Hudson in uncharted territory
Second baseman's wrist injury unprecedented in baseball
PHOENIX -- Performing their due diligence while considering the signing of free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson, the Dodgers searched for another baseball player who suffered the same perilunate dislocation of the wrist, only for trainer Stan Conte to conclude, there isn't one.
The fact that Hudson was still unemployed when Spring Training began had less to do with the economy and more to do with that left wrist, which exploded internally on a freak defensive play last August. The injury he suffered is unusual in sports and unheard of in baseball. It happens occasionally in football, sometimes to rodeo cowboys, usually while reaching behind to break a backwards fall.
The Dodgers signed Hudson one week into Spring Training to a one-year contract worth somewhere between $3.38 million and $8 million, depending on how much he plays. The industry considered it a bargain, but the risk associated with his injury helps explain it.
The Dodgers took that risk only after measuring Hudson's progress in two workouts two weeks apart, but the true degree of risk is unknown because there's no precedent to help predict if Hudson's rare skills will fully return after such an ugly injury to the wrist, a body part so vital to playing baseball.
The wrist is made up of eight irregularly shaped carpal bones that fit loosely together in two rows like a jigsaw puzzle, held in place by a series of interconnected ligaments. The lunate bone is located in the center of the bottom row of bones, so its location makes it crucial in stabilizing the entire wrist.
When Hudson's glove collided with Atlanta baserunner Brian McCann as he reached for an errant throw from pitcher Juan Cruz, Hudson's hand apparently was jammed back with such violent force that the lunate bone did a 180-degree flip down and a 180-degree twist to the left, blowing out the ligaments that hold the wrist together. Additionally, the bone came to rest against the median nerve in what amounted to an excruciatingly painful carpal tunnel catastrophe.
If you know nothing else about a perilunate dislocation, just know that you don't want one. Hudson was asked, on a scale of one to 10, his degree of pain.
"A hundred," he said. "Maybe more."
Enough pain, said Hudson, that by the time he was taken into the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse, he was done. Not just for that game. Not just for that season.
"I retired," he said. "I didn't want to play again, that's how bad it was. I felt I let my team down, because I ended '07 with thumb surgery. I just wanted to walk away from the game. I was crying. I don't even want to think about it, dude."
Hudson said Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin talked him off the ledge.
"He thought he had let the team down and I just told him that we needed him to be an inspiration like he was the year before," Melvin said. "I told him we needed him to do that to get to the playoffs. The value of Orlando Hudson -- you get the Gold Glove, the switch-hitting, the offensive production -- but you get one of the better clubhouse guys, if not the best I've ever had. We had a lot of young guys and he was a big part of their development."
The three-time Gold Glover and former All-Star required emergency surgery by Dr. Michael Lee that night to return the bone to its proper location. Two days later, Dr. Don Sheridan inserted five pins to stabilize the bones, and anchor sutures to reattach the ligaments.
Hudson rehabbed tenaciously back home in South Carolina, but when he was able to resume baseball activities, he discovered real limitations. He started batting right-handed in December, but lacked the top-hand strength to hit left-handed until January.
Admittedly, his left-handed swing currently lacks the aggression of his right-handed swing, although he showed improvement Tuesday against his former Diamondbacks teammates with a hit-and-run single and a sharp liner to center. This spring, Hudson is 3-for-16 with four strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
"Left-handed, it's still a little trying, but it's coming," Hudson said.
Hudson reports full range of motion when he bends the wrist downward and side to side. But he has trouble bending his wrist upward and it is not expected to improve with time. Try catching a baseball with a glove on a hand that can't bend up. Hudson taught himself how, by cushioning the impact of the throw by allowing his entire left arm to "give" when the ball reaches the glove.
"I may not get any more range of motion than what it is now, but I can play," Hudson said. "I've figured out what I can do and what I can't, and I've compensated for what I can't do. I can't catch normally or it's so painful I can't play. But God has helped me work it out."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.