Remembering Mets History: (1988) Bobby Ojeda Slices The Finger On His Pitching Hand In A Gardening Accident

Back in 1988 Bobby Ojeda had a terrible accident at home, slicing a finger on his pitching hand.  The accident affected the Mets rotation & although they won their second NL East title in three years, they were eliminated in the NLCS, upset in seven games by the Los Angeles Dodgers of Kirk Gibson & Orel Hershiser.

The situation did not go over well with many fans & the Mets management. So why was he cutting his own hedges? What actually happened? How Did it feel? How did he get himself healthy enough to be back to pitch? In 1990 he told the story to People magazine.

Bobby Ojeda stated that just because your a ball player you don't stop living. He said he did have gardener for the big things but sometimes he did do the smaller gardening projects.

That morning around 10 am Ojeda plugged in the electric clippers and started in trimming. He was holding the trigger grip with his right hand and the guide handle with his left hand. Within seconds he lost focus, not paying attention. The blades caught a branch, pulling in his middle finger. It happened very quickly. Although they say when you go into a shock you don't feel the pain, Ojeda said, he felt lots of pain.

He looked down and didn’t see the top of his finger. It was just flopped over backwards at the first joint, hanging by a thin layer of skin. He attempted to put it back in place and hold it there, but that wasn't going to work. Blood was spurting all over—like in a horror movie he said. He then yelled for help to his wife, Ellen,saying he was in trouble.

 His wife came running out of the house barefoot. She had grabbed the car keys on her way out, and she guided him to the car. She was in no shape to drive, being very upset, in but he certainly wasn't going to operate a motor vehicle. Ellen even drove on the wrong side of the road, while blowing through red lights. To calm her down he tried to joke; “Honey, you’re going to kill me before I get to the hospital.”

And all the while he couldn’t help but think. “Why didn’t I stay in bed an extra hour?”

He was very much aware that this had happened to the middle finger of his pitching hand. His next start was scheduled for that Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals, he knew he was going to miss it.

He first went to St. Francis in Roslyn, Long Island, with a bandaged finger as his wife called the Mets’ doctors. Then He was rushed by ambulance to Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, where Dr. Richard Eaton and Dr. James Parkes and their team of specialists were waiting.

The operation took about 6½ hours.  Dr. Eaton gave him as much feeling in the finger as he could, reconnecting all the tiny blood vessels, nerves and muscle fibers. He reattached the fingertip at a 10-degree angle to help him grip the ball better. Ojeda said if it had been his right hand, they could have taken off the whole finger off

The first 48 hours after the operation were critical for the for the survival of the reattached fingertip. A nurse came in every hour, day and night, to poke the finger to see if it was still pink and healthy. She kept saying, “Looks good.” A cast had been applied immediately following the operation to protect my finger and immobilize my wrist.

Bobby O was in the hospital five days. Overall, he said he probably received about 1,000 letters and cards. I read every single one of them. Many were from people who work with their hands. Some people wrote to tell me about accidents they had had. The whole New York Philharmonic Orchestra autographed a card. Mets fan, Violinist Itzhak Perlman wrote him a great encouraging letter.

All the good wishes got him through, as he was really depressed, having flashbacks, feeling the blades slicing the finger again. But no matter how depressed he was, he felt he owed it to everyone to try to come back.

When he returned home, the gardener, had removed all of the hedges—a whole dump truck full. He felt so terrible about the accident that he just took out the whole mess.

By then the 1988 play-offs were in gear. Bobby O insisted on showing up at the games against the Los Angeles Dodgers just to sit on the bench. As he got to Shea Stadium, he needed his team mates to help him button his pants. He stated it was the most difficult thing he ever had to do in sports, feeling helpless. If he had gotten beat on the mound, he  could have lived with it more easily than having to sit and watch the Mets lose the grueling series in seven games.

There was also the strain of everyday living, luckily he had learned how to do things right handed after elbow surgery. He helped him shower, get dressed & eat.

After four weeks the cast was removed as the finger had started to heal inside and the pressure hurt. During the surgery, pins had been inserted to keep the bone still while the finger healed. About seven weeks later, the pins were removed and he started rehabilitation. Three or four times a day, doing resistance exercises, spreading his  fingers and pressing them together. All day long squeezing a ball of putty and stretching it like tally to build up strength.
He started tossing a tennis ball to get the feel of throwing again. On Nov. 18,he went to Shea Stadium to throw a baseball for the first time in public. He lied telling the media the finger felt fine.

He & Ellen headed to Visalia, California his hometown, where he spent every off-season. It was there he started the process of psyching himself up. He began to throw for 10 minutes every day, about 50 feet, but not hard. In the New Year he started throwing off the mound to his dad.He had been running three miles every other night, trying to ignore the intense throbbing
He can't recall any turning point, but eventually he was more encouraged. The nerves in the finger started to desensitize and a callus formed, so throwing didn’t hurt so much.
He went down early to spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida so that he could start training. After a couple weeks down there, it really helped his frame of mind when Mets catchers Gary Carter and Barry Lyons caught saying that they couldn’t tell any difference in his pitches

He said first he thought the fastball and sinker would be affected because he relied heavily on his middle finger to make those pitches work. Davey Johnson also promised him he would remain in the rotation & it meant everything to Ojeda.

He said back then that ordeal has made him realize how much he really loved what he did for a living. He learned never to use electric hedge clippers again.


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