A Comeback Story or a Comeback Surgery?

By Jennifer Williams

Reviewed By Cynthia Amis

The Yankees Franchise has earned itself 27 World Series Titles, making it one of the best baseball franchises of all time. Some of the greatest players in the world have played with the team, including Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Yogi Berra. These sorts of facts are the things that come to mind when you think about the Bronx Bombers, but that does not mean they are without their fair share of controversy.

A recent example of this can be seen with Bartolo Colon, a thirty seven year old pitcher on the Yankee’s roster. Colon looked to be at the end of his career in 2010 as he did not throw one pitch in the season due to a long line of injuries. Now, suddenly Colon is a top pitcher for the Yankee’s and his fastball often registers around 93 mph. His strikeouts per game are up considerably, and just to paint a clearer picture, he is striking out a batter per inning. This is all good for Colon and even better for the Yankees but throw in there that his season was recently flagged due to a shredded rotator cuff and torn ligament, something seems a little off. Forgive me for saying so, but I have never though of a pitcher’s arm as being one of those things that ‘gets better with age.’ So the question has to be asked, why the sudden improvement?

Well, maybe Colon’s doctor in Florida can take a little bit of the credit. Colon underwent a medical procedure in 2010, which involved fat and bone marrow stem cells being injected into his injured shoulder and elbow- his pitching arm coincidentally. Colon’s doctor has claimed that he did not use human growth hormone (HGH) in the process, which is good as Major League Baseball bans it. However, it should be pointed out that this same doctor has used HGH in this same procedure with other patients. That should make you wonder or at least raise an eyebrow. While Colon’s doctor defends his reputation and states he would never give a baseball player HGH, Colon can be recorded throwing a fast ball over 90 mph at 37 years old.

If HGH was used, then it seems there is a little bit of a problem. In 2009, Major League Baseball announced more stringent rules regarding the use of performance-enhancing drugs. The integrity of the game of baseball has been called into question as it came to surface that greats like Barry Bonds may be using steroids as well as HGH. Therefore, to save this integrity for the game as well as those great players who have the agility to play the game without any performance-enhancing drugs, Major League Baseball has come down hard on players and added changes to some of the rules of the game. The agreement states that:

  • there will be year-round testing for steroids for all players;
  • there will also be off-season testing;
  • Major League Baseball is expanding its list of banned substances to include HGH;
  • First-time offenders will be suspended for ten days without pay. Second-time offenders will be suspended for 30 days. A third offense will bring a 60-day suspension. A fourth offense would mean a one-year suspension.

This means that Colon could be facing suspension and as for his doctor, well he probably is not taking any comfort in light of the preceding cases on the issue. In October 2011, a federal grand jury indicted a Canadian doctor on charges of providing numerous professional athletes with HGH.

If no HGH was used in the procedure then you must accept that Colon’s performance enhancement is due solely to the fat and bone marrow stem cells and because baseball has taken great strides in recent years to limit and ban performance-enhancing drugs, a conflict arises. You have to wonder if stem cell surgery on its own is a problem to be reckoned with. Assuming no HGH was given to Colon, you cannot deny that the stem cell surgery has worked miracles in his pitching.  Similarly, you also cannot deny that already banned substances like steroids will also work miracles in an athlete’s ability. So will stem cell surgery be left off the list of banned substances simply because it has the word surgery in it, or will the MLB have to revise its rules again? Whatever the solution may be, it seems clear that Major League Baseball is not immune to the rapid need to change and update the laws that run the game.

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