at 4:35 PM #

    It is the front office lying about the severity of injuries to keep the 'streak' going and the ratings up as they worry fans may tune out if they cannot hope for the return of 'the varsity'. The medical staff has been overhauled 3 times in the past 3 years. Its the venomous scourge upstairs that leads to this issue.

  8. Lyndsay August 14, 2012 at 5:45 PM #

    I have a good friend in the Boston medical field who knows some of the Red Sox medical staff. She will attest that getting a job on that staff is less about how skilled you are and more about who you know in the organization that can get you that job. She knows one particular staff person and is shocked that, given his skill level or lack thereof, he is in such a high profile position. So I am definitely not surprised that the staff has been called into question.

    • Lyndsay August 14, 2012 at 5:53 PM #

      Also, my friend treats athletes in all sports (some at pro level) and said there is constant pressure on doctors from their patients and coaches to rush through rehab and get the athlete back out to play. Some doctors will go against their training and instinct and speed up rehab just to keep the flow of athlete referrals coming to their office. (What do you want to bet that James Andrews is the most sought-out doctor because he gives the shortest timeline for recovery?) You could say it's almost a collusion between coaches/owners and doctors to keep the athlete active at all costs. She struggles with telling patients that the only way to prevent further injury is to not play the sport to begin with (as with pole vaulting and gymnastics, two of the sports harshest on the body), especially with athletes who have contracts, or high school and college athletes with scholarships at stake. So she has to give them the best treatment she can, knowing they'll be back in her office soon with redamage.

      • Cliff August 28, 2012 at 2:25 PM #

        Even if a team doesn't actually care about its players, it's still in the team's interest to consider the player's long-term health unless the guy is likely to be somewhere else the following year. There's no-one more central to the Red Sox' team identity and future than Pedroia, so surely it would be incompetence rather than impatience that had him back out prematurely after breaking his foot.

  9. Lyndsay August 15, 2012 at 10:38 PM #

    Alex – didn't the Sox fire the majority of their medical staff from last year and bring in new people this year? If this year's staff (definitely their medical director) is significantly different from last year, how can the medical staff be to blame?