Yankees trainer Steve Donohue and manager Joe Girardi attend to injured former RailRiders outfielder Dustin Fowler in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday night in Chicago as teammates Tyler Wade (39) and Jacoby Ellsbury look on. Fowler suffered a rupture of his right patellar tendon in a collision with a railing while chasing down a fly ball and will miss the rest of the season. Associated Press photo.
I don’t get WPIX. Thank God. I planned to rewatch the Yankees-White Sox game from Thursday night this morning on either YES Network or through the MLB package. But, I won’t now. I can’t. Not knowing what happened to Dustin Fowler.
When you’re lying in bed at quarter after 11 and you hear nonstop text messages coming in and you’re a reporter, you know something bad probably happened. My colleague Conor Foley let me know it was Fowler and a collision with a wall. Seemed so cruel. So, someone tweeted the video to me. Seemed so bad.
“Open rupture of the patellar tendon,” Conor would text me a little while later. “The Victor Cruz injury.”
For old folks like me, though, it will always be the Wendell Davis injury.
Many of you who follow me in Scranton might now that I cover college football when I’m not at the ballpark, which is a lot more often recently. So, I’ve seen my share of devastating injuries. A Penn State linebacker who played his high school ball in the Scranton area, a supreme talent named Nyeem Wartman-White, blew out his knee in the season opener against Temple in 2015 covering a punt and, last year, blew the other one out in the third game against Temple, again covering a punt. That will stick with me forever. The kind of thing that makes you think someone is not destined to do what he appears born to do. That’s the type of deal that really makes you wonder, something difficult to get past even for someone watching on the outside.
I don’t recall covering another athlete that ruptured his patellar tendon, although the injury is more common I guess in football. It’s the Cruz injury, sure. The Saints had a really tremendous young center, LeCharles Bentley, who suffered the injury in 2006. He never came back. Cadillac Williams had it, and while he returned to play, he was never the same. Ditto for former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, who retired partly because of it.
Davis was a receiver for the Chicago Bears in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and a pretty decent one too. But I remember him, and I remember the injury, because it’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen live on an athletic field. It was 1993, at the old Veterans Stadium in Philly. The Vet was a dump heap, and the field was actually worse than the accommodations for the fans. It was Astroturf, and it was tackier in some spots than in others. Seemed like, at times, the turf would just grab players’ cleats and not let go.
Davis ran a post pattern in that Oct. 10, 1993 game. The Bears quarterback, some guy named Jim Harbaugh, threw it his way. Davis attempted to make a play on it and just…collapsed. He looked like he was about to leap for the ball, never quite made it off the ground, then fell immediately backward. Like 10 snipers hit him at the same time with bullets. He just fell, splayed out awkwardly, unable to move, tears welling in his eyes as the sun beat down. Ruptured the patellar tendons in BOTH his knees, on one play.
“I looked,” he told the New York Daily News years later, “and basically saw that I had no kneecaps.”
You can look that one up on Youtube if you want. But that’s the standard-bearer for awful injuries, for me.
Davis never played another down in a meaningful game. The good thing for Fowler is that this happened almost 25 years ago. Medicine has changed. The way they treat these injuries surgically has changed. Back then, ACL injuries were devastating, close-to-career-ending ordeals. Now, they stink, but you can legitimately come back and have a career. Same with a ruptured patellar tendon, although it seems to depend on the player. Cruz came back, but he hasn’t been the same. Guys like Morris Claiborne, Patrick Robinson and Nate Allen were able to get back and be productive.
Football, it must be said here, is a very different game than baseball, obviously. It has very different demands on the body. So, it’s folly to even compare Fowler with a guy like Cruz, outside of the fact that the injury is the same. But, there have been a few baseball players in recent memory who have had to go through the process, to some degree.
The really good news for Fowler: They all came back.
Perhaps the most famous previous one-play patellar tendon tear is Garrett Richards, the one-time Angels ace who blew his out covering first base in a game at Fenway Park in August of 2014. The timetable for Richards’ return was six-to-nine months, and he was actually on the mound April 19, 2015 for the Angels against Houston. He did make 32 starts for them that season, even though he has proven to be injury-prone since.
Jason Grilli, the former Blue Jays reliever, tore his in spring training 2010 and missed the entire season, but he was pitching again the next spring training with the Phillies.
“It’s terrible. It hurts. And, it’s fixable,” he told MLB.com of his injury.
The closest injury I could find experienced by an outfielder happened to Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez. In August of 2014, CarGo was shut down because of knee pain, which doctors found during surgery to be attributable to a torn patellar tendon.
Now, I don’t know if a ruptured patellar tendon is different than a torn one. I imagine it is, because it seems like Gonzalez was about to play on his for a while, and if it is, the rehab would clearly be less difficult on an injury like Gonzalez’s than Fowler’s. But for what it’s worth, Gonzalez didn’t miss spring training, and he played 153 games in 2015, hitting 40 homers.
Looking for good news here, because there are some players you meet that you genuinely like, and some frankly that you don’t jive with. And, Fowler is definitely a genuinely likable guy. I hope he returns 100 percent and learns what he can be as a professional. Nobody should get Moonlight Grahamed.
Again, Fowler is arguably the best athlete I listed among the ballplayers affected by this injury. That gives him a really good chance to get the best recovery possible. More than anything, he’s a tough kid who wants it. That should go a long way.
There are going to be a lot of ifs and hopes going forward though. When manager Joe Girardi described it as a long, tedious rehab, that’s right. No matter the sport, that’s the immediate future for players who rupture their patellar tendons. You can find out much more than a guy like me knows about this particular injury by doing some research, and this is a good place to start.
All I really know is, this stinks.
Thursday should have been the best day of Dustin Fowler’s life. The kid got called up, learned he made the International League All-Star team, made his big-league debut and that should have been it. But, it ended on an operating table in Chicago, with an uncertain future ahead.