NAME: Ron Belliard
TEAM: Milwaukee Brewers
POSITION: Second Base
INJURY: Dislocated Thumb
OTHER ATHLETES AFFECTED
Basketball: Charlie Ward, New York Knicks -- non-displaced fracture of right little finger.
Hockey: Pierre Turgeon, St. Louis Blues -- torn thumb ligament.
Baseball: Mark Grace, Chicago Cubs -- broken bone at the top of right middle finger; Pokey Reese, Cincinnati Reds -- strained right ring finger.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The hustle that helped Belliard nail down the Brewers' second-base job in his rookie season last year led to the thumb injury that placed him on the disabled list for five weeks. Belliard dislocated his thumb on March 12 when he was hit by the ball while making a spectacular catch of a foul pop-up in practice.
Belliard was named the Milwaukee Brewers' Rookie of the Year for 1999. Although he began the season in AAA, he finished among the top National League rookies in almost every offensive category: batting average (1st), runs batted in (6th), multi-hit games (4th), runs (6th), hits (4th), total bases (5th), doubles (2nd), triples (tied for 3rd), hitting streaks (tied for 5th), walks (1st), on-base percentage (1st), slugging percentage (3rd), and extra base hits (4th). The 24-year-old second baseman played in 124 games, and his fielding percentage was .845.
WHAT'S INVOLVED IN FINGER AND THUMB INJURIES?
Because they are so exposed, fingers take a beating in sports. With its outside location and "support" role, the thumb is particularly prone to injury. "Fingers are basically bone, tendon, and skin," says Susan Scott, MD, a member of the Association of Professional Team Physicians and a hand and wrist specialist for the New York Knicks and Rangers. "There is very little fat to cushion them from impact."
Each finger has three bones, or phalanges -- the distal (fingertip), middle, and proximal (the part attached to the rest of the hand) -- stabilized by ligaments and tendons. When the finger receives a blow to the tip, the ligaments and tendons can be stretched and torn, and one or more of three joints can be injured: the distal interphalangeal (or DIP; the first knuckle), proximal interphalangeal (or PIP; the middle knuckle), and metacarpophalangeal (MCP; the knuckle at the base of the finger). The PIP joint is the most commonly injured area, since it more exposed than the others and has a larger arc of motion and flexibility. With a dislocation, the joints are out of alignment.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
Precautionary X-rays are often taken to check for fractures. With a dislocation, a physician will often manually realign the joints. When the joints can't be realigned on the field, surgery may be required. Placing ice on the injury and elevating it initially will help the swelling go down. Although a soft cast can be placed on the thumb, it isn't always necessary. Since the thumbs are very important in baseball, taping it to the adjoining index finger is not generally done. Padding the thumb, if it's on the glove hand, is an option. When the injury is on the throwing hand, as in Belliard's case, rest is the best option.
Most finger injuries are unavoidable. Precautions include wearing padding and taping fingers together when possible.
Belliard was placed on the DL for five weeks, but within a week of the injury he was already fielding ground balls.
Belliard is expected to recover fully.