The Johan Santana Injury Farce and Why This is S.O.M. (Same Old Mets)

As I read Terry Collins’ and Sandy Alderson’s quotes in the paper this morning regarding Johan Santana going on the disabled list, my nostrils began to flair, my face was turning red, I almost scalded myself with the cup of hot coffee that was shaking in my hand, and I finally ran to get some blood pressure medication. I’m not angry that Johan Santana is being placed on the DL. That’s just incredibly sad and disappointing. What has me totally infuriated is WHEN they decided to put Johan on the shelf due to his barking ankle.

It was during the July 6 game against the Cubs when Reed Johnson stepped on Santana’s right ankle while Johan was stepping on the first base bag. When I saw the initial play and then watched it again on the slo-mo replay, I was amazed the ankle wasn’t severely sprained or even broken. At the very least, I was sure swelling would have developed within innings and Johan would have to leave the game for a bigger ice pack than the one for his shoulder after a game. But Johan soldered on–as is his wont–and used the All-Star break to rest the ankle, not really missing a turn. But it’s been clear since the break that something has gone very wrong with Santana’s velocity and command and the Mets have NOW decided the problem stems from the injured ankle.

“We determined the ankle issue is bigger than anybody had realized,” manager Terry Collins said. “Ever since the injury, his command hasn’t been there. He can’t land properly, he’s using all his arm to pitch with, causing some fatigue in his shoulder . . . ” Added Alderson: “We think the ankle injury may have led to some general fatigue in his shoulder specifically . . . we’ve probably gotten to the point where we need to get that ankle right.” YA THINK?

So let me get this straight: Terry Collins was in agony to the point of tears when he struggled with deciding whether to let Johan throw 130-plus pitches during his no-hitter, but had NO problem with letting him pitch three games through an injured ankle on his landing leg, just because the medical staff didn’t see the urgency of the injury and because the pitcher wanted to gamely keep taking the mound? Collins thought the pitch count would jeopardize Santana’s fragile post-surgery shoulder, but didn’t think having him pitch with a bad ankle which would make him overcompensate with his arm would be just as dangerous, if not more? We experienced this craziness regarding injuries with the Omar Minaya regime. I really expected better out of Sandy and company and that’s why I’m furious; not the least of which is because had Santana continued to pitch well we might have been able to deal him to a contender before the trade deadline. Now that option is out the window.

Let me tell you a little story about pitching with a bad ankle and how dangerous it can be. At the beginning of my senior year in college, I threw a one-hitter (would have been a no-no had my shortstop had any range) and was on the radar of a couple of scouts after that game. I was also my team’s backup catcher and when the starter came down sick the day after my near no-no, I had to go behind the plate. I reached base in the first inning and took off for second on a hit and run play. The batter missed the ball and when I slid into second my spike caught under the bag and I turned my left ankle. I walked it off for a bit, just like Johan did, and stayed in the game. By the fourth inning, it was started to swell up but my coach would have had to shoot me to come out of a game. There was a pop-up straight over home plate and just before the ball was about to settle in my glove, my leg just collapsed out from under me.

I iced the ankle all that night but by the next day it was swollen and very painful. My brother took me to the emergency room for x-rays and the doctor told me I had a small fracture and that I’d have to be in a cast for at least a month. I knew that would basically end my season so when the doctor wasn’t looking, I told my bro to get me the hell out of there. I spent the next two weeks on crutches, icing the ankle, getting ultrasound treatments, whatever I could do to get it healed on it’s own. I finally felt at least good enough to pitch, but I hadn’t been able to run and I had to avoid putting too much pressure on the left foot on the follow through. My first start after the layoff I had a great game as my arm was rested from the layoff. I won my next start but was a bit more erratic with my control. In my third start I got hit hard and in my fourth start I got racked because my velocity was way down and my arm felt fatigued. I knew what the problem was–I always used my legs in my follow through, like my idol Tom Seaver did, and now I was basically just using my arm because I couldn’t put much pressure on that landing foot.

I’m almost sure that’s what is going on with Johan. Once you overcompensate for a leg or ankle injury by changing your mechanics and overthrowing, your arm gets fatigued and it effects velocity and command. The Mets should have known this might happen and they should have put him on the DL immediately after that July 6 start and he would have been back and presumably healthy yesterday’s start. Now it’s too late. This awful decision has basically cost the team six of Santana’s starts–the three bad ones and the three he’ll now miss–and by the time he’s back any chance the Mets had of competing for a wild card will be over. The local sports media should be all over this.

Did anyone say “buyers and sellers.”

About Stephen Hanks 32 Articles
Stephen Hanks (Tom Terrific) is a magazine editor and writer based in Brooklyn, NY, who has been the publisher and editorial director of publications ranging in subjects from sports to health to archaeology. He began his career at the late, great SPORT Magazine in 1977 and in 1983, he co-founded NEW YORK SPORTS Magazine (which ceased publication in 1985). He has written and edited coffee table books on baseball history, penned unauthorized biographies of Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky, and in 1990 authored "The Game That Changed Pro Football," an oral history of the 1969 New York Jets Super Bowl Season. Even though he grew up near Yankee Stadium, he loathes the team from the Bronx and has been a die-hard Mets fan since attending his first game at the Polo Grounds in 1963.