Remember Rotator Cuff Injuries?
A couple days ago I wrote about Ed Hobaugh, a pitcher who basically had one real year in the Show and then quickly faded off into oblivion. Probably my favorite player fitting this description is Bill Dailey. His career progression was almost identical to Hobaugh, except that Dailey’s one full season was truly a tremendous year.
Dailey was the closer for the Minnesota Twins in 1963. The Twins finished 3rd in 1963 (91-71) in a ten-team league, in large part due to Dailey’s one out-sized season. Dailey went 6-3 with 21 saves and 1.99 ERA while throwing 108.2 innings. His save total was 3rd best in the league, tied with Hoyt Wilhelm, but behind Stu Miller (27) and Dick Radatz (23). The Monster was the Junior Circuit’s best closer that year, but Dailey was an impressive second.
Dailey was 28 in 1963. I’d guess he mastered command of a sharp curveball shortly before that season. He only stuck out 72 batters in 1963, but he still had a K/BB ratio of 3.8 and a WHIP well under 1.0.
In 1964 Dailey tore his rotator cuff, and his professional career was over at age 29. That made him the Mark Fidrych of his day, only without the Bird’s youthful promise. Wayne Garland is another pitcher from Fidrych’s era with the same basic story.
San Francisco Giants’ broadcaster Mike Krukow had a riff about how when he entered professional baseball, teams’ pitching coaches would ask youngsters whether they wanted their shoulders to hurt or their elbows to hurt. If the former, the pitcher was taught to throw the curveball, and if the latter the slider.
The curveball was a much more popular pitch in the 1960’s and 1970’s than it is now when the slider is the dominant off-speed pitch. That may in part be due to the fact that pitchers as a group come back better from Tommy John surgery than from rotator cuff surgery, which is now often referred to as the labrum. Shoulder injuries more often involve cartilage than tendons, which is probably why they are harder to come back from than elbow injuries.
For pitcher after his age of 30 season, shoulder injuries pretty much spell the ends of their careers. A 30+ year old with a strong enough arm can still come back from an elbow tear, at least so long as the doctors can find a good elbow tendon transplant.