Ulnar Collateral Ligament: Useless?

Albert Pujols is showing his signature power this spring with five home runs over 15 games while batting a robust .381. What’s that? Pujols putting up big numbers? Big deal. Another stupid story from Ugueth Urbina is Burning. But he is doing this with a “high-grade tear of the ulnar collateral ligament along with bone spurs, inflammation, and arthritis in the joint.” For most people, this means Tommy John surgery. However, Pujols has decided that he can defer this surgery, possibly for the rest of the career. This story was released approximately a week ago, but this story originated in 2003 with the initial injury. We have not heard the end of this story yet. At the time of the story’s release on March 13th, Pujols was batting .370 in spring training. He is up to .381 as of March 22. Quite a good spring, but his decision to continue playing through this serious injury remains controversial throughout baseball.

Some in St. Louis, including manager Tony LaRussa, worry that the elbow could blow out mid season, forcing the slugger to the operating room.

“I only know what the doctors say,” La Russa said. “He’s played seasons where he didn’t take that swing. He has an issue in there and if something crazy happens, it may pop up. Go after a pitch and all of a sudden something funny happens, your foot slips, whatever.”

Pujols seems to be living dangerously here because it takes at least eight months for a position player to recover from Tommy John. There is always the chance he lasts well into this season, but blows out his elbow late and misses games in 2008 and 2009. Yes, he is crushing the ball and it is safe to say he’ll replicate his past successes this season (keep in mind that he has been dominating the NL with this thrashed elbow), but with the chance of an elbow blowout and the prospects of missing games in two seasons, the safe play seems to be get the surgery now, miss the 2008 season, and finally have a healthy elbow that has bothered him since he first wrecked it in 2003. It has been five years since he injured his elbow, and the wear and tear of these 162 game seasons has to catch up with him sooner or later. Pujols is 28 years old, and has at least 12 more seasons in front of him. Pujols is being awfully nearsighted here. If this were the AL, it may not be as much of an issue, because he would be able to DH. But, this is the NL and he still has to play the field, and if he needs to gun one, even from first base, the possibility of a complete elbow blowout will loom.

Another factor to take into account is that the Cardinals do not appear to have any post season prospects this season. The Cardinals, outside of Adam Wainwright and of course Pujols, are a below average team looking at a fourth to last place finish in the NL Central this season. The cellar of the NL Central is dark and a team needs to be just atrocious to finish down there. So we will see this 2008 season if Pujols can continue to prove that the ulnar collateral ligament is as necessary as the appendix or Carl Everett’s opinions.

Pujols says he could avoid surgery for rest of career (ESPN.com)

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