clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Don't expect too much from Andy Dirks when he returns to Tigers

Back surgery, when it comes to professional athletes, doesn't always have a happy ending. Here's hoping that's not the case with half of the Tigers' presumed left-field platoon.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The high-scoring forward sped down the right wing and, at the top of the face-off circle, blistered a slap shot that cleanly beat the goaltender on the far side. The winger raised his stick in triumph as the crowd roared and the stadium shook.

Mickey Redmond, Detroit Red Wings right wing extraordinaire, had just scored his 50th goal of the 1973-74 season. The date was March 23. The beaten goalie was Ed Giacomin of the New York Rangers. The venue was Olympia Stadium.

It was the second straight season that Redmond hit the then-revered 50-goal milestone. The author, 10 years old, was in attendance that night and I can still see the goal play out in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

Redmond was 26 and he was one of the most prolific goal scorers in the NHL.

Then, the next year, his back popped.

It was initially thought to be nothing more than a nagging injury, but it knocked Redmond out for more than half of the 1974-75 campaign. His reign as the Red Wings' 50-goal scorer was taken over by left winger Danny Grant.

Redmond tried but had a devil of a time shaking the back injury in preparation for the 1975-76 season. But it eventually loosened up and he got into some games.

Finally, in late-January of 1976, Redmond could no longer stand the pain. The Red Wings shut him down, though there was a disagreement between Redmond and coach/GM Alex Delvecchio about the severity of the injury.

Mickey Redmond was done, never to play again in the NHL. He was 28 years old. A comeback attempt in 1979 lasted a couple of days of training camp. Television beckoned. Maybe, Redmond thought, a career could be forged blabbing into a microphone.

Backs are funny things, and I don't mean ha-ha.

Remember the sight of Rick Mahorn lying on his stomach, rather than sitting on the bench, when he wasn't in games as a Pistons Bad Boy? The unusual posture was best for Mahorn's trick back.

Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks is, reportedly, about to begin a rehab assignment that is designed to put him closer to rejoining the Tigers, perhaps sometime around the All-Star Break. The rehab is the culmination of his recovery from lower back surgery that he underwent in March.

Dirks' bat and glove are already being penciled into the Tigers lineup with zeal by fans who are begging for a left-handed hitting alternative in left field, despite the unexpected success of righty-swinging J.D. Martinez.

It is assumed by the Tigers faithful that, once cleared after his rehab assignment, Andy Dirks will step into the lineup and start producing like nothing ever happened to him.

Good luck with that.

Aside from the usual worries, such as bat timing and getting one's sea legs under him, Dirks has a lower back injury from which he has been recovering.

And backs don't always do what you want them to do.

A back injury, as Redmond would attest, can be miserable, unyielding and enormously frustrating. You think you're clear — weeks and even months can go by without pain or discomfort. Then, one day, you can't get out of bed.

This isn't to rain on anyone's parade, but reality sometimes needs to slap some folks in the face, like that after shave commercial from back in the day.

Dirks may be fine in his return to the Tigers next month, if all goes according to schedule. He may indeed pick up his career where it left off. That would be wonderful.

But Dirks may also find it difficult to feel like himself on a day-to-day basis. He might walk gingerly into the Tigers clubhouse one day, then bound in with vim and vigor the next.

The possible inconsistency in how he feels physically will certainly impact his performance on the field.

It's a reality that fans must face, sooner rather than later.

This isn't opinion.

You don't necessarily get off the table from back surgery, start working out and everything is OK.

Millions of Americans suffer from some sort of back pain, whether constant or intermittent. Maybe you, reading this, have a trick back. If so, you know what it can be like.

One of our esteemed co-managing editors, Al Beaton, knows back surgery all too well.

On a recent episode of "The Knee Jerks" podcast that Big Al co-hosts with me, I put it to him bluntly, because I know how much he has suffered with back pain, especially after surgery.

"Is it realistic to think that Andy Dirks will necessarily return from back surgery without a hitch?" I asked him in so many words.

Big Al said no, it wasn't.

The hope here, of course, is that Dirks will return to his baseball career with normalcy and without any long-term effects from his back surgery. That's first and foremost. Anything he is able to give the Tigers this season is secondary to that hope.

But don't be too disappointed if, for the rest of the season, Dirks has to take occasional days off to rest his still-tender back. And don't be surprised if we don't see a true facsimile of the Dirks of old until 2015.