Edmonds’ Surgery Might Have Lasting Effect


Another week and another barrage of injuries. Lewis Yocum, the Angels’ team physician and one of baseball’s busiest surgeons, pauses long enough to call it the basic “wear and tear in a game of attrition.”

Now Barry Bonds has been lost to the San Francisco Giants for 2 1/2 months, a severe test for miracle worker Dusty Baker.

Jim Edmonds has been lost to the Angels for four months, maybe the season, perhaps forever.


There may be too much history to think the Angels will retain Edmonds in the new millennium.

I am mystified by the generally nameless, faceless comments that come out of the Angel clubhouse regarding the center fielder.

I find it hard to understand how a two-time Gold Glove winner, a human highlight film on defense, a productive hitter who has slugged 25 or more home runs in each of the last four years and who played 154 games last year after having surgery on both knees, can be portrayed as a guy who doesn’t care, doesn’t accept responsibility--as even Mo Vaughn, who has yet to play in the same regular-season lineup with Edmonds, suggested.

How strange. It was Edmonds who hit .340 and drove in 20 runs last September when the Angels were otherwise gagging down the stretch, but it was Edmonds who seemingly became the focal point of his teammates’ frustration for his perceived lack of interest and casual comments.

Now he is being pasted again for failing to have Thursday’s shoulder surgery done last winter, which might have left him 100% for the start of the season.

Well, even Edmonds wishes he’d had it earlier--a natural reaction when confronted by the reality that it now couldn’t be put off--but he had played with the condition for several years, thought he could continue to get through it with weight work (Angel players have even questioned how Edmonds could be lifting at a time when his shoulder was ailing) and was reluctant to have another surgery so soon after his knee surgeries.

“This has been the same issue for three years in a row,” said Paul Cohen, Edmonds’ agent. “The Angels knew about the condition, Dr. Yocum knew about it, Jim knew about it. At no time during the three years did anyone from the club call to say Jim should have the surgery now, but now he’s being second-guessed for not having it sooner.”

Cohen said he was so disturbed by the rekindled criticism that he considered issuing a press release on Edmonds’ behalf.

Instead, he said, he took solace from calls he received during the last week from more than half a dozen general managers who told him “they love the way Jim plays and can’t understand how he could be portrayed the way he has been.”

“Knowing Jim’s shoulder is as bad as it is even speaks more highly of the way he has played. He’s never asked for accolades when he’s diving for balls or running into walls, but he never thought his heart would be questioned. He has a carefree personality, I won’t argue that, but I’d challenge anyone to suggest he’s given less than 100%.

“The way I look at it, talk is cheap. Give me production. There was a lot of talk in September, but it was Jim who produced.”

Make no mistake: There’s frustration talking on both sides.

The Angels know the expectations aren’t going to change, that shortstop Gary DiSarcina is out until midseason and among eight players on their disabled list and what Edmonds could bring to the table if he’d had that operation in October.

That he didn’t is hard for the grinders on this team to accept.

The immediate fallout for Edmonds hits harder than the rhetoric.

He will not get the required plate appearances to have his 2000 option vest at $4.65 million.

The Angels will have the option of picking it up or letting Edmonds become a free agent with the club getting nothing in return.

It is too early to predict the October environment, but it may not be easy for Edmonds to forget what has been said.

“I still have tremendous respect for [General Manager] Bill Bavasi and the organization, but the way this has played out I think we’re going to have some interesting discussions and decisions in the off-season that may not have occurred otherwise,” Cohen said.

The extended losses of Edmonds and DiSarcina are examples of the injury toll in this already star-crossed season.

You know strange things are happening when Cal Ripken, the poster boy for durability, goes on the disabled list for the first time in his career and Bonds for only the second.

Major league teams used the disabled list 403 times last year, a loss of 22,281 work days and millions of dollars. The current lists are tantamount to an all-star team.

For Yocum, there is no one link other than it is a long season and demanding game, the stress on elbows, shoulders and knees having often been compounded by the developmental pressure from inexperienced coaches and Little League parents, producing an early erosion in those joints.

It is also a year-round process now that may result in too much exercise and too little rest, Yocum said, with that workload frequently translating to too much reliance on potentially injurious supplements (“which we don’t know enough about”) and clearly injurious steroids (“I don’t think there is overuse, but I am not naive enough to think there isn’t some use”).

In addition, in a time of increasingly sophisticated diagnostic equipment and treatment, players are more apt to agree to major procedures knowing the recovery period has been accelerated, and clubs are quicker to protect million-dollar properties, cluttering the disabled list.

Edmonds, for one, will be on it through August at least.

It will be interesting to see how those Angels, having complained enough about him, perform without him.