“The more I tried to push through it, I realized I was hurting the team and myself,” Walker said on Thursday. “I want nothing more than to be on the field.”
Walker stayed on the field enough to play 18 of the Mets’ 29 games in August. He was still able to hit, with a .389 average for the month and two hits, including a home run, on Saturday night, in his final game of 2016.
The problem was that the disk was hitting a nerve in Walker’s back, affecting his lower body to the point his legs felt weak and he couldn’t feel his toes. At best, Walker felt he would be playing at 60 percent.
Walker consulted with three doctors, and said the last two strongly recommended he have the surgery now. While they told him there was a strong chance the surgery will be successful, the recovery time is three months.
The decision could well end Walker’s tenure with the Mets, as he’ll be eligible for free agency after the season. Walker said his impending free agency wasn’t a factor in the decision to have surgery now.
“That was the farthest thing from my mind,” he said.
Walker came to the Mets in a trade with the Pirates last winter, after spending his first seven Major League seasons with his hometown club. He finishes this season with a .282 batting average, his highest since 2010, and with 23 home runs, equaling the career high he set in 2014.
“Neil has played absolutely great,” manager Terry Collins said. “What he did early carried us in April and early May. He had a great year for us, and I sure hope we get the opportunity to get him back.”
Without making any promises, Walker said he wouldn’t mind staying in New York.
“I have absolutely enjoyed my time here,” he said. “I’m very open to what’s next, and the possibility of coming back here.”
For now, Collins said he’ll use Wilmer Flores and Kelly Johnson at second base. Both were in the lineup for Thursday night’s series finale against the Marlins, with Flores at second and Johnson at third.
Collins accepted Walker’s decision to have surgery, and praised Walker for the way he handled it.
“It’s not about playing through things,” Collins said. “It’s playing well with them. He just said, ‘I just don’t think I can help the team the way I want to.”
Walker worried that he wouldn’t be able to break up double plays or dive for balls in the field. While he was still able to swing a bat, he couldn’t guarantee he’d be able to stay in games.
“I just didn’t feel it was the right thing to do, or to do to the team,” Walker said.
The decision became easier when Walker’s agents told him other players have responded well to a similar surgery, and when doctors told him that trying to play through it could put him at a significantly greater risk of something more serious.
Even in a pennant race, it was a risk Walker didn’t believe he could take.
Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Source: Mets News / Walker opts for season-ending back surgery