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Catchers are suffering concussions at an alarming rate

Aug 21, 2013, 10:47 AM EDT

Joe Mauer AP

Twins catcher Joe Mauer was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list yesterday after taking multiple foul tips off his mask in Monday’s game led to dizziness 24 hours later and as LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes Mauer is the fifth catcher currently on the concussion DL.

Mauer joins Alex Avila, John Jaso, Carlos Corporan, and Yorvit Torrealba on the concussion DL and within the past month fellow catchers Salvador Perez, Ryan Doumit, and David Ross have been sidelined by concussions. Even minor league catching prospect Tommy Joseph of the Phillies recently had his season ended by a concussion.

Obviously plenty of non-catchers have had concussions too, but the rate at which catchers are suffering brain injuries this season is startling. At any given time there are somewhere between 60 and 75 catchers on MLB rosters and within the past 30 days around 15 percent of them have been on the disabled list specifically designed for concussions. MLB has made major strides in terms of concussion awareness and treatment in general, but it’s time to take a long look at the physical toll catching takes on someone’s brain before careers and lives are ruined.

  1. mattintoledo - Aug 21, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    I’d be curious to see if the masks the catchers getting concussions are using are different from those of catchers not getting them. I know for Avila, who uses a traditional looking mask as opposed to the “hockey-style”, they said he’ll use a heavier mask with more padding when he returns. As for Avila, he had tried other masks but felt they were comfortable and opted for the one he uses which Leyland said was “light as a feather”.

    Hopefully it’s as simple as taking masks that turn out to be unsafe out of the mix.

    • hammyofdoom - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:05 AM

      Noticeably, Ross changed his mask upon return from the DL yesterday. He had used hockey style masks all his life, but he switched to the type that Salty uses. So there MIGHT be something behind that

      • paperlions - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:42 PM

        Yep, studies have shown that the hockey style mask absorbs less of the energy from impacts, transferring more of the energy to the skull (and brain).

  2. cur68 - Aug 21, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    In my opinion this is a case of accurate diagnosis rather than a rise in concussion rate. Catchers were always taking foul balls off the mask, Umpires, too. Now they get checked pretty near immediately for signs of concussion and report dizziness right away. Before, they sucked it up and played, concussion and all. It was part of the game. Now? Not so much. Getting your brain turned slowly into scrambled eggs is NOT part of the game.

    Catcher and umpire headgear needs to be improved. The mask needs to absorb more impact, and divert the force of a struck ball away from the head. How? I have no idea. But that’s what needs to happen.

    • cohnjusack - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      Though the idea of better medical science and being more aware of the warning signs of concussions as the cause of the perceived rise, I’m pretty certain it’s caused by vaccinations. I mean, more concussions while more vaccinations are happening? Could that possibly just be a coincidence?

      • cur68 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        Following that line of thought, the rise in concussions seems to be associated with the rise in dirtyharry comments. I bet its the smell coming off of that ‘Ole Poo Flinger. It’d make anyone dizzy.

      • Francisco (FC) - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        Call Jenny McCarthy! Stat!

    • Francisco (FC) - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      Ablative Armor, Metaphasic Shielding. Star Trek already solved these problems for us. Add it to my Vulcans as MLB Umpires proposal.

      • dluxxx - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:09 PM

        That would be too logical…

      • Francisco (FC) - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:48 PM

        Indeed.

    • sportsdrenched - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      That’s what I was thinking. Anytime someone says “something” has “increased dramaticly” over the past several years my gut reaction is to wonder was there a technological or methodolical advancement in detection. No? then we have something to investigate.

      Similar to the “jump” in reported tornadoes across the plains 20 years ago. There really weren’t more tornadoes, there were just more people telling the NWS about them. Where before, a farmer on an isolated farm would just go about his day after seeing a tornado. Now he’d get checked on by hundreds of chasers and LE.

    • paperlions - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      I wonder if changing the shape of masks could help. Impacts on the flat front of the mask may transfer nearly all of their energy to the catcher. A mask that is shaped to deflect the ball to the sides may all more of the energy to stay in the moving object.

  3. chacochicken - Aug 21, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    These catchers should really stop playing pick-up tackle football before the games.

  4. sneschalmers - Aug 21, 2013 at 10:58 AM

    I’m curious whether this can be attributed to the actual rates of concussions among catchers increasing, or whether awareness and detection of concussions among catchers has increased.

    There has been a similar debate among mental health professionals with regards to the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Within the past 15-20 years, the number of ASPD diagnoses have sky rocketed; however, is this increase in diagnoses due to clinicians being more cognizant of the symptoms and disorders, or is it because there is another variable causing an increase in ASPD prevalence? The same can be asked of concussions.

    • cohnjusack - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      I have to stop commenting on my IPad. Lousy slow page load times and my clumsy fingers keep making me reply to the wrong comment.

      Anyway, this was supposed to go under yours:

      Though the idea of better medical science and being more aware of the warning signs of concussions as the cause of the perceived rise, I’m pretty certain it’s caused by vaccinations. I mean, more concussions while more vaccinations are happening? Could that possibly just be a coincidence?

      • cur68 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:11 PM

        Nah, Cohn, it worked with mine, too. The whole “vaccine = ASPD” argument gets kicked around at work when things are slow and the staff want to grouse about lousy science in healthcare. Even though there isn’t a shred of evidence that demonstrates a link ‘twixt the two, people like to believe there is one and we like to mock them for it. A similar argument is the “The Rise of Shopping Carts = The Rise of Homeless People”. I like that last one. Has a nice simplistic argument to go with it.

      • historiophiliac - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:03 PM

        What? Shopping carts = mobile homes

      • cohnjusack - Aug 21, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        What I always wondered. Even if…which it obviously it is false and the initial report that claimed it was ripped to shreds, but say for a second that it WAS true and autism was totally caused by vaccines…

        …wouldn’t the incredibly small risk of your child having autism be outweighed by the huge advantage of being vaccinated against a whole slew or horribly awful things?

      • cur68 - Aug 21, 2013 at 4:00 PM

        Someone give Cohn a prize.

        Vaccination is like playing poker. If you have three aces in your hand, and none showing on the table, the odds are high that the OTHER GUY has none or one and you can take his ass to the cleaners. You DO NOT FOLD. That’s what a vaccine is. The best odds of your kids NOT being seriously afflicted with something they have MUCH MUCH higher chance of catching than they do of developing autism. Denying an infant vaccine is folding that Ace-Three of a Kind hand.

  5. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 21, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    Are there more concussions or just better diagnoses? I would imagine there were at least as many concussions in the past, but catchers were simply expected to ‘rub a little dirt on it’ and get back out there. Glad to see the issue is now being addressed.

    • yahmule - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:01 AM

      And we have a winner!

  6. yahmule - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:01 AM

    The tools of ignorance nickname for catching gear dates back almost 100 years.

  7. apmn - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:19 AM

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that Yogi Berra was concussed for the majority of his adult life. The other half of it he felt fine.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:43 AM

      He never had most of the concussions he had.

    • hoopmatch - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:43 AM

      Good one, apmn.

      One wonders if Mauer’s concussion makes Twins personnel think more seriously about moving him permanently to first base.

  8. patsbruin1021 - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    These guys need to where the hockey style masks. They all where old school masks. How many goalies in hockey had concussions last year?

    • paperlions - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:56 PM

      Goalies almost never get hit in the mask compared to catchers, and most of the goalies that do get hit flush in the mask go down like a sack of potatoes.

  9. jdillydawg - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I’m curious as to how concussions have spread so rapidly. A hundred years it hasn’t really been a problem for baseball, but now it is. Is it the equipment? It seems masks and helmets have only been made better and no change to the ball. Perhaps it’s that more players have been playing juiced up and thus playing/running/hitting harder? I don’t ever remember this many catchers being out with concussions but it’s an ugly thing to see.

  10. aceshigh11 - Aug 21, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    That’s a scary situation. Fortunately, concussion diagnosis in pro sports is far more robust than it has been in the past.

    The more pressing concern is how to prevent them in the first place, no easy task for even a non-contact sport like baseball.

  11. Kanonen80 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    I’ve heard that the Hockey style masks are worse at absorbing impact that the traditional skullcap and mask. Something about how the mask of the older style displaces and moves when a catcher is hit in the face which decreases the force transferred to the head of the player. The Hockey style mask doesn’t move at all, so more of the force of impact is transferred directly to the player’s head.

    • numbskull111 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:32 PM

      There was a study done awhile back (don’t know the URL) that said the hockey style masks were “slightly” better in preventing concussions than the traditional two piece setup….but the difference was pretty minimal. It also stated that the hockey style masks provide better ear/side of the head protection from bat backswings than the traditional masks.

  12. pixteca - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    They should wear no masks, no gloves and crouch 5 meters back like in the old times.

  13. thehakko936 - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Of the cathcers listed, I think only David ross wears a hockey style mask. Might be a coincidence, but it does seem odd that all of the others wear the old style gear.

    I wonder if the concussions are a result of a ball to the mask or if it is contact at the plate?

    Someone else made the point about hockey goalies having concussions. It would be interesting to know that information as well.

  14. sportsdrenched - Aug 21, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    So, rubbing some beer on it isn’t helping?

  15. bolweevils2 - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    Everyone is saying that the rate of concussions isn’t increasing, just the diagnosis, but so what? The fact that old time catchers got brain injuries just as frequently doesn’t mean that it’s not a significant problem.

    But as to someone looking at the physical toll of catching takes on one’s brain, I don’t know what the answer is. Better equipment sounds good, but presumably if they knew how to make better equipment they’d already be doing it. The only other answer I can think of is stop having catchers in baseball games, which basically means stop playing baseball.

    • thehakko936 - Aug 21, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      The better equipment question is where everyone is going with the “old” mask vs. the hockey style mask. At least on the surface, it looks like all but one of these guys wears the “old” style mask. Maybe the hockey mask is cutting it way down? Maybe I am just F.O.S.

  16. masonicmuseum - Aug 21, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Never have so many brain-dead commented. Apparently they have nothing else to do. Rather than make stupid comments like ” vaccinations are the cause”. Why not get a job in a fast food restaurant which they should be capable of handling.

    • apmn - Aug 21, 2013 at 3:47 PM

      Enlighten us, Professor.

  17. Walk - Aug 22, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    The seven day dl for concussions has been one of the best changes in recent years. I remember seeing catchers listed as day to day a lot from contusions from foul balls, I do not remember seeing many hit the 15 day dl for that though. Does the 7 day concussion dl lead to more catchers being placed on the dl as opposed to listed as day to day? If so it is a good thing imo and may account for the spike in dl stints.

  18. neelymessier - Aug 22, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Clearly, the concussions catchers can get from tipped balls, is related to the transfer of energy through the mask and helmet. People say “hockey masks” are not as good ad catchers masks. I believe they are referring to player’s masks with a cage and helmet. It seems to me that it is very rare for a hockey goalie to receive a concussion directly from a puck. The mask science is entirely different, designed to deflect momentum primarily, and the helmet is a like a motorcycle helmet.

    If I had to stand there and be hit square in the face with a 100 mph puck or baseball, I’d rather wear the goalies head gear.

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