12/20/2013 11:14 A.M. ET
A View From Studio 3: Madson takes grueling road back
Righty underwent Tommy John surgery in '12 and has been fighting to return ever since
By Matt Yallof / MLB.com
He remembers the intensity and the emotional exhaustion of losing a five-game National League Division Series to the Cardinals. His legs felt like Jello. His tongue was hanging out. Ryan Madson had just thrown the final pitch of the season for the Phillies. It was October 7, 2011.
Madson hasn't appeared in the Majors since that day.
The rigors of a long, grueling and dramatic campaign had taken their toll. He was exhausted. But other than experiencing "dead arm" from fatigue, the right-hander was healthy. While the 2011 season ended in bitter disappointment, the Phillies closer was a few weeks away, it seemed, from cashing in on the free-agent market as a premier closer.
Then, things went terribly wrong.
"I've learned what the bottom is, and I'm not scared of it." Madson told me this week. "It was the bottom of not only my career, but my life."
Two years after Madson -- and much of the baseball world -- thought his agent, Scott Boras, had a multiyear contract in place to remain in Philadelphia, the deal fell apart. For Madson, it was shocking and confusing.
"Out of the blue [the deal] blew up," Madson said. "I wanted answers, but I was getting two different stories. I never got to the bottom of exactly what happened."
Madson doesn't hold any grudges. "It wasn't meant to be," he said.
The nightmare was just beginning. Madson wound up with a one-year contract to pitch for the Reds. But before he threw a regular-season pitch for Cincinnati, his elbow blew out. It happened during a Spring Training bullpen session, when his ulnar collateral ligament was torn completely off the bone.
Tommy John surgery followed. So did the realization that no player is guaranteed a smooth and successful recovery. Madson's elbow had miles on it, a decade's worth of Major League miles. He needed time to get back. Yet hard work and patience was not enough.
"I had so much hands-on treatment," Madson said. "It wasn't anybody's fault or lack of trying."
After the 2012 season, the Los Angeles Angels gave Madson a contract. But he never played in a single game for the Halos. His disappointment was sky high. In August, the Angels cut him loose.
Many pitchers are back to dominating big leagues hitters 18 months after surgery, but Madson was still looking for answers and healing. The famous Dr. James Andrews got involved in the recovery. The MRI was clean. More time, patience and a platelet rich plasma injection were prescribed.
Next stop: Arizona. Madson set off for a training facility where he aggressively rehabbed for four months. In the process, he's added strength and 20 pounds to a once-lanky 6-foot-6 frame. In addition to improving his physical state, he started to believe that he would once again pitch in the big leagues.
"I remember sitting down, there was nobody around," Madson said. "I just sat there and made the decision: Whatever anyone wants me to do, I'll do it. I'm not going to skimp it. That way, I can tell my kids I did everything I could to continue."
While setting an example for his children, Madson was also testing his inner strength. He called it a "spiritual moment."
Madson's next big moment will likely take place in late January or early February when he throws off of a mound and truly tests his elbow at full strength. Right now, he's limited to 10-minute throwing sessions at a distance of 90 feet. He does this four days a week. Major League teams have watched these sessions and have shown interest in his services. The next few months will be telling.
There are a couple of goals on the docket. One is to join an established big league bullpen in which the roles are clearly defined. The other is to avoid a repeat performance of the Angels situation in which a team expected a contribution and got nothing in return.
In a worst-case scenario, Madson won't make it back to competing at the highest level -- a possibility he has considered. He even joked that he's "had a lot of time to think about it." If that reality comes to pass, his plan is clearly defined. In fact, Madson has a jump-start on a possible second career.
The former World Series champion teaches kids in his hometown of Temecula, Calif. He teaches them how to pitch. And how to deal with life's ups and downs.
He's a perfect teacher, for an imperfect situation.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.