illustration by Samara Pearlstein
The usual disclaimers apply here. I’m not a medical professional or anything approaching one, there are exceptions to everything, your personal shoulder experience may vary, don’t play with matches, etc.
For all the diagrams here, blue will be the scapula, which is your shoulderblade, one those 2 big flat bones on your back; red will be the clavicle, which is your collarbone; and yellow will be various ligaments. In the top diagram I’ve included the coraco-acromial ligament, which connects two different bits of the scapula, but in most of the other diagrams I’ve omitted this ligament just to keep things clear. Obviously these views are also lacking muscle and other tendons and pockets of cushioning liquid and other bones and so on, also for ease of viewing comprehension. All these illustrations are by me, natch.
Our business here is with the acromioclavicular joint, circled in white up top there. There are two bulgy blue bits that you should know. The lower bulge, where the tendons attach, is the part of the scapula called the coracoid process. The blue bulgy bit of the scapula coming up to our joint of concern (where the blue and red bones meet) is called the acromium, and it’s part of the scapula that sticks out in the back, like so:
So that’s a back view; your backbone would be to the left. That’s just to give you an idea of what we’re looking at with this joint. It’s the bit where the collarbone meets the shoulderblade. The AC joint is used to help rotate the arm up above the shoulder, and it obviously anchors the collarbone (which in turn anchors the muscles attached to the collarbone) in place. It’s not the worst place a pitcher could be injured when it comes to the shoulder (I reckon the rotator cuff would be a lot worse), but it’s not something Zoom can just grit his teeth and work through.
What happened here? Joel Zumaya was busy moving boxes in his parents’ house when suddenly one of the boxes ferociously attacked, leaping down from the shelf above him with the terrible rage of a thousand Ozzie Guillens. Roar of the Tigers has an exclusive reenactment of the tragic event:
Why, you ask, was Zoom moving boxes? He lives in San Diego with his parents in the offseason, and the area where they live is currently under voluntary evacuation orders due to the wildfires (not mandatory). The Zumayas, as near as I can tell, have NOT evacuated as of this moment, but Zoom’s father wanted some things moved out of the attic just in case they had to evacuate at some point in the future. Having a broken leg, he couldn’t do it himself, so he asked his sons to do it. Zoom went to move a box, somehow (??) unaware that there was a larger, heavier (50-80 lbs!) box on top of it, which decided it didn’t like the look of him, and came down right onto his shoulder.
Now, the surgery Zoom needed is called AC joint reconstruction. AC (acromioclavicular) joint disruption is NOT an injury generally seen in baseball players, because it’s an impact injury, not a strain injury. It’s much more common in a sport where you’re supposed to be smashing into people (football, hockey) or when you’re pretty likely to take a sharp dive directly onto your shoulder (soccer, biking). There isn’t much basis for comparison when it comes to recovery time for pitchers.
The Detroit News says that Ken Caminiti had an acromioclavicular injury*, but his was graded 3, which is severe but not as bad as it could be. AC joint injuries are graded 1-5, with 1 being a slight displacement and 5 being the worst, with the collarbone way out of joint, causing a big lump on the shoulder, and possibly all kinds of ligament rippage, plus who knows what kind of muscular damage.
Zoom graded out at 5, of course, because cats forbid he get anything less than the absolute worst he could. Hardcore.
Here you can see how a break of the AC joint can cause things to get displaced all to hell. It should also be pretty easy to now visualize what you’d have to do to fix an injury like this. The collarbone has to be put back into place and held there until it heals, and the ligaments have to be repaired. Obviously it’ll take a while for all that stuff to settle back down and reconnect properly. Zoom doesn’t expect to be throwing again until at least July, although he does expect to get his velocity back fully… ‘though, like I said, there’s little basis for comparison, so everyone’s kind of guessing here based on similar-ish cases.
As I said in the initial post, this is the third injury Zoom’s had in 2 seasons that will cause him to miss significant time. The finger tendon explosion thing was part freak accident, part velocity-obsessed pitcher gripping the ball too hard and not even realizing it. The Guitar Hero injury was purely stupid. I don’t even care if it was MOSTLY caused by gripping the ball too hard as well; the fact remains that the team asked him to stop playing the freaking game and he didn’t until he was actually hurt…. DURING a World Series.
Of course this injury is going to recall shades of both. On the one hand, it’s definitely a freak accident. I’m sure most of us have had stuff fall on our heads when we’re trying to get things down from high shelves before (although I don’t think I’ve ever missed the presence of a 50-80 lb box sitting there… might just be me). On the other hand, we’ve had evidence of Zoom’s invincibility complex before (to be fair, I would say most baseball players have this. Probably even most young men overall). We want to believe that he’s going to be responsible about his arm, but when the guy refuses to stop playing a video game despite team concern that it’s hurting him, we have to wonder.
In any event, we now need a closer for at least the first half of the season, possibly beyond, depending on how well/if Zoom comes back from this. Remember that he will have, between the time missed for the finger tendon and this, spent more time NOT pitching recently than otherwise. Do we really want to spend another season with Todd Jones nervously steering his way through the last inning? Egads.
* The Detroit News article refers to injuries to Zoom’s shoulder tendons (connecting muscle to bone). I’m pretty sure they mean ligaments (connecting bone to bone), because those are most commonly involves in AC joint injuries, but I’m not positive on that.