THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Injury excuse makes him sick

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / March 27, 2011

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

I learned everything I need to know about baseball injuries from the great Earl Weaver.

It happened when Baltimore center fielder Al Bumbry broke his leg running the bases in Texas in the middle of the 1978 season. The O’s were perennial contenders in those days and it was a pretty big deal when their leadoff batter was subtracted in July.

Earl had no time for reporters after we learned the extent of Bumbry’s injury.

“I’m not talking about Bumbry anymore,’’ said the Hall of Fame skipper. “He’s not part of our team now. I deal with the living.’’

That’s pretty much how I feel about baseball injuries. There’s nothing anyone can do about them. It doesn’t matter if stints on the disabled list are owed to bad luck or insufficient training/medical care. All that matters is who is here and who isn’t here. In baseball, you deal with the living and forget about the people who can no longer play for your team. Cold, but true.

Nobody wants to hear about injuries. Suck it up. If you lose, you lose. Don’t complain about guys who were unable to play.

The 2010 Red Sox did not invent the disabled list. Certainly there were an inordinate number of broken bones and games lost to injury at Fenway last summer, but folks in Tampa and New York really don’t care that the 2010 Sox had bad luck. When the 2004 Red Sox had the same five starting pitchers for six months — Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield, and Bronson Arroyo never missed a turn — Boston fans did not feel sorry for rivals who lost pitchers to shoulder and elbow injuries. There’s no crying in baseball. Nobody wants to hear that the Sox lost the 1946 World Series because Ted Williams got hit on the elbow in a silly exhibition after the Sox had clinched the American League pennant. Ted batted only .200 in the series, without an extra-base hit, but there’s no excuse. He goes down as a World Series choker.

When the Sox lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games in 1967, it was easy to cite how much better they’d have fared if they’d had Tony Conigliaro. Tony C was felled by a fastball to the face in August. He’d already hit 20 homers. The Sox could have used him against Bob Gibson. Too bad.

It was the same deal in 1975 when rookie slugger Jim Rice suffered a broken bone in his hand when he was hit by a pitch in late September. Think Jim Ed would have helped out against the Big Red Machine?

Folks remember Bill Buckner, Bob Stanley, and Calvin Schiraldi blowing the 1986 World Series against the Mets, but what if the Sox had a healthy Tom Seaver? Tom Terrific gave the Sox a bunch of quality starts in the second half of the ’86 season, but he tore a ligament in his knee in Toronto in late September, and Boston had to send Al Nipper to the mound for a beating in Game 4 of that series.

I loathe the notion of using stats to predict or prevent injuries. Is there a spreadsheet that would have protected Dustin Pedroia’s foot from the foul ball that cracked his bone in the batter’s box in San Francisco? Can we go back and tell Rice that there’s a seamhead database that would have protected his wrist from Vern Ruhle’s season-ending pitch? Please. I thought UZR was dumb, but this is utterly ridiculous.

There have been some dark medical moments in Boston baseball. Second baseman Marty Barrett sued Dr. Arthur Pappas when Pappas served the conflicting roles of team doctor and limited partner (Barrett won a $1.7 million award). More recently the Sox made a huge mistake when they signed Curt Schilling to a one-year, $8 million contract after the 2007 season. Schilling was damaged goods and collected the dough even though he never threw another pitch.

Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2010 season goes down as a medical disaster. He suffered cracked ribs in April, wound up playing only 18 games, and jousted with Red Sox doctors. But he looks great this spring and there won’t be any talk about last year’s travails if he hits .300 with 70 steals and leads the Sox to the pennant.

I talked to Jim Palmer about this topic. Palmer won 268 games in his Hall of Fame career with the Orioles. He pitched more than 296 innings in six different seasons and threw a whopping 211 complete games. He also was an athlete ever-mindful of injuries. Covering the O’s meant you learned a lot about shoulder and arm muscles. The first time I heard the words “trapezius’’ and “rhomboid’’ was while talking with Palmer. Weaver, of course, had little use for those discussions.

“The Red Sox had good news and bad news last year,’’ says Palmer. “Pedroia played 75 games. Youkilis 102, Ellsbury 18. Beckett had an ERA of 5.78 and Papelbon had an off year. Despite that, they still won 89 games and scored 818 runs, second most in the American League. These guys are some of the best conditioned, most highly motivated guys in the game. You can do all the ‘right’ things and sometimes you’re just snakebitten.’’

That pretty much says it all. So we will say no more.

Theo Epstein hates talking about injuries. Terry Francona hates talking about injuries. Ditto for Youkilis, Pedroia, Ellsbury, and everybody else who was wounded in 2010.

I hate writing about baseball injuries.

I deal with the living.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

Red Sox Video

Follow our Twitter feeds