Professional ballplayers suffer from a variety of aches and pains, vague ailments, legitimate worries, and career-ending injuries. A few days ago, I sat down to read Major League Baseball’s official Disabled List. Impressed with its length and fascinated by the ways in which some injuries were presented (vocabulary, diagnoses, euphemisms and so on), I immediately tried to make sense of the subject by organizing my own list, which rapidly materialized into a medical catalogue of epic proportions.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that the elbow and shoulder are among the most vulnerable components of a ballplayer’s anatomy. Knee troubles aren't as common as I’d anticipated (we’re not talking about football here), while groin issues are surprisingly rare. That shows you how much I know.
Moving from head to toe, here is a glossary of injuries in the game of baseball during the month of May 2011.
Head. Concussion (two cases).
Neck. Neck tightness.
Shoulder. Mild shoulder tendinitis, right shoulder tendinitis (two cases), right shoulder inflammation (three cases), mild inflammation in right shoulder, right shoulder strain, right shoulder posterior strain, right shoulder surgery (four procedures), tear in shoulder, dislocated right shoulder, strained left shoulder, partial dislocation of left shoulder, left shoulder inflammation, left shoulder surgery, torn capsule in left shoulder, sore right shoulder.
Torn rotator cuff, torn left rotator cuff (two cases), partially torn rotator cuff, rotator cuff surgery, right posterior rotator cuff strain.
Back. Lower back stiffness, back tightness, lower back discomfort, strained lower back, sore lower back, strained back muscle on right side, back surgery.
Abdomen. Left oblique strain (three cases), right oblique strain, sore left oblique, intercostal strain, lateral muscle soreness, left rib contusion, injury to left side, abdominal strain, abdominal tear.
Arm. Strained right forearm (two cases), strained right triceps, right biceps strain, sore left biceps. Apparently a “sore left biceps” can get you 60 days on the DL.
As I make my way through this list, I hear echoes of my father’s voice. He’s speaking the same words he voiced whenever we kids got hurt, which was pretty often. “You’re okay. Rub it!” I hear my own voice speaking to small children a generation later: “You’re okay. Do you want me to kiss it and make it feel better?”
Elbow. Sprained ligament in left elbow, sore left elbow (two cases), infected bursar sac in left elbow, left elbow surgery, ligament damage to right elbow, strained right elbow, bone spur in right elbow, inflamed right elbow, inflammation in right elbow, right elbow tightness, right elbow inflammation, right elbow strain (two cases), right elbow surgery, muscle strain near right elbow, medial impingement on right elbow, fractured right elbow.
Clearly there is a fundamental weakness in the design and mechanism of the human elbow when it comes to throwing baseballs. Orthopedists and physicists can explain this situation far better than I.
Hand. Broken left hand (two cases), broken right hand, right wrist inflammation, left wrist inflammation, sprained right wrist, left hand contusion, broken hamate bone in right hand.
Finger. Fractured left middle finger, broken ring finger, broken left thumb, torn ligament in left thumb, blister on right index finger, blood clot in right middle finger.
Groin. Strained right groin, strained right groin muscle.
Quad. Tightness in right quad, strained right quad (two cases), quad strain, sore right quad.
Nearing the conclusion of this list, I can’t help but think about Hoss Radbourne (1854-1897), who often played through pain, seldom allowing any form of disability to keep him from the mound.
Leg. Left calf soreness, left calf injury, left shin contusion, tight right hamstring, strained right hamstring, strained Achilles tendon, fractured left leg.
Tiger Woods suddenly comes to mind, with his knee issue that led to the Achilles issue which in turn caused the calf to cramp up. “It is what it is.”
Knee. Left knee contusion, left knee soreness, right knee swelling, torn ligaments in right knee, torn meniscus in right knee, patellar tendinitis in right knee, right knee surgery, sore right knee.
Foot and Ankle. Sprained right ankle, right foot surgery, left foot surgery, strained arch in left foot, fractured toe in left foot.
Procedures. Orthopedic surgeons sometimes use fancy Latin names to describe what’s going on: torn labrum in left hip (two cases), torn ulnar collateral ligament, fractured left fibula. Let’s face it: “strained right flexor pronator tendon” sounds considerably more serious and dignified than “sore arm.”
Miscellaneous conditions. Stinger. Irritable bowel syndrome. Point tenderness on right side. Bilateral leg weakness. Dead arm. Sleep disorder.
What exactly is “point tenderness on right side,” anyway? I think I may have had that once.
The game of baseball involves risks, setbacks, injuries, and dangers. However, unlike what goes on in the real world, most adversities in baseball don’t happen because individuals deliberately harm one another.
Collateral damage occasionally happens. Last week one of my baseball friends narrowly escaped serious injury at Toronto's Rogers Centre. Fortunately for his sake the 100 mph line drive met up with his hand and not his face, and his bones survived unbroken.
So many of us turn to baseball for a good time, friendship, camaraderie, and basic forms of human kindness. The game has ways of hurting its followers, however - mostly in the form of hard-hit balls and flying bats ... but also in subtler and unspoken ways.
I’ve never sustained an injury while playing baseball, though I know what it is to endure an oblique strain and a bruised rib, a finger blister, and a few cancer scares. I know how a sore quad feels, especially a day or so after working out at BodyStrong. I’ve experienced chronic pain in my left shoulder after many years of holding and carrying young children.
I know all about contusions, concussions, and discomfort. Tenderness too.
Thankfully I’ve experienced very few accidents and ailments, never a broken bone or a dead arm, and not much physical or mental anguish. I've met death face to face in a car wreck and once had to breathe with the aid of a respirator in the ICU following natural childbirth, but apart from those two incidents I have been incredibly lucky all my life. I’m pretty good at withstanding pain and setbacks.
In short, I’ve never really known what it is to be on the DL.
Until now. Some aspects of the game have sobered me in recent weeks, even as I’ve tried my best to honor it. No matter how much I romanticize and idealize the nation’s pastime, baseball frequently offers its reality checks. The game and its people sometimes leave me demoralized and shaken. But then I remember that faith in baseball, after all, isn’t really the right kind of faith.
I’ve always been attracted to the game because of the unusual forms of excitement, kindness, and joy it offers fans and friends. I like the way it affords opportunities to associate with good people. Yet within this very appealing world there will be moments that leave a person quietly dispirited. "All fans assume all risks and dangers incidental to the game." Words posted on a section of chain link fence just a mile from my back door state a fundamental truth. "The participating teams, organizations, and players are not liable for injuries resulting from such cases."
It's time for me to step away from the ballpark for a while. I'm headed to the DL, curious to know how it feels. Attribute this move to my new day job, insufficient time for writing, family matters, and point tenderness on left side. All of the above are true.
I’m leaving New England and Red Sox nation for a few days, bound for a picturesque landscape that is home to the No. 1 college team in the country. The program has sent quite a few talented players into professional baseball in recent years (Ryan Zimmerman for one, who underwent surgery on May 3 for an abdominal tear), and I wish them well as another winning NCAA season moves to an exciting climax. It is thanks to my beloved daughter, soon to graduate from college, that I lay claim to this team in a small way. Virginia is really her team. (If you care to know more, I wrote about the Hoos, a.k.a. Cavaliers, just one year ago in "Baseball and Bach.")
I won’t stop following the game while I'm on the DL. There’s a reason I gave this site the name I did, because Watching the Game best captures how I spend most of my free time, and locates that activity quite deliberately in the present tense. I hope never to stop being a conscientious and passionate student of baseball.
Whether I’m out for a week or the entire season, I do not know. It could be fifteen days or sixty. More likely day-to-day. Due back: TBD.
Let's hope the Red Sox are showing a record well above .500 when I return to the field.