25 Years Later: Whatever Happened to Henry Rowengartner?
With Opening Day right around the corner, I think we should all take a moment to reflect on the Chicago Cubs’ most epic, mythical, reality-bending, mind-boggling run in baseball history.
I am talking, of course, about Henry Rowengartner and his magical arm that led the Cubs toward a captivating NL East title in the beloved baseball classic Rookie of the Year. Rosenbarter’s (Rowengartner!) run to ROY remains one of the national past-time’s most legendary strings of dominance. By my count, Rullenverter gave up precisely one run, picked off more baserunners than Jon Lester, didn’t walk a single batter, and struck out at least one thousand batters (all stats based off my 2nd grade memory and reviewing the 2 minute trailer on YouTube, The Cubs Won?). Rabinbuser did this against the best competition in the world, and did it while using a single pitch. His 100 mph fastball was the stuff of legends. And, like many legends, it’s a complete fabrication.
Rosinbagger’s path to The Show is attached to the theory that his arm healed in an abnormal way. After sustaining a fall onto his outstretched arm, Henry is put into a cast that holds his arm in the “cocked position.” After removing the cast, his doctor asks him to rotate his arm. Gardenhoser produces a rapid acceleration unlike anything the world has ever seen! The doctor gives the reasonable explanation that his tendons must have “healed a little tight.”
Naturally, this begs the question: why doesn’t every big league pitcher spend their winter in a cast? Forget weighted throws, long toss, and bullpen sessions…Let’s break some arms!
As a physical therapist it is my duty to inform the general public that this movie’s medical dramatization is, to say the least, a little funky (butt lovin).
- The injury Rullengruder sustained was a common injury called a fall on an outstretched hand (or, FOOSH, for short). When he fell, his arm was behind his body, meaning he most likely would have sustained a dislocated shoulder, rotator cuff tear or glenoid labrum tear. This injury would most likely have required surgery, in order to repair these critical structures responsible for creating the stability needed for overhand pitching.
- Let’s talk about that cast for a minute. Runamocker is shown with his arm casted in the cocked position. Nobody should ever, ever be casted like this. Ever. This cast would have placed his arm in a position that would reduce blood flow to his arm, straining his muscles and ligaments, and placed unnecessary pressure on his nerves. Due to lack of blood flow, critical structures in Roosterbockers arm would have slowly died off. Basically, I’m saying little Henry would have learn to throw speed balls with his opposite arm since the other one would have been amputated.
- In reality, after his surgery, he would have most likely been placed in a sling that would keep his arm in a neutral position. This would serve to reduce pressure on his healing shoulder joint and allow for improved blood flow. Likely, Henry would have been restricted in which directions he could move his arm. No amount of “hot ice” would have allowed him to strike out Barry Bonds.
- Henry is then shown going from a casted injury to throwing pressure-packed innings against MLB talent. Despite RobinBurger adhering to the The Three R’s (readiness, recuperation, conditioning, ) one of the most common consequences of prolonged casting is muscle wasting, also known as muscle atrophy. When muscles are not able to move, the body begins to break them down. Muscles that are left in a shortened position are even more susceptible to quick breakdown. In Rollenbooger’s case, the external rotators of his shoulder would have been left in a permanently shortened position, causing them to atrophy. These muscles are part of the group known as the rotator cuff, a group of muscles that, you guessed it, rotate the arm. Any weakness in this group would cause him to lose velocity, stability, rotation and would place him at a high risk of re-injury.
- Tendons that “healed a little tight,” don’t lead to a 100 mph fastball, they lead to prolonged dysfunction and significant range of motion loss. Tendons are designed to withstand heavy loading, stretch to a certain point, and then return to their normal length. Tendons that are “a little tight,” are unable to withstand the loads like a healthy tendon. If they remain tight, they are much more likely to rupture. Think of how often pitchers get shut down for rotator cuff tears. Now, think of Henry throwing well past his Little League pitch count on a dysfunctional tendon.
- Lastly, Rollengruder is shown falling on his shoulder again during the big game, which leads his arm to return to “normal.” Studies shown that trauma to a previous injured area are likely to result in a more catastrophic injury. Basically, we are supposed to accept that his tendons tore, healed too short, and then were traumatized to a normal length again by falling on his shoulder. Typically, physical therapists who recommend this technique for breaking up scar tissue have a low compliance rate.
While Rollenschwarger’s ROY campaign may seem innocent at first, it misses the boat completely on sound medical practice. In the event you succumb to a major injury, seek medical assistance immediately. Always follow your medical professional’s recommendations and protocols. Be patient in recovery. And, never believe any movie that ends with the Cubs winning the big game. That would never happen.
* This article was written by Dustin Jesberger, licensed PT, DPT who works at React Physical Therapy in Chicago. He recommends having tendons heal at a good length, advocates for a progressive return to sporting activities, and tries to avoid having his patients use falls for recovery. A die-hard Cleveland Indians fan, he has an extensive collection of 2016 American League Champions gear.
*Special shout-out to Kevin Martin, PT, DPT for the assist.