ST. LOUIS — Left-handed reliever Ken Dayley, who underwent major elbow surgery, has turned a season of doubt into a season of personal triumph.
Dayley surprised everyone, including himself, by posting some impressive numbers for the St. Louis Cardinals this year after undergoing the surgery many team officials feared would end his career.
Dayley was operated on last October to repair damaged ligaments on the inside of his left elbow and to transfer nerves near the joint.
"A pitcher takes throwing for granted, just like other people take breathing, for example," Dayley said. "You never think about it until you have a problem."
The operation is experimental with few having it and even fewer coming back to pitch. Tommy John is considered a role model but even John took two years to return to form.
"I was concerned, sure, because I use my arm for a living," Dayley said. "But it wasn't a hard decision. I had to have it."
Through Sept. 1, Dayley had an 8-4 record, with the number of victories a career high. He had retired 73%--147 of 201--of the batters he faced. His earned-run average was 2.20 in 49 innings.
After a good season in 1985 when the Cardinals won the National League pennant, Dayley got off to a rough start last year. He allowed a run or more in eight of his first 11 appearances. But he turned things around on May 21 and pitched well until the day before the All-Star break.
"It (his left arm) had been hurting me," Dayley said. "It was like a twinge and then sharp pain. I couldn't straighten it out. I remember I was in San Diego and I struck out Tony Gwynn to end the eighth inning but I couldn't go back and pitch the ninth."
The Cardinals put Dayley on the disabled list and he missed the rest of the season.
"It was tough to miss that much of the season but the team was 20 or 25 games out so there wasn't that kind of stress or strain than if I was in there," Dayley said. "In that regard, it wasn't too bad. It would be tough to miss this year because of the kind of season we're having. We have basically a lot of the guys from '85 when we won and we're doing it again. It's satisfying."
Dr. Frank Jobe performed the surgery on Dayley in October.
"He took a tendon from my right wrist and put it in the elbow," Dayley said. "He reinforced it and transfered some nerves. It was something I had to have so I went for it. There weren't any second thoughts. I didn't want to do like I did last year and pitch with pain and then have to sit out a few days before being able to pitch again."
Dayley said he had some nervous moments during his rehabilitation.
"I had no idea if I'd pitch again since Tommy John is about the only one who's had any real success after the operation," he said. "Everyone loses velocity on the ball, but I haven't. In that regard, my arm has just been phenomenal."
Dayley has thrown consistently around 88 m.p.h., the same as before the injury.
"I can get it up to 90 once in a while," he said.
Dayley started the season on the disabled list but proceeded in his rehabilitation faster than expected and pitched in May in Atlanta against his old teammates.
"Sure I was nervous but I wanted to see what I could do," he said. "It was time to find out. It was an important night for me."
Thereafter, Dayley was brought along slowly and then inserted full-time into bullpen duty.
"I didn't set any goals or anything," he said. "I just wanted to pitch again. To be able to do that is hard to put into words. It's been a good season. It's one I'm thoroughly enjoying. We're in a race for the division and I like our chances. I'm just glad to be around to take part in it."