St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jamie Garcia left Monday afternoon’s start against the Washington Nationals after only 51 pitches over two innings of work. Following the game, it was reported that the left-handed pitcher had an injured shoulder, and then, on Tuesday morning it was revealed that a rotator cuff injury would force Garcia off the post season roster, with Shelby Miller replacing him.
Rotator cuff injuries typically don’t just happen over the course of a couple innings, and so it’s not surprising to learn that Garcia wasn’t quite at his best for several days before the start. What is surprising is that he failed to inform the club of such matters until after the second inning of his start.
According to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Several teammates were incensed to learn that Garcia started such a monumental game if indeed compromised physically. A faction within the organization has remained skeptical about the severity of Garcia’s condition despite a June diagnosis that he was suffering from an impingement and strain that required more than two months’ rest and rehabilitation.
[General Manager John] Mozeliak termed the club’s ignorance of Garcia’s most recent issue as “frustrating.”
When we use the term clubhouse culture, we’re more often than not referring to something dumb that an athlete in a team sport has done. It’s a term used to explain why rational thought in a particular circumstance is overlooked in favor of tradition or some other form of stupidity, typically rooted in machismo behaviour. And it’s clubhouse culture that will most often be mentioned when a baseball player plays injured.
It’s essentially a brand of peer pressure or group think, and I understand that most of us will fall under the spell of such phenomenons from time to time. However, when we’re dealing with a baseball team playing at the highest level imaginable, it blows my mind that a player would be praised for performing at a mere percentage of not only his own capabilities, but also what a replacement might offer in his stead.
Playing hurt isn’t heroic. While Strauss hints that there may be more to the clubhouse distaste for Garcia’s antics than he can freely write about, the team deserves kudos for voicing their displeasure with the pitcher keeping his injury a secret. For too long, such selfish actions were the source of celebration and not shame.
There is nothing heroic about costing your team an opportunity or decreasing the likelihood of their performance being optimal. I understand this isn’t always the most easy concept to accept. In addition to the thin machismo line that keeps players quiet about their injuries, I also wonder if they’re not influenced by the inherent confidence found in athletes that allow them to perform at such a high level without self-doubt. Players might legitimately believe that even at 80%, they’re still the superior option.
Allowing such a player to perform seems like it would be counter productive, but Major League Baseball is not like the video game where you can simply look at a pitcher’s ratings with his injury and judge for yourself if he’s better or worse than the next healthy option. It’s far more tricky, with multiple factors that need to be considered.
However, this consideration should be done by both the player and the manager. And the manager can’t be in on such decision-making if he’s unaware of an injury to begin with. That’s why it’s completely negligent for a player not to notify his superiors of discomfort and pain. This should be the case at any time during the season, but especially ahead of a playoff game.
Garcia should count himself lucky that his team was able to escape with a victory on Monday, but his negligence could very well have a lasting effect, as the Cardinals were forced to use five different relievers to fill in for his shortened start. Fortunately, an off-day today should grant the bullpen at least some time to recuperate, but if this series stretches to any length, the last thing bullpen needs is an enhanced work load.
There is also another option as to Garcia’s quietness about his injury. Perhaps, his complaining is a common thing in the club house, and the team has grown weary of it. This would explain the somewhat cryptic passage from Strauss that suggests the southpaw’s teammates “skeptical about the severity of Garcia’s condition.” If such a relationship with his teammates kept Garcia from sharing the truth about his condition, I think manager Mike Matheny might have to swallow a dose of the blame in this instance.
Of course, we don’t know all of the details, but there certainly appears to be an element of poor decision making in St. Louis. Let’s hope, for their sake, it doesn’t hinder their series with the Nationals any more than it already has.