Photo Credit: Blackngold29, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
My uncle had rotator cuff surgery a couple years ago. He is also British. Joey Votto has one thing in common with my uncle.
On Friday morning, surgeons operated on Votto’s 38-year-old left shoulder to repair a torn tendon. During the procedure, Votto’s bicep tendon was also repaired. The same thing happened to my uncle. That’s two things they have in common.
For those unfamiliar with rotator cuff surgery, this isn’t some quick, in-and-out, we-started-at-11:15am-but-we’ll-be-ready-for-lunch-at-noon, procedure. There are two common varieties of rotator cuff surgery: debridement and repair.
Debridement is a fancy word for a shoulder clean-up. This process is far less invasive and typically requires significantly less recovery time. This procedure does leave the tendon relatively weakened, but with proper rehabilitation and preparation, many athletes can expect to make a full recovery. This is not what Joey Votto, or my uncle, had.
During a rotator cuff repair, the damaged tendon is literally sewn back together. It’s pretty hardcore stuff. This is what Joey Votto had, plus an extra helping of bicep work. Just like my uncle.
Rehabilitation won’t be easy. This isn’t like recovering from a broken arm or a pulled hamstring. In my uncle’s case, he can never do push-ups again. He has weight restrictions for certain exercises. In the early stages of his rehab, he was working with a six-ounce can of tomato paste.
He was also 73 at the time. Votto will turn 39 on September 10. (Also, my dad’s birthday! Happy pre-Birthday, Dad!) For Votto, his outlook is much better.
Votto has always been the type of player who looks for every possible advantage, tweaking everything from his approach to his batting stance - even his walk-up music. He leaves no stone unturned. If any ballplayer can overcome a major operation like rotator cuff surgery at 39, it’s Joey Votto.
Still, there’s cause for concern. As remarkable a career as Votto has had, he has been on a steep decline over the past four seasons. Over his first twelve years in the league, Votto batted .311 and reached base in nearly 43% of his at-bats. He led the majors in on-base percentage three times. In the four years since (including his now-over 2022 season), Votto has batted .246 and reached base in less than 36% of his at-bats.
But here’s the good news: Votto said this injury happened a while ago, so it’s likely his poor performance this season is a direct result of the discomfort he’s been feeling. It might sound scary that Votto and the Reds seemingly didn’t know about the bicep damage, but now that’s fixed too.
While he’s no spring chicken, Votto also isn’t a senior getting surgery, either. He’s also in outstanding shape compared to any man, not just my uncle (or myself, for that matter). In terms of being the kind of person who can overcome a major operation and continue to play baseball at a high-level, Votto fits the bill.
There’s more good news. Although any kind of shoulder procedure can be threatening to a baseball player’s career, Votto may be in the best position to overcome those odds, both literally and figuratively. Luckily, he's a right-handed thrower. Furthermore, as the designated hitter rule has now expanded to the National League, Votto won’t be needed in the field that much anyway.
Maybe most importantly, as a left-handed batter, Votto’s right arm will actually be doing most of the straining/torquing. His left arm’s responsibilities, while not insignificant, are mostly for stability and guidance. He has a lot going for him.
With that said, this surgery, as I’ll keep repeating, is no joke. Many professional baseball players who have undergone this significant of an operation did not return to their previous level of performance. Many more never returned at all.
That doesn’t have to be Votto. He’s one of the greatest hitters of his generation. He’s got a great case for the Hall of Fame. He is undoubtedly one of the five greatest players in Reds’ history. For Votto, this is just another challenge to tinker with, to study, to dissect. He’s got this thing handled and Bob’s your uncle.