Hammonds has surgery to stabilize knee

October 12, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Even if Major League Baseball resumes in time to celebrate Opening Day 1995, fleet Orioles right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds might not be in the lineup.

Seeking to stabilize a right knee that troubled him throughout much of the 1994 season, Hammonds underwent anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery yesterday in Birmingham, Ala.

Hammonds, 23, tore the ACL six years ago playing high school football and never had it repaired, which essentially caused the ligament to disappear over time. Hammonds could have opted to continue playing without an ACL, but with the interest of long-term stability in mind, he decided to confront the problem now.

In yesterday's procedure, orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews constructed a substitute ACL out of the central third of the patellar tendon of the knee. The surgery means that Hammonds will play the remainder of his career with a substitute ACL, rather than no ACL.

Andrews' aggressive prognosis calls for Hammonds to be ready for spring training, according to the Orioles. But a slower recovery could result in Hammonds missing up to half the season.

"Given modern techniques and rehabilitation, the prognosis is for a speedy recovery," said Hammonds' California-based agent, Jeff Moorad. "It's likely Jeff would be ready to go during spring training."

If not, Moorad cautioned, nobody should panic.

"This was a decision that was made in the interest of Jeffrey's long-term baseball career," Moorad said. "Should he take awhile to get back to full speed in spring training, none of the parties involved view that as a detriment, given that this surgery is going to better prepare his knee for the balance of his career."

Faced with the possibility of having the surgery done in May, Hammonds and the physicians who examined him -- Orioles orthopedist Dr. Michael Jacobs, then Andrews -- agreed to take the conservative approach, then reassess the progress, which enabled Hammonds to play until the strike ended the season Aug. 12.

Hammonds missed six weeks of the season after suffering a strained medial collateral ligament taking indoor batting practice early May. Shortly after the injury, there was speculation that having an ACL-deficient knee might have overloaded the rest of Hammonds' knee.

After returning, Hammonds was able to play nearly on a daily basis but said the knee didn't feel quite right. After weighing the risks of the surgery (less than 5 percent of patients encounter serious complications) against the benefits, Hammonds decided to have the operation.

The surgery, more common among football players, generally requires from four to eight months of rehabilitation for patients who do not experience serious complications.

The 1994 media guide of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society defines the ACL thusly: "A primary stabilizing ligament within the center of the knee joint that prevents hyper-extension and excessive rotation of the joint. A complete tear of the ACL necessitating reconstruction could require up to 12 months of rehabilitation."

Atlanta Braves infielder Chipper Jones is considered a model of success for the procedure.

He suffered a torn ACL in mid-March, underwent a pre-op conditioning period, had the surgery in mid-April, and was taking batting practice by midseason. The Braves even were hopeful they might be able to activate Jones for a September stretch run, if there had been one.

Chicago White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in an outfield collision on April 21, 1992, and was lost for the season. He returned to play 134 games with a career-high 23 doubles in 1993, though his range in the field appeared to decline some.

Many patients who undergo ACL reconstruction do not regain full speed, however slight the decline.

A spring training return is an ambitious estimate. A more pessimistic outlook would have Hammonds returning in midseason, which could sway the Orioles toward signing a free-agent outfielder, should labor conditions allow for such movement.

"The doctor seemed very optimistic," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said. "The report was very good. From every indication, he'll be ready for spring training."

With Mike Devereaux on his way out of the organization and Hammonds recovering from knee surgery, the only regular outfielder the Orioles can count on being ready is Brady Anderson, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Orioles will sign a free agent.

"We do have some outfield depth in the organization, for one thing," Hemond said. "Then with the encouraging report, we're looking forward to Jeffrey being right in the thick of it."

Why didn't Hammonds, who hit .296 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 68 games last season, have surgery as soon as the season was pronounced over?

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