By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Chris Sale undergoing Tommy John surgery Monday, as the rest of the country and world deals with the coronavirus crisis, raised a few eyebrows. How did an athlete make a cross-country trip to California, a state that has limited elective surgeries amid the pandemic, and then undergo his operation?
It’s just another head scratching chapter in Boston’s bungling of Sale’s left elbow.
This all started last season, when it seemed like Sale was tiptoeing his way toward Tommy John surgery. Anyone who has seen the slender lefty slingshot a fastball toward home plate knew it was highly likely that he would someday need the famous procedure.
The Red Sox and Sale opted for rest instead of surgery last season, and did so again when Sale’s elbow started acting up the very first time he faced live batters in the spring. A few weeks later, when Sale attempted to throw again and the pain was still present, the only option left was the go under the knife.
So Sale spent his 31st birthday having the ligaments in his left elbow replaced. Usually that isn’t a big issue, but those surgeries don’t usually happen as the rest of the world deals with a pandemic. Needless to say, some folks were a little perplexed by the timing of Sale’s procedure.
In a conference call to discuss the surgery Monday evening, the Red Sox brass said they would not have given Sale the green light unless they were confident that the operation would not take away from those who need treatment for cornavirus. This included a discussion with Sale’s surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
“It was important to all of us to do this in a way that would not place any undue burden on anyone suffering due to coronavirus,” said Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “I spoke to Dr. ElAttrache personally to make sure that was the case here and he is just as mindful of the considerations that go along with surgery at a time like this.
“We know this is not life and death and that there are people who are suffering in situations that are life and death,” Bloom added.
Dr. ElAttrache was criticized last week after he performed the same surgery on San Francisco Giants pitcher Tyler Beede during the pandemic, and defended himself for doing so in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods,” said ElAttrache. “If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure.”
Fellow orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who operates in Florida, suspended performing Tommy John surgery earlier this month.
The Red Sox would have liked to have sent Sale for surgery much earlier than Monday, but they wanted to take every precaution to make sure it was safe to do so. Their “ace” is now expected to be on the shelf until next June.
In the end, it’s just another aspect of Sale’s problematic left elbow that has the team looking bad. Had they just given the green light on the surgery last August, Sale’s recovery would be well underway, and the team wouldn’t have egg on its face for sending a pitcher to undergo an elective surgery during a worldwide pandemic.