Flame-throwing lefty reliever Luke Hagerty has been starring as the lead in a Hollywood comeback story 17 years in the making, signed by the Cubs for the second time since 2002 after a case of the yips had kept him out of competitive baseball for more than a decade. He will turn 38 on April 1, but the recent news he received was the furthest thing in the world from an April Fool’s joke.
As sources have informed Cubs Insider, Hagerty will undergo elbow surgery — not Tommy John, but similar — and will miss at least the rest of 2019. This is not necessarily a career death knell, since we’re talking about a man who signed a professional contract at 37 after having thrown zero live pitches in a game since 2008, this is another significant detour.
Ed. note: CI has confirmed that Hagerty will undergo the elbow reconstruction surgery the first week of April and plans to rehab for another comeback.
After retiring from the game when he completely lost the ability to throw strikes, Hagerty went back to school to become a strength and conditioning specialist. He got married, started a family, and founded X2 Athletic Performance to help young ballplayers improve their skills. But the itch was still there, and Hagerty found that he could still scratch it if he applied the same techniques he was teaching at X2.
Lo and behold, he was generating high-90’s heat with wicked movement and had added new breaking pitches to boot. If he could stick anywhere near the plate, he could be unhittable as a lefty with that kind of elite stuff. And the Cubs were willing to let him take his time acclimating to the rigors of pitching again.
“I’m not here to waste anybody’s time,” Hagert told members of the media earlier in the month. “I don’t want to come in and just be kind of thrown in there like, ‘Oh, that’s a great story. Let’s have him come in and play around a little bit.’ I don’t want that. I don’t need that. I came back because I feel like I could help the team in some way. That’s what I want to do and why I’m here.”
The 6-foot-7 southpaw had worked tirelessly during his college career at Ball State, increasing his fastball from 82 to 94 mph, and he had even more gas almost two decades later. He also sported a replacement UCL from an elbow reconstruction, and there was a sense that something was amiss when he was shut down in early March with what was being called a flexor tendon issue. But that can be a precursor to or symptom of bigger problems, which ended up being the case with Hagerty.
Only he knows whether this is the end of the story or just a cliffhanger ending to keep people salivating while he authors the sequel. After all, we’re talking about a guy who earned a $1 million signing bonus as the No. 32 overall pick in 2002 and struck out 50 while posting a 1.13 ERA in his first 48 innings. Then, after his first UCL surgery, he put up a 31.05 ERA, 6.60 WHIP, and 40.5 BB/9.
Hagerty hung around for parts of three more seasons with the Cubs and two independent teams, eventually walking away because walking was all he could do from the mound. But he battled back once already, twice really, and that first elbow surgery was nothing compared to the psychological hurdles he’s had to clear in the 16 years since. That he was willing to have a second surgery at all indicates that he is willing to keep the comeback going, and it appears that is indeed his goal.
So maybe there’s more to this story yet to write, at least once Hagerty gets that left arm healed up again.