Now that Kevin Youkilis has been lost for the season, being a member of the 2010 Red Sox has officially passed Alaska King Crab Fisherman and Mel Gibson Mistress as the most hazardous job in America. Statistically speaking, the only occupation that has ever had a higher injury rate than the ‘10 Sox was the anonymous, red-shirted crewmen Capt. Kirk always took when he beamed down to a planet.
And when you’ve had as many injuries as the Sox, it’s likely that some of them were, to put it delicately, less than legitimate. I’m not questioning the team’s toughness, mind you. It’s just inevitable, given the sheer number of injuries they’ve had times the law of averages times the length of the baseball season that with some of them the player in question could’ve played if he really wanted to.
Let’s face it; it happens in every field of endeavor. For instance, at the Battle of Antietam, the Confederacy had 10,318 killed, wounded or missing. And when the casualty numbers are that high, you can be sure at least one or two of them weren’t so much wounded as they decided that a hammy pull would force them back to the plantation for the weekend.
And without a doubt, your 2010 Red Sox have had the legitimacy of some of their injuries questioned, by media types and fans alike. At least a couple of Sox players have been publicly called out for overplaying or flat out lying about how hurt they are.
Now, to me, this is a slippery slope. Accusing someone of faking or exaggerating an injury is dangerously close to calling him a quitter, which is the worst label you can pin on an athlete. It is a claim like that requires you to read a guy’s mind, look into his heart, and know what’s happening in his body. It calls for wild speculation, unfounded conjecture and purely irresponsible guesswork.
Fortunately, that’s the business I’m in. I’m not a doctor, but I play one on the internet.
Look, I’m no medical expert. But I can spot a guy who’s faking an injury a mile away. I can tell a goldbricking slacker when I see one because... well, because I am one. You know that expression, “It takes a thief”? Well when it comes to stealing the company’s paid sick leave, I’m D.B. Cooper.
Seriously. People question J.D. Drew’s toughness because he takes a lot of days off? Compared to me he’s Cal Ripken, Jr. Remember last winter when everyone was worked up over the H1N1 hysteria? I was the only one I know who was happy about it because 1) I knew I would never come down with it but 2) It was another thing I could call in sick to work with. This year alone I’ve banged in with SARS, Monkey Pox, Mad Cow Disease and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. I’ve had Acid Reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Carpal Tunnel, Fibromyalgia and I’m pretty sure menstrual cramps.
(As a side note, have you ever banged into work so many times you forget what you were calling in sick with? This happened to me, where I was calling in and they asked me what was wrong with me so I said the first thing that popped into my head. “I’ve got... um... Erectile Dysfunction.”)
The point is, when a guy like Drew goes on the 15-day disabled list due to a bad haircut, not only is he above criticism, to me he’s a hero.
But in general, it’s a tricky business telling the difference between a real, bone fide injured ballplayer and one who’s begging out of the lineup due to a bad attitude, a lack of commitment or just simple laziness. So being an expert on the topic, I’ve come up with a handy set of criteria as a reference guide.
When evaluating the legitimacy of a given player’s injury, ask yourself the following:
How often is the guy hurt? Ever notice how some guys just seem be banged up all the time but somehow it gets passed off not as simply injury-proneness but as if they’re battling through wounds that would kill a lesser man? We all have friends like that, who never made it through a pickup basketball game without limping off the court after doing the Ben Gazzarra death scene from “Roadhouse.”
I once coached this one particular 9-year-old in football who got escorted off the field by the EMT in every single game (to the applause of the parents, of course), then miraculously recovered like James Brown and came back in (to more applause).
The patron saint of this move was the late Steve McNair (God rest his soul, of course). He was Our Lady of Perpetual Injury. Every week of every season of Air McNair’s career we heard how he was too banged up to practice, but through courage, determination and sheer force of will he was fighting through his debilitating injuries to somehow crawl out to the huddle on game day.
After four or so years of this it finally dawned on me that McNair didn’t get hit any more than Brady, Manning, McNabb, Favre, or any other NFL QB. And maybe, just maybe, he simply had a lower tolerance of pain than those guys. Or more likely, maybe he just hated practice.
How old is the guy? Veteran players have always said that the hardest part about getting old isn’t that you lose a step; it’s that injuries are harder to bounce back from. (Note: I can confirm that it’s also true of hangovers.) That is why Jacoby Ellsbury’s toughness is coming into question and Mike Lowell’s isn’t.
Ellsbury missed four months with busted ribs. Lowell has missed the same amount of time with more injuries than the guy on the “Operation” game board: an injured hip, a busted thumb, water on the knee, wrenched ankle, bread basket... everything but a red nose that lights up when you touch it. And since Lowell is about a year away from taking his AARP card and riding a Rascal Scooter to the IHOP early bird special, he gets a pass on his injuries that Ellsbury doesn’t.
What does his manager/coach say? Bill Parcells has always said that coaches are selfish, so they play the guys that give them the best chance to win. What he could’ve added is that a coach will also put up with unlimited amounts of crap if he thinks the player giving it to him will produce those W’s. Therefore, when Parcells called out rookie Terry Glenn before the kid had taken a snap in the NFL, it should’ve been clear to us that Glenn was a dog. Ultimately, however, it took five more seasons, two more coaches and one Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show ribbon for us to realize Tuna’s first instinct was right.
Are the beat writers against him? As much as we all love to tool on the big, slow moving target that is the Boston sports media, it’s important to draw a distinction between the pundits and the actual beat writers. It’s one thing for a columnist to fire long-range missiles at a guy from his cubicle or a radio talk show host to attack a guy with a predator drone from the studio. But when the guys who cover the team every day are willing to admit a player is mailing it in and letting down the team, then you know they’re getting it from his teammates. Where there’s smoke, there’s undoubtedly fire.
Does it sound like he’s “injured” or merely “hurt”? Pay close attention to the way the injury report is worded because words mean things. By way of example, a friend of mine was once a supervisor at his job and had an employee call in sick by saying she thought she “might have a touch of the grippe.” Never mind that no one knows what the “grippe” is. She “thought” she “might” have a “touch” of it. And when a ballplayer is on the injured list, look for words like “broken,” “fractured” or “torn,” which would probably point to a legit injury. But if a guy complains of a “tweak,” a “pull,” something “sore” or “tightness,” think, “Might have a touch of the grippe.”
Is he hurt in a part of his body you’ve ever heard of? As a general rule, the simpler the injury is to understand, the more likely it’s the real deal. Dustin Pedroia has a busted foot. Youkilis had surgery on his thumb. You don’t need a medical degree to know what those are. But researchers are still discovering and naming new parts of the human body that Drew will someday tweak, pull, be sore or have tightness in.
So that’s it in a nutshell. A guide to tell when a ballplayer is playing up his injuries, from the man who’s done pioneering work in the field of faking being sick. Now hopefully the Sox can get back to something close to full strength, get back in the pennant race and give us something to look forward to. And with any luck, I’ll be here writing about it. That is, if I’m not sick next week. You never know.