Aug 28, 2013, 12:48 PM EST
There seems to be an impression out there that pitchers get hurt today more than they ever did before. It seems that every time a high profile pitcher gets hurt — the latest of these being Mets phenom Matt Harvey — that we get a rash of stories like this one from my friend Terry Moore, recommending some solution for this “epidemic of starters and relievers” who pitch well, then feel pain, then go the DL, then go under the knife. Terry’s recommendation is pitchers throw more, something I’ve heard from a lot of veteran baseball people (“Operation Long Toss”) and it’s a perfectly reasonable concept. I’m personally all for it.
But let’s be clear about something: I don’t believe for one minute that there’s some new epidemic of starters and relievers getting hurt. I think this is a story as old as baseball. I think that as long as pitchers throw baseballs as hard as they can, often mixing in various twists and turns and grips, elbow ligaments will burst and shoulders will pop and rotator cuffs will tear. And while there might be ways to protect pitcher’s arms, to limit the damage, to give pitchers their best chance to survive — long toss, limited innings, ice treatments, heat treatments, five man rotations, progressive inning increases, occasional skipped starts — the worldwide reality will not go away. Pitchers get hurt. A lot.
I think maybe we think of the old days different because when pitchers got hurt then, they were simply discarded and never heard from again. The code phrase for this was “He had arm fatigue” or “”he stopped being effective.” It’s actually pretty comical, if you think about it. You see those phrases, or something similar, scattered throughout baseball history.
Take Russ Ford. Have you ever heard of Russ Ford? In 1910, Ford at age 27 came to play for the New York Yankees and he went 26-6 with a 1.65 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 299 2/3 innings. He gave up just 194 hits, meaning the league hit roughly .188 against him, and he gave up four home runs all year. Yes, it was the Deadball Era, but this was a spectacular debut. Truth is, Russ Ford had invented something new — a pitch that would be called the “Emery Ball.” He had learned that if you scuff up a baseball you could make it move in unpredictable ways. Others would take the trick all the way to the Hall of Fame.
But the point is — Russ Ford soon suffered from, yep, “arm fatigue.” What’s that? His arm hurt. He had a good second year, but by his third he led the league in losses. They Yankees dumped him after the next year. He picked up with Buffalo in the Frontier League and had a good year, then a lousy one, then was out of baseball where he nursed a sore arm for pretty much the rest of his life.
You know the story of Mark Fidrych. Amazing in 1976 at age 21. The talk of baseball. One of the biggest sports personalities of my entire childhood. He went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and a ridiculous 24 complete games. The next year he blew out his rotator cuff. He pitched in the Majors again, but he never made it back. Arm fatigue. And he stopped being effective.
Tommy Thomas at age 27 won 19 games with a 2.98 ERA for the Chicago White Sox. He led all pitchers in WAR. Three years later, he blew out his elbow, suffered from ptomaine poisoning (pitchers had it seriously rough in those days) and spent the next eight years just struggling to hang on in the big leagues as the pain shot up and down his arm.
How about Bill James — the pitcher. In 1914 he went 26-7 with a 1.90 ERA. He was called Seattle Bill and he completely turned around the fortune of the Boston Braves, who went from 69-82 to World Series champions. The Miracle Braves, they were called, and Bill James was that miracle. The next year he came to camp with that dreaded “arm fatigue.” He won five games. He tried shoulder surgery after shoulder surgery. He never pitched another Major League game.
Remember Justin Thompson? He was 6-foot-4, left-handed, an exciting young pitcher. In 1997, age 24, he went 15-11 with a 152 ERA+ and a 151-66 strikeout-to-walk. He made the All-Star Team. Injuries ended his effectiveness.
Do we need to talk about Mark Prior? As a 22-year-old — 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts in 211 innings. Injuries. Never made it all the way back.
Herb Score? The common perception is that Score’s brilliant young career — as I’ve written before, he was Koufax before Koufax — was detailed by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald. That was the lead sentence of his obituary in the New York Times (which you might not be able to read right now because of the cyber attack), and it is partially true, though the full truth from many people around him seems to be that it was actually ARM troubles in his comeback that cost him what seemed sure to be a Hall of Fame career.
Ernie Broglio? Remembered for being on the wrong side of the Lou Brock trade, but Broglio at 24 went 21-9 with a 2.74 ERA, 188 strikeouts, and he led the league in WAR. What happened? “(The Cardinals) got a heckuva player; they gave up damaged goods,” Broglio told ESPN in 2011. “I think that they knew I had a bad arm.”
Cy Blanton led the National League in ERA in 1935 as a 26-year-old. He pitched reasonably well for pretty good Pirates teams the next three years before basically disappearing. Blanton was an alcoholic, and he died at age 37, and many blamed his ineffectiveness on alcohol. But, his fall as a pitcher traces directly to a serious arm injury he suffered in spring training 1939.
Gary Nolan was a phenom, only the second pitcher in baseball history to strike out 200 batters in a season before he turned 20 (the first was Bob Feller — Dwight Gooden became the third in 1984). He had so many arm issues that, at some point, the Reds sent him to a DENTIST and told him they had solved the problem (they thought it was all in his head).
Sparky Anderson predicted Don Gullett would be in the Hall of Fame the year Gullett turned 22 years old. Everybody thought so. He had 100 wins before his 27th birthday. He finished with 109 after blowing out his rotator cuff at 27.
How about Brandon Webb? Cy Young winner at 27, a 22-game winner at age 29, out of baseball at 30 after shoulder surgery.
Jon Matlack. Rookie of the Year. Three-time All-Star. Elbow Surgery at 29. One full season after that.
Dizzy Dean. Led league in strikeouts four straight seasons, won 30 and 28 games back to back. At age 27 he was hit in the toe with a line drive. This, legend has it, caused him to change his pitching motion, which led to him badly hurting his arm. It also could have been the 1,531 innings he had thrown the five previous years. It also could have been that pitching hurts arms. He tried to hang around on his name with junk pitches, but he did not win a game after age 30.
Schoolboy Rowe won 24 games as a 24-year-old and charmed everyone with his superstitions — they say he would carry around luck charms galore and would always wear his lucky tie. In 1937 and 1938 he suffered that all-encompassing arm fatigue and disappeared. He spent the next 10 years bouncing up and down, pitching well for stretches and then having completely lost seasons. He won 158 career games, so this made him one of the lucky ones with arm fatigue.
The late Dick Radatz was such an overpowering reliever from 1962-1964 that Mickey Mantle was known to call him “The Monster” which led to him being known as, yes, the Monster. Through his first four seasons, he went 49-32 with a 2.57 ERA and 608 strikeouts in 538 innings pitched. Then he had what was called a “puzzling drop in velocity.” That’s another code phrase. “Puzzling drop in velocity.” LIke it’s really puzzling. He was traded to Cleveland and won three games the rest of his career.
Craig McMurtry finished second to Darryl Strawberry in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1983 and was seventh in the Cy Young voting. Then: Elbow problems.
You can go like for much, much longer — though I sense we’ve gone on too long already. If you go down the list of pitchers who had early success in the big leagues, you come upon injury after injury after injury. And for many — Wilcy Moore, Buck O’Brien, Herman Pillette, Whitey Glazner, on and on — there’s no clear injury to talk about because pitchers just ascended and descended so quickly that nobody really bothered to keep track. And don’t even get started on the hundred, no, thousands of promising minor league pitchers through the years who have had their dreams crushed by injuries.
This, of course, is not to say that teams should stop trying to prevent injuries. They should absolutely keep trying, keep studying the arm, keep studying the mechanics of the windup, maybe get pitchers to throw more like Terry suggests. It’s more important now than ever with all the money and interest in the game.
But let’s not kid anybody. Pitchers get hurt, and there’s no solution for that. The Matt Harvey story is a tale as old as time. The thing that has changed, the miracle here, is that, with treatment and possibly surgery, Harvey will have the opportunity to come back and, we all hope, be as good or better than ever. That’s new. If he pitched 50 or 70 or 90 years ago, Matt Harvey might have a two paragraph Wikipedia item talking about how he was an exciting young pitcher until, inexplicably, arm fatigue caused him to have a puzzling drop in velocity. And he stopped being effective.
Dec 12, 2013, 6:41 PM EST
The Mariners just held a news conference where they introduced new second baseman Robinson Cano after he officially signed his ten-year, $240 million contract. It was your standard presser involving a star player, but Cano and GM Jack Zduriencik both raised some eyebrows with some comments. Via Todd Dybas of the Tacoma News Tribune: “I…
Dec 12, 2013, 5:55 PM EST
The Mariners just posted this Vine, showing Robinson Cano adding his signature to his ten-year, $240 million contract with recently-embattled GM Jack Zduriencik to his right and agent Jay-Z behind him. As beard aficionado Aaron Gleeman pointed out earlier, Cano is sporting a nice new beard which would have violated the Yankees’ personal grooming rules.
Dec 12, 2013, 2:50 PM EST
Robinson Cano‘s official introductory press conference in Seattle is today and the Mariners just put out this picture of him wearing No. 22 … and sporting a beard, which was of course banned by the Yankees. Robinson will wear #22 #HelloCano pic.twitter.com/JJ9qKhf3Ct — Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) December 12, 2013 As a locally recognized beard-haver myself,…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:34 PM EST
Remember Kevin Kouzmanoff? He hasn’t played in the majors since 2011, but the Rangers just announced that they’ve signed him to a minor-league contract. Texas also did the same with utility infielders Josh Wilson and Brent Lillibridge, adding some bench options (or Triple-A depth). Kouzmanoff put up some nice power numbers with the Padres early…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:40 PM EST
Free agent right-hander Joba Chamberlain is leaving the Yankees to sign with the Tigers, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com. Buster Olney of ESPN.com says it’s a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski is always looking to add high-velocity arms and despite his struggles Chamberlain averaged 94.7 miles per hour on his…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:10 PM EST
Jay Z lured Robinson Cano away from Scott Boras and then got him a $240 million contract with the Mariners, so naturally Boras took a couple shots at Beyonce’s husband yesterday: It’s very different to be the creator of the umbrella versus those who stand under it. … When you’re bringing the prettiest girl to…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:46 PM EST
Now that the Nationals are out of the left-handed reliever market after finally finding their southpaw yesterday some of the other dominoes can start falling, with Troy Renck of the Denver Post reporting that the Rockies are deep in talks with J.P. Howell. Howell is a soft-tosser, averaging just 87.4 miles per hour with his…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:12 PM EST
Clint Barmes has had back-to-back terrible seasons for the Pirates, hitting a combined .221 with a .579 OPS in 252 games, but Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that Pittsburgh has re-signed the 35-year-old shortstop for $2 million. Obviously the Pirates like Barmes for his defense, which has always been strong, although at age 35 that’s…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:32 AM EST
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe is not a fan of the new rule banning home plate collisions. Indeed he’s so incensed that he decided to mock the idea of protecting athletes whose health and career are put at risk as a result of them: One of the game’s biggest stars — Buster Posey —…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:03 AM EST
The Rule 5 draft took place this morning. It’s traditionally the last thing that happens at the Winter Meetings, so there’s a bittersweet element to it I suppose. We all have to go home today. We all get to go home today. It’s like any vacation story I suppose. It’s not a terribly interesting event…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:47 AM EST
Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that the Marlins have traded outfielder Justin Ruggiano to the Cubs for outfielder Brian Bogusevic. Ruggiano was pushed into extended action for the Marlins this year and struggled, hitting just .222 with a .694 OPS in 128 games, but if limited to a part-time role he’s capable of…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:15 AM EST
Philadelphia has signed right-hander Roberto Hernandez to a one-year contract, according to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com. Hernandez–formerly Fausto Carmona before being busted for identity fraud–posted an ugly 4.89 ERA in 151 innings for the Rays this year while being bumped from the rotation. On one hand the Rays not being able to fix a pitcher…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:45 AM EST
Looking to get his career back on track following a terrible season split between two teams, Michael Morse has agreed to a one-year deal with the Giants. Morse got off to a great start this year, but then hit just .201 with five homers and a .584 OPS in 64 games after May 1 while…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:27 AM EST
Both the New York Post and the New York Daily News decided that the best way to announce the Bartolo Colon signing on their back covers was to make fat jokes: Pretty pathetic, guys.
Dec 12, 2013, 9:08 AM EST
Not the biggest surprise in the world given that the M’s added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison yesterday, but: The #Mariners are letting teams know that Jesus Montero, as well as Justin Smoak, are available in trades. — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 12, 2013 Both would seem to be prime candidates for a change of…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:51 AM EST
Alex Rodriguez‘s P.R. guy, Michael Sitrick, was allegedly served with a subpoena by Major League Baseball. They wanted him to testify in the arbitration as to whether he or his underlings leaked Biogenesis documents implicating Ryan Braun and Francisco Cervelli to the press. MLB believes that he did, and by doing so A-Rod — through his…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:24 AM EST
Why would anyone want to shop for Jonathan Papelbon when bargains like this exist around every corner? Joaquin Benoit‘s rep said to be looking for a deal in the range of $7 million-$10 million annually. — Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 12, 2013 Or Fernando Rodney for that matter, who is supposed to be seeking…
Dec 12, 2013, 7:48 AM EST
In the wake of yesterday’s news that home plate collisions will now be outlawed, I have a deep thought: will players who used to bowl over catchers now be retroactively considered cheaters the way pre-testing PED users are? Like, will we hold it against them for knocking over catchers even though there were no penalties…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:03 AM EST
After shocking the baseball world by agreeing to a 10-year, $240 million contract with second baseman Robinson Cano last week, the Mariners reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with Corey Hart today while picking up Logan Morrison in a trade with the Marlins. However, they aren’t done attempting to remake their offense. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick…
Dec 11, 2013, 11:34 PM EST
The Blue Jays already have one knuckleballer with 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and it sounds like they are about to add another one to the mix. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Blue Jays have reached a verbal agreement on a minor league contract with Tomo Ohka, who has reinvented…
- Highlights from the Robinson Cano news conference 0
- Report: Two agents rumbled in the parking lot at the Winter Meetings 31
- Mets sign 40-year-old Bartolo Colon for two years, $20 million 40
- MLB rules committee decides to eliminate collisions at home plate 63
- Mariners sign Corey Hart to incentive-laden deal 28
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Not everyone is happy about home plate collisions being taken away (119)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (113)