Dodgers Lose Guerrero for at Least 3 Months : Outfielder Faces Surgery Today; Williams, Stubbs Take His Place
Pedro Guerrero, trapped in a moment of indecision, caught a spike in the infield dirt while sliding into third base here Thursday afternoon and ruptured a tendon in his left leg, putting the Dodgers’ most productive hitter on the sidelines for a minimum of three months.
Guerrero will undergo surgery at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood this morning, just three days before the start of the 1986 season. He was carried off the Holman Stadium field on a stretcher in the first inning of the Dodgers’ game against the Atlanta Braves. It was the Dodgers’ last exhibition before returning home to Los Angeles Thursday night.
Guerrero’s place in the Dodger lineup will be shared, for now, by rookie Reggie Williams and Franklin Stubbs, whose combined major league experience totals 119 games.
Today’s operation will be performed by team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, who diagnosed Guerrero’s injury after the Dodger left fielder was taken by ambulance to Indian River Memorial Hospital.
Guerrero ruptured the patellar tendon in his left leg, just below the kneecap, which was pulled upward an inch to an inch and a half when the injury occurred, Jobe said. The patellar tendon connects the muscles of the anterior (front) thigh and enables a person to extend his leg at the knee.
“He has tremendously strong muscles,” Jobe said. “The contraction of the muscles pulled the tendon right off of the bone.
“I think he’ll play again this year, but it will be at least three months before he can play.”
Jobe, along with associate Robert Kerlan, performed a similar operation on basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, then with the Lakers, in 1969. It was four months before Chamberlain was able to resume working out with the team.
Guerrero, who has avoided sliding since suffering a career-threatening ankle injury in a minor league game in 1977 and a knee injury three years later in a game at Montreal, decided at the last moment not to slide into third base on a hit-and-run play.
There were two out in the inning when pitcher Zane Smith of the Braves delivered a pitch to Alex Trevino. Guerrero, who was on second, and Ken Landreaux, who was on first, began running with the pitch after receiving the hit-and-run sign from Joe Amalfitano, the Dodgers’ third-base coach.
Guerrero’s uncertainty about sliding was created when the low-and-inside pitch escaped the grasp of Atlanta catcher Ozzie Virgil and rolled a few feet away.
“I was going to slide, then at the end I decided not to,” Guerrero said. “I never reached the bag.”
Instead, his spike planted itself in the infield dirt, a mix of hard Georgian clay and Turface, a synthetic mixture. Guerrero tumbled forward, beyond the base and into foul territory, clutching his leg near the knee.
“I knew he was hurt right away,” said Atlanta third baseman Ken Oberkfell. “He was almost in tears. He was screaming. That was real scary. You could tell he was in a lot of pain.”
Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, left his seat in the stands, and Al Campanis, vice president of player personnel, left the press box to join the cluster of players, coaches and trainers gathered around Guerrero.
“Of course, I was scared,” said Guerrero, adding that he knew immediately the injury was serious.
“I told them (the Dodger trainers), but they said no, probably to make me feel better,” Guerrero said. “But I knew right away.”
Guerrero was lifted onto the stretcher by teammates and taken away by ambulance. Bill Madlock, one of several Dodgers taking batting practice on an adjacent field, heard the sirens and thought the injured player was pitcher Orel Hershiser, who was struck in the right side by a line drive hit by Atlanta’s Dale Murphy in the top of the same inning.
Hershiser, however, remained in the game until the third inning, before departing for the trainers’ room. His injury was diagnosed as a bruised rib by Dr. Michael Mellman, who said Hershiser should be out just a couple of days.
Guerrero’s injury, while serious, is not career-threatening, Jobe said.
“It’s something that can be fixed,” Jobe said. “And when it is fixed, it should be a better knee than if it were a ligament tear.
“We’re going to try to repair the tendon, reattach the tendon to the bone, get it all back in place as best we can.”
Dodger first-base coach Manny Mota, a native of the Dominican Republic as is Guerrero, accompanied Guerrero to the hospital here and was present when Jobe informed Guerrero of the severity of the injury, news that Guerrero received with tears.
After Guerrero’s leg was placed in a splint, Mota wheeled the player out in a wheelchair and into a car, which Jobe drove back to Dodgertown. Guerrero called his wife, Denise, from Manager Tom Lasorda’s office. Teammates were joined by Atlanta shortstop Rafael Ramirez, a hometown friend of Guerrero, in offering sympathy.
“I think it’s incredible,” Guerrero said softly to reporters before boarding the Dodgers’ flight home. “Last game, the first inning. It happened so quick.”
In May, 1977, while playing for Albuquerque, Guerrero severely broke his left ankle on a slide into second base while attempting to break up a double play. On Aug. 21, 1980, he suffered ligament damage in his left knee while sliding into second on a pickoff play.
For some time, Guerrero switched to sliding head-first, but had to all but abandon that practice after jamming his shoulder persistently.
Two years ago, he said, he changed shoes, switching to plastic spikes. “I’m not afraid to slide with them,” he said.
But here, he has been wearing metal spikes.
“Here, the field is hard. It’s kind of hard for me to turn on these (the plastic spikes),” Guerrero said.
“The thing to do is not to slide,” he added.
For most of the spring, he was able to do so. The first slide he attempted all spring, Guerrero said, had came the day before.
“When I got to the dugout, some guys said, ‘goldang, you slid too close to the base,’ ” Guerrero said.
Guerrero’s leg will be immobilized in a cast for approximately six weeks after the operation, Jobe said. Even while in the cast, he said, Guerrero will begin a strengthening program to keep the muscles from atrophying.
“After that, we’ll place him on an intensive program to build up his muscles so he’ll be able to play after healing takes place,” Jobe said.
“It takes more than a year for the tendon tissue to heal from maximum stress. Some people say it takes two years. But I hope it will be good enough for him to be able to play in three or four months.”
Guerrero had just returned Tuesday evening from the Dominican Republic, where he had gone on personal business. He was the last Dodger to arrive in camp and doesn’t hide his dislike for spring training.
“But I was ready,” Guerrero said. “Even though I hadn’t played much . . . probably some of you guys (reporters) had that in your minds, but I was ready.
“I was in the best condition that I could be. I weighed 197, and I play at 197, 196. The way I was swinging, my timing was good; the only thing was my wrist (sprained last September) was bothering me a little bit, but I didn’t think it would keep me out of the lineup. The pain was different.
“I felt I was in perfect condition. I was running good, throwing good, swinging the bat good.”
Now, he would do none of those things. Someone asked if he had doubts that he’d ever be able to play again.
“I just hope I can come back and not have any problems,” he said. “I try not to put anything in my mind before the operation. I don’t want to go crazy now.”
Now, until at least July, the Dodgers are faced with surviving without Guerrero, who led the team in home runs (33) and average (.320) and led the league in slugging percentage (.577) and on-base percentage (.422) in 1985.
“Somebody’s going to have to pick up the slack,” Lasorda said after meeting with his coaches after the game. “Somebody’s going to have to pick up his bat. We still feel we’re going to win, even with him out.”
With Guerrero out, Lasorda said left field will be shared by Williams, an extra outfielder who was going to platoon in center field with Landreaux, and Stubbs, who figured to go back to Albuquerque for another season after Greg Brock rebuffed his challenge for the first-base job.
Albuquerque Manager Terry Collins said Stubbs played some left field last season and a good deal of outfield in 1984.
“He’ll do fine,” Collins said. “He can run and he can catch the ball. His throwing arm isn’t much, but if he hits, he’ll do well.”
If Stubbs doesn’t hit, the Dodgers may be forced to look outside the organization. Among the outfielders available at the moment are well-traveled Cesar Cedeno, just let go by Toronto, and Rudy Law, an ex-Dodger released by the Chicago White Sox.
“If Stubbs is ever going to become a big leaguer and play, it will be now,” scouting director Ben Wade said.
“This is his opportunity, and I think he’ll take it.”
It’s one thing, however, to make the big leagues. It’s another to replace Guerrero.
“It’s impossible to fill Pete’s shoes,” catcher Mike Scioscia said. “But we’re too good a team to rely on one man. We’re just going to have to make do without Pete.
” . . . I hope we’re strong enough not to be hurt too badly.”
With the loss of Guerrero’s power, Madlock said the Dodgers will have to alter their style.
“I’m just going to have to hit 30,” Madlock said with a wry smile.
“We’re going to have to shore up our defense, and run more. We’re not going to be able to get as many quick runs anymore--a walk, an error and boom, a three-run home run.
“But there ain’t anybody going to feel sorry for us around the West (Division). I think this is going to be a four-team race. There’s some good ballclubs with good players.
“I always said this race would be so tight that one man can make the difference. Right now, that man is Pete.
“We’re just going to have to play hard every day like he’s not coming back. If he comes back, it’s a bonus.”