Brantley has been forced to watch most of the 2016 season from the sidelines.
Indians fans spent much of 2016 anxiously awaiting Michael Brantley’s return from last winter’s shoulder surgery. I can’t count how many times I said “and when we finally get Brantley back, it will be like adding a star outfielder via trade!” Even though he managed to be back with the major league club by April, Brantley appeared in just 11 games before he returned to the disabled list before the middle of May. After that, Indians fans waited. And waited. And waited. Until Brantley was forced to have a second shoulder surgery in mid-August, effectively ending his 2016 season. At the time the team said they expected him to make a full recovery in four months, meaning that he’d likely be ready in time for spring training 2017.
However, Jon Heyman published an article on Today’s Knuckleball entitled “Indians’ Brantley could miss significant time in 2017.” In this article, Heyman said that the surgery was more serious than previously portrayed, and could result in Brantley missing part of next season as well. At the time of the surgery, the Indians said that Brantley had a procedure entitled “bicep tenodesis” that lasted just 45 minutes; during the surgery, the doctor proclaimed that the rest of the shoulder joint looked good. In Heyman’s report from Thursday, his source said that “they had to re-anchor the muscle to the bone” during Brantley’s surgery – which obviously sounds much more serious than the description released by the Indians back in August.
Local Indians writers had reported the original version of events…they never implied it was more serious than the Indians initially claimed. Plain Dealer reporter Dennis Manoloff was on 92.3 the Fan discussing Brantley and the story by Heyman. During the interview, Manoloff was clear that the Indians never gave any indication that Brantley wouldn’t be ready to go in four months. He also mentioned that despite the Indians originally saying that Brantley would likely only miss a month or two of the 2016 season, that Peter Gammons said Brantley may be out for a more significant amount of time in 2016 (which ended up being closer to the truth). Manoloff questioned whether or not the Indians were floating something to national writers to lower fan expectations about Brantley’s recovery time (just in case it was longer than four months). He ended up suggesting that the Indians needed to clarify this, and say whether or not they had kept local writers in the dark. Perhaps even get the doctor that performed the surgery involved to help debunk this.
Jordan Bastian from MLB.com actually talked to Brantley about these varying reports. After hearing about Heyman’s report, Brantley joked “Man, maybe he knows something I don’t.” Bastian added, “As he left the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park, Brantley then joked that he would see everyone next August.” From this report, I guess we can deduce one of three things – Brantley is telling the truth, Brantley is a very good liar, or that somehow Brantley isn’t aware of just how serious the situation was/is.
Which brings me to a thought I had while I was reading all of this back-and-forth today (and it’s actually something that has been rattling around in my brain for a while now). How much of an athlete’s personal medical records should be public? Thanks to HIPAA laws (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) patient records are private, unless the patient grants permission for someone to share their health records. Do athletes completely waive that? What if they wanted to keep a portion of their medical records private?
Let’s look at Matt Harvey, pitcher for the New York Mets. Last spring, he had an undisclosed medical condition that caused a mass panic among Mets fans. Is something wrong with his arm? Will he miss significant time? The team kept stressing that it was a private issue, and Harvey will return and be fine in the very near future. It turns out that Harvey had a bladder infection and had passed a blood clot due to the infection. If anyone still wondered why Harvey wanted to keep this private, they just had to look at the headline in the New York Post – “Matt Harvey relief: Medical scare was just a pee-pee problem.” The article honestly started with this line: “Now Matt Harvey must become the MV-Pee” and also included gems like “[Harvey’s condition] caus[ed] a mild panic among the fan base, but that initial fear was replaced by a steady stream of relief.”
Even though it seems terrible to force a player to share private medical records, they have a very public job that is based on their ability to stay healthy (and they are paid quite handsomely for that job). The other side of this argument is that they’re also human beings, who deserve a right to privacy when it’s a very sensitive medical issue (like Harvey’s bladder infection, something that wouldn’t necessarily negatively impact his ability to play baseball long term). It also makes me wonder about a player’s decision-making power when it comes to treatment for an injury. What happens if a team and a player happen to come to an impasse about what is the best procedure/treatment, both of which could be supported by doctors? For example, I’m thinking specifically of players that may have an elbow issue, where surgery and rest are both viable options. Does the team have the right to force a player to have surgery if he doesn’t want to? His salary is a huge investment for the team, but you’re also talking about a player’s health and well being. It’s a complex situation, and there may not be a clear answer here.
So I guess my point in all of this is to say that Brantley is supposed to be ready in four months. However, we thought he would be back by the All Star Break this year, and that never happened. While there are all of these conflicting reports, as fans, do we have a right to this information if Brantley (and/or the team) wants to keep it private? We may not know the answer to this until we see Brantley in uniform and on the field with the team in Goodyear…or we don’t.