It’s cliché at this point to say that a win in April counts just as much as a win in September.  And while that’s technically true, that doesn’t mean that those April games are equally important.  They’re not.  Ballplayers shouldn’t be going balls out in April if it means that they won’t be healthy for the rest of the year.  There’s simply too much time left, too many games that a nagging injury can linger and sap value from a normally productive player.

I am sick and tired the culture of machismo that still pervades the game, as players try to play through pain and rub dirt on it and get back out there.  Look, I know it’s not that simple.  Bodies are complicated things, and it can be hard to tell what’s normal soreness and what’s actual pain.  And it’s nice that ballplayers want to be on the field; it’s certainly better than the alternative.  I even get the desire not to be perceived as “soft,” especially when injury risks can cost a player millions of dollars every year.  But when the hell are ballplayers going to learn that playing through pain tends to make them play worse?  And when they play worse, they don’t actually help their clubs?

Late last night, as the Twins were putting the finishing touches on another loss to the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles, Canada’s favorite son Justin Morneau removed himself from the Minnesota lineup.  After a few more minutes, news began to filter out over Twitter that he was experiencing renewed soreness in his left wrist, which is one of the many parts of Justin Morneau that doctors operated on last year.  The news only got worse as Morneau flew back to Minnesota last night to see the team doctor, and presumably get an MRI.  According to MLB’s Rhett Bollinger, Morneau’s wrist began bothering him a week ago in Tampa, and has gotten worse.

Prior to the Tampa series, Morneau was hitting .267/.353/.578 with four homers in 51 plate appearances.  He looked strong and healthy for the first time in a year and a half since a concussion suffered against the Blue Jays left him debilitated and marked the start of a cascade of other problems.  If there’s anyone who should have known to shut it down at the first sign of trouble, it’s Morneau, who has had surgeries on his left wrist, right foot, left knee and neck within the last calendar year.  But instead, Morneau, and potentially the Twins trainers, allowed him to play for another week before the pain became too much.  Since the start of the Tampa series on April 20, Morneau has played in eight games, and hit .172/.250/.276.  Meanwhile, instead of costing the team in the short term but healing for the rest of 2012, Morneau and the Twins allowed him to both cost the team in the short term AND set him up for another potentially long DL stint.

The Twins had this problem last year with Morneau, and with Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Denard Span, and Joe Mauer as well.  Each of them came back too soon or tried to play through pain.  Span came back early from a concussion and hit .057/.132/.057 in nine games before shutting it down again.  Mauer started the season .235/.289/.265 in nine games.  Morneau had a .618 OPS for the year.  Capps saw his velocity drop, and with it his strikeout rate, due to elbow soreness.  And Joe Nathan put up a 7.63 ERA over the first two months of 2011 before the Twins admitted that he wasn’t fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.  Even Scott Baker has tried to gut through what was called elbow soreness last season and again this spring, and ended up shredding his elbow and needing season-ending surgery.

And the Twins aren’t the only club with this problem.  Carl Crawford played through pain last year and had his worst season.  Brian Wilson tried to pitch through elbow troubles last year and wound up out for all of 2012.  Hanley Ramirez played through back and knee problems all last year.  Over and over again we see that players don’t play well when they’re hurt.  And often when they’re suddenly not playing well, it’s because they’ve been hurt.

It’s time for teams to be more proactive.  It’s time for players to be more vocal.  It’s time to be clear that the long-term health of a player and a franchise is tied to how well they respond to the warning signs that players’ bodies are giving off.  In a sport where winning and playing well means millions of additional dollars in revenue for team and player, it’s time to man up and take a day off when you need it, especially so I don’t have to see Chris Parmelee at first base all season long.

Comments (21)

  1. Never gonna happen.

    • Agree with you IMW.

    • Why? It could happen as teams continue to realize that they are losing value under their current model. If they come to think that they get more value (wins/$s) by being proactive, particularly with franchise players, then it would be stupid to continue ignoring that.

      • Teams yes… but I just don’t think most players a wired that way.
        I don’t claim to be a mind reader, but I know from my limited sports experience that you tend to try to fight through stuff until you absolutely can’t.

        And these guys have their whole livelihoods on the line in some cases. they are going to be inclined to hide issues sometimes.

  2. It will happen eventually. The Randy Savage mentality will gradually go out of the game, but it takes time and patience.

  3. IMW is right. It will never happen and anyone who thinks it will, has never played a competitive sport at a high level.

    • I’d argue it happens all the time, stieb. Players feel a twinge and are smart enough to remove themselves from games every day. And many of those problems would have led to larger issues or were the signs of something bigger, and those problems then got effectively managed. And while I’m not naive enough to think that 100% of players and teams would buy-in, I think raising awareness of how playing hurt hurts baseball teams is a good goal and can lead to a reduction in the number of guys killing themselves to stay in the lineup when they need time off.

      • There’s a huge difference between feeling a twinge and possible reinjury of a previous problem.
        You make it sound like, against all judgement the players are hiding injuries to the detrement of the team.I would think that trainers,doctors and managers are involved in the decision,and that decision is for the better of team and player.
        Regardless,Stieb is right,players at a high competitive level know when to continue and when to shut it down,given their experiences and resources available to them.

        • You don’t think players hide injuries? Matt Capps hid one all last year. He admitted as much before this season started. And the evidence we have about athletes and their desire to be out on the field when they’re completely unfit, such as when they’re suffering from the effects of a concussion, or their willingness to take supplements without knowing what they are/do, completely contradicts your assertion that players inherently know what’s best for themselves.

  4. Baseball players and (particularly) managers are short-sighted by nature. They preach playing for today; forget about what happened yesterday and don’t look too far into the future. It is part of the culture of baseball, and it is a huge impediment to them taking the long view approach suggested by you… The lineup card is written out every day by the manager, who sees his responsibility as to win today’s game, and to not worry about tomorrow’s game until it is necessary. When things are not going well (such as is the case with the Twins who have gotten off to a rough start) this is compounded even more. The manager’s sole focus is to win today for he may not have a job at all tomorrow if he does not. In those circumstances, the manager is motivated to keep his best players in the lineup – long-term consequences be damned – by interests of self-preservation.

    I think it is going to take more than raising awareness of the long-term (and even the short term) impacts of playing while injured to effect a change. It is going to take a full cultural shift.

  5. You wanna know why you think guys should take a day off? You probably aren’t an athlete and therefore probably don’t have high testosterone. Read a bit about the effects of high testosterone and then your “take a day off” shit can go in the garbage where it belongs. We are men, we fight, we battle, we go to war for our boys. We don’t take days off.

  6. Just look at the hate Sidney Crosby gets for being percieved as soft because he refuses to come back before he’s ready.

    In baseball, a guy could ask for a day off, maybe, MAYBE 2-3 times a year without a real injury. Anymore then that, the coaches, other players, and biggest thing, the fans, are going to be like WTF?

    This will never happen, because of the competetive nature of pro athletes. Even an injured player still feels there is nobody tha can do the job better then they themselves can.

    • I tend to agree with your read on the culture in MLB, and in most sports, Rob. But then, my point is that that culture is fundamentally unhealthy, and it’s time to take steps to change how injuries are perceived by those players, fans, teams, and media types. I, in no way, expect that process to be quick or easy.

      • It could be kind of a chicken and egg sort of problem, but I don’t think athletes are that way because of the sports culture. I think sports culture is what it is because athletes are that way.

        I just think that for a player to get to that level, you need to have a certain personality type. That personality is the kind that will force the person to do the thousands and thousands of hours of practice that is required for them to get that good. Oftentimes long after the average person would have given up. And I just don’t think that personality type would ever change. I think that’s the way sports culture is the way it is, because of the type of people that get to that level. not that sports culture was there first and is forcing the players to adhere to some unwritten code of toughness.

  7. You’re 100% right, playing hurt, especially early in the season, will lead to less success down the road. Baseball is a marathon, a grind, and a W now is the same as a W later a player who gets hurt now and does not take the time out to recover will not be able to help get you those W’s late in the season.

    Radar said “Regardless,Stieb is right,players at a high competitive level know when to continue and when to shut it down,given their experiences and resources available to them.” but that’s just not the case. No one wants to come out, and players will tell the trainers and medical staff half truths to make sure they are out there giving it there all. the determination, the dedication and the mental toughness that it takes to get to MLB does not include taking days off, it’s about playing through the pain and just flat out getting the job done, the cost be damned.

  8. It’s been well-discussed here why players and managers won’t police themselves in this regard. Too much history, machismo, or whatever the retardation is that says, “hey my multimillion dollar body isn’t quite right, maybe… fuck it I’m a man let’s play some ball.” But, giving them a pass for it is still absurd.

    Imagine if F1 racers just drove through indicator lights until their engines blew out; wouldn’t people be more inclined to tell them their desire to finish the race needed to be tempered by the fact they were endangering a valuable piece of equipment?

    So, we have a cultural explanation for why they don’t voluntarily take care of themselves, but why don’t owners and GMs protect their investments the same way they obviously do in sports with machines or really in any other industry? To me the biggest problem is there’s simply too much money, despite any CBA related press releases to the contrary. The revenues throughout baseball are just absurd (this applies to all the major NA sports really and you see this problem throughout) so if they break even or see profit in spite of just reckless and meaningless waste, they don’t really give a flying fuck.

    I can’t remember if it came from here, but there was something else a while back about the absolutely insane rate of pitcher injuries and the cost of it, but no one wants to even contemplate changing how we train, use, or develop pitchers.

    If you had that rate of breakdown at a plant for the highest margin piece of insanely popular electronics, the iphone for example, you’d be shutting down the plant until you could build it properly in spite of the sales you’d lose (that’s probably an exaggeration, but guaranteed something would be done) because it’d be costing you way too much money, but not in baseball. All this all makes me sound like I think I know what I’m talking about, but I’m well aware I’m not.

    Throw on top that owner a sports franchise is a vanity exercise for, at least, the majority of owners and as long as it’s not bankrupting them, they’re unlikely to to even contemplate anything more than minute adjustments.

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