The Opposable, Not Disposable Thumb


Little Jack Horner

Sat in the corner, eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum...

Just to take our minds off the train wreck that the 2010 season has become, I'm going to tangent into just what made Aramis Ramirez so miserable this year. His left thumb injury (diagnosed as a deep bone bruise) may or not have been related to his season long slump or it just may have prevented him from coming out of it as the weather warmed up. He's been 'missing', even when present for most of 2010 which is somewhat different than his absence last season, starting on May 9th, 2009 from what happened at a similar point in the season, when he dislocated his left shoulder diving for a ball on May 8th in Milwaukee.

From a Gordon Wittenmeyer, Sun-Times article:

Ramirez, mired in a two-month slump, first hurt the hand on a swing-and-miss May 9 in Cincinnati. When it got worse two weeks later, the Cubs considered putting him on the DL, ''but I didn't want to do it because I thought I was good enough to play,'' said Ramirez, who got a cortisone shot instead. Manipulating his bat handle to take pressure off the top of the left hand also didn't work because it was uncomfortable, he said.

''This is the right time to do it. This is the right thing to do,'' he said.

He'll be eligible to return June 23 in Seattle, but a return then is anything but certain considering the down time that'll require before he is even allowed to resume normal baseball activities.

Supposedly, his injury was a deep bone bruise. I have not read any reports about an injured ligament. He has tried to play through the soreness but his thumb kept getting re-traumatized from his attempts at hitting. He didn't want to go on the DL until it was clear he couldn't shake the injury.

This does remind me of the way the Cubs handled Soriano's knee problems last year. Supposedly Soriano's knee was injured around April 22nd but he/they kept playing him with an injury that wasn't dramatic enough to take him out of the lineup. It took months of underperformance compared to his career stats (.241/.303/.423/.726 vs. .278/.327/ .511/.838) to  finally acknowledge it was his knee that was the problem. Maybe they learned something, since it took only a month of struggling with this Ramirez injury before he hit the DL vs. Soriano's 4 month struggle. I believe that some of these situations develop because a team can not put a player on the DL unless he agrees or the team gets the medical staff to document that it's not medically advisable for a player to be on the field. Hockey-like warrior mentality doesn't seem to work in modern baseball, at least not as far as the Cubs are concerned.

The opposable thumb may have been, regarding humanity, the single most important evolutionary development.

When the hands developed dexterity advantages, that freed the front limbs from four limb gait. The opposable thumb literally gripped the development of tools, hence civilization and...dare I ultimately conclude, Baseball.

An animal species is said to have opposable thumbs if the thumb is capable of bending in such a way that it can touch all the other digits on the hand. Most species do not have opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs are a signature feature of the primate family, and played a large role in the ancient humans' invention and use of tools.

Thumb anatomy is unique when using comparative anatomy to the other fingers and certainly the human big toe. The thumb can be rotated (opposed) from around 50 degrees at rest to as much as 110 degrees of rotation when in a position of opposition against the other digits.

There are unique sets of muscles and tendons (abductor, adductor, flexor, opponens and interosseus of the thumb) that accomplish thumb opposition. This is a complex of movements that include what is called pronation, radial deviation and adduction/abduction and specific muscles match the individual movements required. The bones at the base of the thumb (first metacarpal, trapezoid and trapezium and proximal to them, the carpal navicular/scaphoid bone) have developed to accomplish this opposible movement and the type of joint is called a sellar joint.

Thumb functions include pinch and grasp but the rotation that opposition creates makes it possible to make grip have advanced functionality. There are three types of pinch grips, key (digit side by side, as in holding a key), tip (the end of the digit, where opposition is possible) and palmar pinch (thumbless grasp).Two aspects of grip help hold a baseball bat, span grip and power grip.

There are many common injuries around the thumb. A bone bruise is just what the term sounds like, it's not a fracture but the injury to the bone involves damaged bone cells without structural disruption. A fracture implies there is a definable structural crack/disruption that bridges one of the bones of the thumb (first metacarpal, proximal and distal phalanx). There are many fracture patterns and if a fracture involves an adjacent joint (CMC, MCP or IP joints), it usually is a more serious problem. If an X-Ray shows a fracture, an MRI isn't often needed but when the X-Ray is normal an MRI can be very helpful. Nowadays, MRI imaging can see signal changes in a bone and adjacent soft tissues (ligaments, joint capsule and tendons) that indicate there is damage to the bone and/or soft tissues. Even a bone bruise sets off a healing reaction until the bone structure returns to normal, essentially a "fracture-lite", but still painful and can last many weeks. Other significant thumb injuries involve soft tissue damage. One well known injury is called Gamekeepers Thumb. It involves a torn or stretched ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpal-phalangeal joint or MCP joint (at the base of the web space, the thumb equivalent of the Tommy John elbow injury). This can be treated conservatively unless the ligament is fully torn or significantly stretched so that the thumb pinch activities become painful. There are surgical repair/reconstruction options when that situation is diagnosed (watch out if you are squeemish, this link is a surgical video).

So when one compares small joint/bone injuries to big joints, Aramis Ramirez has got them covered. If his thumb becomes a lingering problem, the sellar joint of his thumb just might be a major cause of the Cubs entering a seller market.


Jack Horner is missing a finger. Clearly a highly touted Cub prospect waiting a call up from Iowa.

"The opposable thumb may have been, regarding humanity, the single most important evolutionary development."

That was one thing that pissed me off about the movie District 9. The aliens had claws. How the hell do you build stuff if you have claws? Even if they found a way, I bet they were lousy baseball players.

@CarrieMuskat: #Cubs lineup Sun nite is 2b riot, rf colvin, cf byrd, 1b lee, lf sori, 3b tracy, c hill, ss castro, p lilly

webcam, streets look wet (4:15pm) but no umbrellas

WGN weather says thunderstorms...

well if you can't beat ', postpone the game?

CarrieMuskat: #Cubs manager Lou Piniella says time is right to have Tyler Colvin play and "we want to see this kid in the lineup more."

...who is "we", Lou and Stoney?

he's been saying that for 2 months now...

That maybe true Rob, but come on, let me get this straight. Steve Stone comes out and BLASTS Lou for not playing Colvin. Lou blasts right back, essentially saying Stoney has no idea what he's talking about because he's never managed. Lou then proceeds THE NEXT DAY to start Colvin and talk about how Colvin is going to see some more pt because he's earned it.... Somewhere Steve Stone is laughing to himself, and I don't blame him.

again... lou has been saying this for 2 months. one game does not make a trend.

Ya easy for Lou to say on a day it looks like they may get rained out.

Ironic...By a wide margin MLB players say Jim Joyce is the best Ump.
The worst? C.B. Bucknor and Joe "the hook" West.

they were talking about it on XM radio and it was something like Joe West just has a huge attitude and a jerk, but Bucknor tries hard and is nice and all, but he's just a terrible ump.

I'm not sure which is worse...

Aaron Heilman gets one step closer to being the Dbacks closer as Qualls blows another save.

Jake Fox DFA'd.

Relive the humor of the comments the day he was traded.

That shit's funny.

With all that was going on with Fox and Miles, my only comment in the whole post was about how Chad Gaudin's wife or girlfriend was smuggling midgets! DOH!!

Your legacy will not be forgotten

How much does ESPN wish they had flex scheduling and could have picked the Nats/Indians game for tonight?

Lou get canned tomorrow on an off-day if Cubs get swept?

even if they win?


Not in your wildest dreams. That said, I too am beginning to believe it's time. I tell you what though, I'd just as soon see Lee, Sori and Fuk gone in July and dust off my 'Wait Till Next Year' T-shirt...(and actually, throw in Z while I'm rebuilding, I'm sick of head cases).

Actually trying to think about the Lou thing for a minute. IF the Rickettses are such huge fans of the game, they no doubt have seen and heard the unwritten rule about managers, that if you fire one sometime mid-season the team often goes on a miraculous tear. That'd also be a lot quicker and easier (although more expensive) than trading the guys I listed above (if that'd even be possible, which it may not).

Makes me wonder just how safe Lou's job may (or may not) be right now.......

(Does anyone have Eric Wedge's number? Or does Ryno take over mid season? They don't go with Trammel, do they??)

Rob, I don't know if you have the game on, but Jon Miller is making wanna go all MB on his ass...

what a game...

what near-Cubbery....

That was a excellent game.

As we get closer to deadline could the cubs ask Lilly about
extension before they try to trade him.

Lilly scares me a lot. I don't really understand how he's pitched well the last year or so. Seems to have lost a lot of velocity, and the changeup and curve don't impress me as much either. They'd be better off just seeing what they can get, I think, and being happy that they managed to have him under contract for the best years of his career.

Hendry should be on the phone tomorrow trying to trade Lilly. Especially since Jimbo doesn't seem to understand the arbitration/draft pick thing very well. He could try 1-800-RANGERS. I live in Austin, TX and also follow the Rangers in passing. They really need some pitching, surprise, Harden is on the DL and isn't really fitting into the Nolan Ryan mantra of pitching deep into games.

Recent comments

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  • The Cubs had some good runs and nice winning streaks that propelled them to the playoffs. Austin Jackson wasn't part of that. I don't quite understand what it is about Jackson that they are so enamored with.

  • I think the strike zone was very inconsistent, but it's hard to blame the loss on the ump. They had chances and mistake pitches and just couldn't cash in. Lackey ran the ball inside and outside very effectively.

  • Correct. Castro 5th, AJax 6th; I'll edit my lineup post to fix this.

  • Lineup: Fowler, Soler, KB, Rizzo, Castro, AJax, Montero, Hendricks, Russell

  • if he put ajax 1st/2nd in the f'n playoffs he deserves to lose his nearly sure-thing MOY award to terry collins.

  • I believe Castro batting fifth, Ajax (LF) sixth

  • Maddon did not listen to me yesterday re Strop, or EricS on Schwarbs today.

    Wtf is up w/that?!

  • Crunch got his wish - Ajax not hitting 1-2 in the lineup ...

  • I know he's struggles against lefties but Schwarber seems zoned in - hope he starts tonight.

  • Awesome stuff, Phil.

  • listening on ESPN 1000, caller says Bill Welke will be the home plate ump today. Supposedly his reputation is for having an even bigger strike zone than last night's Phil Cuzzi. Some of the issues with bad umpiring come from an inconsistent strike zone. Hoping at least for consistency. Last night's called strike on David Ross was outright embarrassing for Cuzzi.

    That might work out in favor of Kyle Hendricks, who benefits much from a large strike zone.

  • it's kind of mesmerizing to watch
    should Theo add some Ted Abernathy videos for minor league pitching coordinator's use?

    sadly, Ted passed away in 2004 from complications of Alzheimers. I always loved the Cub bullpen trio of Phil Regan, Ted Abernathy and Hank Aguirre. As a kid, I even worked on both Phil Regan (very quirky delivery) and Ted Abernathy (extreme submarine) imitations when throwing a rubber ball against a wall. It wasn't a good imitation unless I could scrape my knuckles off the ground. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for submariners.

  • HAGSAG: Chris Pieters was sent to instructs to develop his hitting, bunting, and outfield play (he is already a decent first-baseman).  

    Pieters is tall and rangy , a "long-strider" in the same mold as Trey Martin and Rashad Crawford. He is a very patient hitter (unusual for a hitter with his lack of experience) and has an outstanding (almost uncanny) eye at the plate, and he is a fast runner with unusually good baserunning instincts, and he is a good basestealer, too.

  • I doubt we will see Pedro in any more "high leverage" situations this series. With Hendricks and the pen today, we need Bryant-Rizzo-Castro to get going ASAP.

  • One funny thing to see before the game was the two submariner pitchers (David Berg and Corbin Hoffner) playing catch with each other. Both pitchers throw "submarine" even when they play catch, and it's kind of mesmerizing to watch, even for the other players. 

  • CUBSTER: One of the points of emphasis  at "basic" Instructs this year was teaching the position players the art of baserunning and base-stealing, like getting a good primary and seconday lead, reading the pitcher, cutting bases sharply, and different ways to slide to maximize the baserunner's chance to arrive safely.