While joking that "the Internet keeps me alive," Ventura denies reports that he and Ryan later became friends. "I've never met him," he says.

Though Ventura badly injured his ankle during a spring training exhibition in 1997, he enjoyed one of his most productive seasons two years later, batting a career-high .301 with 32 home runs and a career-high 120 RBIs for the Mets.

By the time he was traded from the Yankees to the Dodgers in 2003, however, he was mostly a role player.

Two years later, he was virtually immobile without a cane.

"People with post-traumatic arthritis are miserable," notes Bugbee, his doctor. "You don't realize it until you live with it but it's very debilitating. Simple things become very difficult."

Bugbee performs about 10 ankle allografts a year, removing a rectangular-shaped section of bone and cartilage and replacing it with a harvested joint shaped to fit the space.

"This operation is designed to relieve pain and allow people to have a normal quality of life with activities of everyday life," Bugbee says. "The fact that they can go from having pain every minute on their feet to being able to take their kids to school and walk their dog — that's a pretty good improvement."

Ventura calls it a life-changer.

"I'm grateful," he says.

jcrowe@tribune.com