Crede has surgery; season likely over
Third baseman out at least three months after procedure
PHILADELPHIA -- The news regarding Joe Crede's back surgery provided late Tuesday night sounded highly optimistic in the long term.
But Crede's back surgery certainly won't produce any help to the struggling White Sox attack for most likely the rest of the 2007 season.
After their 14th loss in 17 games, the White Sox announced that Crede underwent a successful microdiscectomy performed by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles. As described on WebMD.com, this particular procedure constitutes a removal of herniated disc material that presses on a nerve root or the spinal cord. A special microscope is used to view the disc and nerves, making it possible to complete the surgery with a smaller incision and causing less damage to the surrounding tissue.
According to a team spokesman, Crede's sciatic nerve was moving very well after the surgery, and the healing process begins with Crede only walking for the next three or four weeks and going through no rehab during that time. He is out a minimum of three months, but there is no end time for his recovery.
About the only other remaining certainty is that Crede will be missed at the plate and especially in the field. That assertion can be made even with Crede's slow start factored in and the high expectations surrounding Josh Fields, Crede's replacement at third base.
"Last year, Joe was the [American League] Silver Slugger winner at third base," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker. "Take away a Silver Slugger third baseman, who hit 30 home runs and drove in 90-something runs, and we are going to miss him.
"But we have a pretty good option in Josh, and we are going to try to max him out. If I start dwelling on how we don't have Joe or didn't have Jim [Thome] for a while, that's dwelling on frustration, and it gets you nothing."
Known as one of the best defensive third basemen in the game since the early stages of his career, Crede came into his own offensively last season.
Crede's strength with the bat first began to show during the 2005 postseason, when he was as valuable as any position player on the roster during those 12 games. Crede hit .368 with two home runs and seven RBIs in the American League Championship Series and batted .294 with two home runs and three RBIs during the World Series sweep of Houston.
As part of his 2006 performance, earning him the Silver Slugger honor, Crede set career highs for a full season in average (.283), home runs (30), RBIs (94) and runs scored (76). This buildup did not carry over to the 2007 season, as Crede was placed on the disabled list June 6 with a .216 average, four home runs and 22 RBIs.
In hindsight, people close to Crede such as Walker could tell he was playing with pain. It was even noticeable during his batting practice sessions.
"When he took batting practice last year, opposing teams were watching, oohing and aahing," Walker said. "And it didn't happen this year. Looking back now, he took a lot of tentative swings in batting practice. It wasn't real obvious, but if you saw him every day, you knew that even his pregame work was a tick below what we had last year."
"He thought he could have played through it, but now he can't," added White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Crede. "Obviously, we need him. Believe me, I think Joe is missing [being] with us. I think that's why this kid was playing in pain, because he wanted to be part of the ballclub."
Much has been made about Crede's decision to forego back surgery during this past offseason, a procedure that probably would have left him healthy for the 2007 regular season. Crede explained how the specialists consulted at the time recommended an intensive back strengthening program, and how it had worked for him through Spring Training.
Questions will arise over the next few weeks as to why Crede waited so long for the surgery. On Tuesday, Guillen was one of those asking these questions in a roundabout manner.
"It's a shame we had to wait this long to make that happen," Guillen said. "If he did it when he was supposed to do it, than right now, we'd have a different scenario.
"In the past, you'd have a 50-50 chance to play. Now, those kinds of surgeries are easy. Get surgery, a couple months of rehab and you will be back. Some people do better. Hopefully, he'll come back before the season is over.
"I don't blame him to do it now," added Guillen, taking on a more understanding tone with Crede. "No matter what kind of surgery I was going to have, I would be scared, too."
And no matter what sort of defense Fields plays, even at his very smoothest, Crede won't be matched. It's a point Fields readily acknowledged and noted by the contact pitchers who will miss Crede possibly until the start of the 2008 season.
"I'm not going to say [Fields] is not good defensively over there," White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle said. "But I don't know if there are many guys over there as good as Crede."
"Defensively, he's never going to be Joe Crede," added Guillen, praising Crede as opposed to chastising his new starting third baseman. "I'm sorry, but I'm just being honest. Right now, Fields is a guy who will play third base the most but he's not the everyday third baseman. It's up to him how many at-bats he will get."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.