Chris Carpenter’s Career Does NOT Have to be Over

If you’re a Major League Baseball fan I’m sure you have heard the news. If you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I’m positive you have heard the news. In case you are neither, it was announced last week that Cardinals’ pitcher Chris Carpenter may have thrown his last pitch in the Majors due to a condition known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)

It seems as though the overwhelming sentiment throughout the the media, and perhaps throughout the Cardinals’ organization, is that TOS is some sort of incurable disease, and that if Carpenter even looks at a baseball again his arm might fall off.

That’s simply not true.

What is true, is that if Carpenter doesn’t address the underlying cause of the TOS, his career will be over, and sadly, his career will be remembered more for what he didn’t do on the pitching mound, than what he did do. And that’s a tragedy, because Chris Carpenter was one of the all-time great big-game pitchers. His postseason statistics are mind-boggling and rank with some of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. Simply put, the guy is a stud.

However, arm problems aren’t anything new for Carpenter. Far from it, actually. Over the course of his career, Carpenter has dealt with arm problems countless times.

His career is all the more remarkable considering the amount of time he spent on the disabled list due to various shoulder, elbow and nerve injuries. He missed most of 2002, all of 2003, most of 2007 and 2008, and then last year’s season that was limited to three regular-season starts.

Carpenter phoned (Cardinals’ General Manager John) Mozeliak on Friday and told him that after trying to throw off a mound, the nerve injury was back, this time including numbness in his right arm, even bruising on his shoulder and hand.

“After speaking with him on the phone you certainly get a sense that he’s more concerned about life after baseball,” Mozeliak said.

Carpenter was a clubhouse force, a no-nonsense presence who set an example of grit and toughness. Consider 2012: He was written off as lost for the season after the nerve injury first emerged during spring training.

But in July, Carpenter had radical surgery that included removal of a rib, and it worked — he pitched three games down the stretch to help St. Louis earn the final NL wild card spot.

Hmm…he had a rib removed, yet he’s still in rough shape. His arm was bruised and numb after throwing, yet the procedure “worked” and was deemed successful. Interesting. It’s clear I have a very different definition of “successful.”

It should be noted that the article quotes Carpenter as saying that, “the nerve injury was back,” because I don’t think the nerve injury every went away. If the cause of the TOS hasn’t been addressed, then the effect was never truly impacted…it had simply been masked.

Let’s think about this in terms of a car. If you have a bald tire you would, no doubt, get it replaced. However, would you get a new tire on your car and not doing anything to fix the misalignment that caused the balding in the first place? Of course not!

However, if you chose to ignore the alignment, and the new tire started going bald six months later, wouldn’t you know exactly why the same problem was happening again? I think it’s safe to assume you’d be able to figure it out pretty quickly. The key is in the alignment. When you choose to ignore the alignment, you set yourself up for the same problem to reoccur. 

The body is no different. The key is in the alignment. Carpenter doesn’t have anything inherently wrong with his shoulder. I don’t think he has a “bad” joint, and I don’t believe that baseball is to blame. I think he has an extremely compromised shoulder position. The TOS is simply his body’s way of alerting him to that fact. His shoulder position is compromised, and his nerves are being impinged. Pretty simply, really. The photo below gives us a brief snapshot as to what’s going on with his shoulders. Notice how his left shoulder is higher than his right. Also notice how his jersey is pulling down and in on the right side (as seen in the folds/creases in his jersey). This indicates internal rotation of his right shoulder.

Carpenter STL

While that picture proves that his shoulder joint is in a compromised position (depressed and internally rotated when compared to his left shoulder), we also have to look at the bigger picture. There’s no doubt in my mind that his hips mostly likely aren’t functioning as designed and that his knees and feet point out to the side, rather than pointing straight ahead. He has had numerous surgeries and procedures, but nothing has been done to address the shoulder position.

Remember, the key is in the alignment. 

I understand Carpenter’s concern for his long-term health. If I was in his shoes, I’d probably be more-than-a-little concerned if my arm was numb and my shoulder was bruised after throwing. But regardless of whether he ever pitches again, the cause of the TOS has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed for his quality of life. Carpenter has young kids, and I know they’ll want to play catch with their dad one day. What then?

QUESTION: What has your experience with TOS been?