Chris Sale Having Elective Surgery During a Pandemic Seems Wrong

Essential or not, Tommy John surgery uses up valuable masks, gowns and gloves that doctors need

Chris Sale Elective Surgery
Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox pitches during a team workout.
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty
By Evan Bleier / March 31, 2020 2:38 pm

On Monday night, the Red Sox announced on Twitter that pitcher Chris Sale underwent successful Tommy John surgery on his left elbow at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles earlier in the day.

Under normal circumstances, the only thing to question about such a piece of news would be why the Red Sox waited until the end of March for Sale to have an elective procedure it was obvious he would need after being shut down for the rest of season by the team in mid-August.

But as a look out the window, glance at the television or gander at the odd collection of the items in the pantry makes crystal clear, the circumstances in the world are not normal right now.

Given the current pandemic, it seems completely fair to question whether Sale should have had his surgery at all.

First of all, whether it should have been deemed “essential” or not in a legal sense— which is somewhat of a grey area — Sale’s surgery was certainly not performed to correct a life-threatening issue.

The doctor who performed Sale’s surgery, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, told the San Francisco Chronicle last week that operations like Tommy John are necessary nonetheless.

“I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods,” ElAttrache told the paper. “If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure.”

But, in Sale’s case, that isn’t even true.

Given that Sale is a pitcher in Major League Baseball and will be paid the balance of his fully-guaranteed $160 million contract no matter how much or how well he pitches over the next five seasons, the operation wasn’t even necessary to preserve Sale’s ability to provide for himself and his family.

The only advantage for Sale to have the surgery — which comes with a 14- or 15-month recovery period — sooner rather than later is that it will get him back on the mound quicker for the Red Sox.

While it’s certainly understandable the team wants to ensure Sale is back in the middle of the 2021 MLB season, that really doesn’t seem like much of priority in a world where 2020 is in serious jeopardy.

None of this is to say that the out-patient surgery pulled a doctor away from treating patients suffering from COVID-19 or even took up space in a hospital for an extended period of time.

But there’s no arguing that it used up valuable masks, gowns and gloves that doctors working across the country in New York City would have been glad to have.

It’s not Sale’s fault. The Red Sox have a small fortune invested in him and he was likely just following team orders.

That said, the optics of him flying across the U.S. to have an elective surgical procedure he couldn’t have in the state where he plays while much of the country shelters in place and deals with travel restrictions are not good.

If his life or his livelihood were in danger, that’d be a different story. But they weren’t, and Sale and the Sox should have held off on his Tommy John operation.

Hell, even Mr. Tommy John himself, Dr. James Andrews, agrees.

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