PIERRE LaBOSSIERE COLUMN: The painful hassle of mallet finger

Pierre LaBossiere

Yay, I have something in common with Russell Wilson.

When Wilson injured his finger against the L.A. Rams last week, NBC showed a close-up of his finger, prompting everyone in the Barhop to audibly groan. I immediately pointed at the television and proclaimed, “That’s a ruptured tendon!”

People thought I was being a Debbie Downer and asked me how I knew. I replied, “Oh, I know — trust me.”

Many years ago, I had the exact same injury as Wilson. And that is exactly how my finger looked afterward.

Mine was an especially dumb injury. It was baseball practice and I was playing my usual third base. Our left fielder yelled “incoming,” and threw a ball in from the outfield. I turned to catch the throw, then a second later, someone from home plate screamed at me, “heads up!”

I turned to see what they were yelling about. Someone taking batting practice had just hit a 90-mph line drive directly at my head. I had a split-second to react and I reacted purely with instinct. I caught the throw from the outfield with my glove and decided to be a tough guy and simultaneously catch the line drive with my bare hand like Omar Vizquel.

I actually caught both balls. And I immediately said, “Why did I do that?” I should have just ducked. The line-drive ball hit my finger wrong. I looked at my right hand and saw the ring finger bent upward at the knuckle, then back down and 30 degrees to the left.

It was bent exactly like Wilson’s finger. I knew it was broken. I had also dislocated the knuckle and ruptured the tendon that basically holds the whole finger together. I guess when there is no tendon left in the finger, it just kind of curls up. It’s called a mallet finger, and it’s a very common baseball injury.

I had to laugh the day after the Rams game when coach Pete Carroll said, “Russ sprained it a little.” Nope, I knew Carroll was being his usual cagey self. It was a mallet finger and a ruptured tendon, and I knew there was no way he could possibly throw a football with it. So when the news came out a day or two later about a ruptured tendon, I was the least surprised person on the Olympic Peninsula.

I didn’t get surgery, pins and plates like Wilson did. The clinic in Friday Harbor just put it back in joint and put a splint on it and said it should be fine in a few weeks — because I wasn’t being paid $30 million a year to throw pinpoint back-shoulder passes in the NFL.

The finger stopped hurting in two or three weeks, but it has always been bent to the left, and there is still to this day a weird hollow spot where my final knuckle should be.

The missing tendon is the worst of it. I had to use a finger brace for years to keep playing baseball and hockey. I also used to shoot a camera with a heavy lens. For years, I had to wear that brace just to be able to hold a camera.

Thirty years later, the finger is fine other than it always feels a bit numb. I never got the tendon replaced. Sometimes it hurts from note-taking. It also tends to dislocate easily. Sometimes just lifting a heavy box will do it. It’s not as gross as the pinkie next door that I broke in several places in a car wreck in the late ’80s.

It’s a funny thing to be able to relate to a professional athlete for having a similar injury and knowing exactly how it feels. I’m sure with surgery, Wilson will be fine in a few weeks. He probably won’t be 100 percent until next year. And I know it has to be incredibly frustrating for him that, with an otherwise healthy body, it’s a finger that put him on the IR. It’s like baseball pitchers that go on the IL with blisters. A quarterback has to be able to grip and throw a football with a spiral.

I can’t wait to meet him someday so we can compare fingers.

________

Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at [email protected]

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