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Friday, March 07, 2014

Posnanski: Gary Nolan Surgery

The Only Nolan pitched in 101 games as a 19-year-old, so yeah, what was Gary’s problem?

then the pain climbed to a higher plane. It was too much. [Gary Nolan] couldn’t handle it. The reporters asked him how much it hurt. “Enough to make you cry,” he said. Teammates rolled their eyes. Letters to the editor in the Cincinnati papers questioned his manhood.

“When’s Nolan going to pitch again?” reporters asked Sparky Anderson.

“Hell, I don’t know. Ask him,” Sparky barked angrily.

It was at this time that the Reds did one of the most bizarre things a baseball team has ever done. Reds executive Dick Wagner called Nolan and said they had figured out a way to fix his arm. They were sending Nolan to … a dentist. Yeah. A dentist. Some crackpot dentist had reached the Reds with the message that Nolan’s arm problems were clearly the result of an abscessed tooth. Nolan actually went to the dentist. The dentist actually pulled a tooth. This really happened, not in the Dark Ages but in 1972…

Then, in desperation, Nolan went to see Frank Jobe, orthopedic doctor for the Reds biggest rivals, the Dodgers. The Reds, of course, were opposed to this … but Nolan had reached the desperate point where he would try anything. He, like every other pitcher in baseball, had heard Jobe was different from other doctors. The first thing Nolan noticed was that Jobe took an X-Ray of Nolan’s shoulder from a different angle. This was new. And because of that, Jobe found what every other doctor had missed — a one-inch bone spur floating around in Nolan’s shoulder and slicing him every single time he threw a baseball…

For six or seven years, Nolan had been treated as something less than a man. He’d had his pain mocked and his toughness doubted. He’d been told again and again and again that the agony was all in his head, that it was his duty to pitch through it, and this false aura of fragility had come to define him in the eyes of American baseball fans.

Then, this soft-spoken doctor from North Carolina came back from the X-Rays and pointed at the source of all that pain — there it was, as real as a swing and miss strikeout.

“I have no idea how you pitched in that sort of pain,” Frank Jobe said to him. “You must have been in agony.”

Thirty-five years later, Gary Nolan could still recite those two sentences, word-for-word.

The District Attorney Posted: March 07, 2014 at 12:00 PM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: frank jobe, gary nolan, history, joe posnanski, reds

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   1. GregD Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:10 PM (#4667841)
Very moving. I sent it to a doctor friend of mine who was himself moved at the simple power of listening to the patient.

Obviously the Reds' handling was terrible for Nolan. How bad was it for the Reds? It depends a bit on when you imagine an ideal team would have responded.

1974 Nolan pitched zero games and the Reds finished four games out. They actually got decent production from the two guys who were basically the fifth starter--a total of 25 starts at about a 100 ERA+. On the other hand they add up to 0 WAR, which I don't fully understand. Nolan had been over 3 WAR in 72 and came back to 2.6 and 2.8 after he finally had his surgery and it's not a stretch to think he would have been between 2-4 WAR in 74 if he had been able to pitch. That would put the Reds within the margin of a game or so of the pennant.

1973 Nolan barely pitched but the Reds did okay anyway. You could argue his absence affected the postseason

1972 Nolan was pitching through pain, quite effective but not like his young days, but the Reds once again had a pretty fair ball club. Again you could argue Nolan's struggles hurt them in postseason; he took a loss and a no-decision but still had a 3.38 ERA.

1971 Nolan was pitching through pain but the Reds were 11 games out of first.

1970 is the most-effective pitching through pain year but the Reds were dominant. Nolan did not pitch well in the World Series, to put it mildly, but I'm not sure the Reds would have won the series with Maddux, Clemens, and Pedro on their staff. The Orioles were rolling.

1969 the Reds finished 3rd, 4 games back, and Nolan was 4.5 WAR behind his production of 1967, but it seems a stretch to think that he could replicate 1967 year after year.




   2. Steve Treder Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:27 PM (#4667855)
And it wasn't just Nolan having chronic arm trouble with the Reds in that era. Of course every team is confronted by it, but in the late '60s and early '70s the Reds seemed to specialize in burning out great young arms: Sammy Ellis, Billy McCool, Mel Queen, Wayne Simpson, Roger Nelson, Tom Hall, Clay Kirby.

Bob Howsam was one of the all-time great GMs, and he certainly built and maintained a formidably successful organization in Cincinnati. But this might have been a particular organizational flaw.
   3. SG Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:29 PM (#4667856)
They actually got decent production from the two guys who were basically the fifth starter--a total of 25 starts at about a 100 ERA+. On the other hand they add up to 0 WAR, which I don't fully understand.


As a team, the Reds minus Nelson and Carroll had about 11% of their runs as unearned. Nelson and Carroll were at 25%, mostly because of Carroll's 44 R/32 ER. So their RA+ is probably around 89, not 100.
   4. GregD Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:41 PM (#4667861)
As a team, the Reds minus Nelson and Carroll had about 11% of their runs as unearned. Nelson and Carroll were at 25%, mostly because of Carroll's 44 R/32 ER. So their RA+ is probably around 89, not 100.
Thanks!
   5. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:53 PM (#4667868)
His K rate dropped like a rock after his rookie year. Amazing that no one at the time thought "hey, maybe this isn't just the normal stuff that pitchers go through."
   6. Moe Greene Posted: March 07, 2014 at 01:56 PM (#4667869)
Furthermore, the 1974 Reds are rated as a very strong defensive team, and that affects the pitcher WAR calculation as well through the RA9def metric. That is, a positive RA9def (indicating a good defense) reduces the RA 'baseline' comparison used to calculate WAR.

In other words, putting up an 89 RA+ in front of a strong defensive team is actually pretty poor.
   7. Textbook Editor Posted: March 07, 2014 at 02:19 PM (#4667885)
What I don't get is why pitchers aren't put in the MRI machine whenever there's something going on that's unexplainable. It might cost, what, maybe $8,000 tops? If you're paying a guy $25 million a season for 3-4 more seasons why aren't you scanning every inch of him from his hand to his shoulder if he's complaining of pain?

It's just beyond bizarre to me to read that teams "hold off on getting an MRI," or "don't think a scan in necessary," etc., etc., etc. It's almost like they just don't want to hear the cold hard facts about a pitcher being injured and instead hope the Healing Fairy comes along before anyone finds out the guy's hurt.
   8. Ron J2 Posted: March 07, 2014 at 02:36 PM (#4667890)
#2 Jim Maloney would have been the first name I thought of, and might well have had the best arm of the lot.

But yeah, they did have a lot of first rate arms and few of them had any kind of longevity.
   9. Don Malcolm Posted: March 07, 2014 at 03:10 PM (#4667900)
I don't think we can single out the Reds as the most heinous of those who imperiled pitchers' (particularly young pitchers') arms during the "Dark Ages." That was a baseball-wide phenomenon, fueled by the strike zone change. The Reds actually had fewer high-IP pitchers than just about anyone in the original time frame (just a couple of pitchers in the Top Ten in IP from 1963-69--and both of those #10).

Clay Kirby was from the Cardinals' farm system, and his years of "young abuse" came at the hands of the Padres. While his arm tanked while he was with the Reds (1976), they can't be held responsible for the previous abuse.

Mel Queen was a converted OF and was not particularly young (25) when the Reds made that move. He threw less that 200 IP in '67; only 4 of his 24 starts were made with fewer than 4 days' rest.
   10. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: March 07, 2014 at 03:20 PM (#4667906)
The guy I remember was Don Gullett.

Not a Red, but the pitcher I most clearly recall being publicly "called out" bu his team, and teammates for allegedly malingering was JR Richard... not long before he had a stroke and collapsed on the field (and nearly died)

My perception is that since people don't can't now what someone else feels, unless you see a visible injury, people tend to think the other person is faking it (hell I think faking being hurt or sick is the first consciously dishonest act most kids commit) - and athletes are really bad- partly I think because the idea of a career sapping invisible injury scares the crap out of them, they'd prefer to think the other guy is faking it.

Personally I don't think pro athletes fake injury* or malinger** to get out of playing or to excuse poor performance, I think they are far mote likely to deny or minimize an injury, if a guy says he's hurt or sick, the odds are overwhelming that he is in fact hurt and you should take it at face value.

* Players will of course temporarily fake an injury/limp whatever to gain a competitive edge

**The ONLY guy I'm convinced who ever actually malingered for any period of time was Neil Allen in 1982/83
   11. Ron J2 Posted: March 07, 2014 at 03:26 PM (#4667914)
#9 Well no. I think a lot of people carping about the babying of today's pitchers simply don't understand the state of pitcher health in the 60s.

What makes the Reds unusual is that they were a team chronically short of pitching who produced potential difference makers (like Maloney and Nolan but also Wayne Simpson and Don Gullett) and could not keep them healthy. And yes, I realize that Gullet broke for the final time with the Yankees, but as I'm sure you are aware he was always battling arm misery.
   12. cardsfanboy Posted: March 07, 2014 at 03:40 PM (#4667928)
My perception is that since people don't can't now what someone else feels, unless you see a visible injury, people tend to think the other person is faking it (hell I think faking being hurt or sick is the first consciously dishonest act most kids commit) - and athletes are really bad- partly I think because the idea of a career sapping invisible injury scares the crap out of them, they'd prefer to think the other guy is faking it.


People play through pain all the time and think their pain must be equivalent to someone else's and think if I can play through it, why can't you? This is what JD Drew was accused of, being a guy who wouldn't play through any pain at all (which is funny, because when he first came up and was injured was playing through it, and TLR had to tell him to be honest with the coaches on his pain level and let them make the decision, which TLR later regretted.)

Right now the Cardinals have an outfield prospect in Oscar Taveras that the team is somewhat calling out because of his injury last year. He's been cleared to play for over a week but has refused to run and slide at 100%. Already there are grumblings of his makeup.

Personally I don't think pro athletes fake injury* or malinger** to get out of playing or to excuse poor performance, I think they are far mote likely to deny or minimize an injury, if a guy says he's hurt or sick, the odds are overwhelming that he is in fact hurt and you should take it at face value.


Absolutely agree.


I don't think we can single out the Reds as the most heinous of those who imperiled pitchers' (particularly young pitchers') arms during the "Dark Ages." That was a baseball-wide phenomenon, fueled by the strike zone change. The Reds actually had fewer high-IP pitchers than just about anyone in the original time frame (just a couple of pitchers in the Top Ten in IP from 1963-69--and both of those #10).


Again, as a Cardinal fan, I pull this name out every time we talk about pitcher abuse of a young pitcher. John Fulgham (much later than the time frame we are talking about 1979) as a 23 year old rookie he gets 19 starts, 10 complete games. 14 starts and 4 cg next season and out of the majors after that. Career era+ of 134....
   13. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: March 07, 2014 at 03:42 PM (#4667930)
In 2003, the Dodgers brain trust wasn't shy in complaining about Odalis Perez's "injuries." But, like Nolan, he really was hurt.
   14. Walt Davis Posted: March 07, 2014 at 08:56 PM (#4668138)
The time the "malingering" charge was bandied about that really pissed me off was JR Richard. Wiki tells it pretty well so:

By now Richard was among the best pitchers in baseball. When asked in 2012 who was the "toughest pitcher to get a hit off of" during his career, Dale Murphy answered "Anybody that played in the late 70's or early 80's will probably give you the same answer: JR Richard".[72] In 1980, Richard was now teamed with seven-time American League strikeout champion Nolan Ryan, who had joined the Astros as a free agent. During the first half of the season, Richard was virtually unhittable, starting the year with five straight wins, 48 strikeouts (including two starts with 12 and 13 strikeouts), and a sub-2.00 ERA.[73] He was named National League Pitcher of the Month for April. At one point, Richard threw three straight complete-game shutouts, two against the Giants and one against the Cubs.[73] On July 3, he broke Dierker's team record of 1487 career strikeouts in a 5–3 win over the Braves; it was to be Richard's last major league victory. After finishing the first half of the season with a 10–4 record, 115 strikeouts and a 1.96 ERA,[74] Richard was selected to be the National League's starting pitcher in the All-Star Game on July 8, but he pitched just two innings due to various back and shoulder problems.[3] As the season progressed, Richard began to complain of a "dead arm", citing discomfort in his shoulder and forearm.[3] His concerns fell on deaf ears. Some in the media even interpreted these complaints as whining or malingering, citing Richard's reputation for moodiness.[26] Others theorized that Richard was egotistical and could not handle the pressure of pitching for the Astros,[7] while others suggested he was jealous of Ryan's $4.5 million contract.[26]

During his next start on July 14 against the Braves, Richard was pitching well and even struck out the side in the second inning, but had trouble seeing catcher Alan Ashby's signs and also had difficulty moving his arm. He left the game in the fourth inning after throwing a fastball and feeling his right arm go "dead". He had numbness in the fingers of his right hand and could not grasp a baseball.[75] The Astros placed Richard on the 21-day disabled list.[3] As it turned out, it would be his last major league game.

Nine days later, he checked into Methodist Hospital in Houston for a series of physical and psychological tests to determine the cause of his mysterious arm problems. An angiogram revealed an obstruction in the distal subclavian and axillary arteries of the right arm. Richard's blood pressure in his left arm was normal but pressure was nearly absent in his right arm due to the completely obstructed artery.[76] On July 25, however, the arteries in his neck were studied, and the doctors reached a conclusion that all was normal and no surgical treatment needed to be performed.[7]

On July 30, Richard went to see a chiropractor who rotated his neck to fix the flow of blood in his upper torso region. Later that day, Richard was participating in warm-ups before the game when he suffered a major stroke and collapsed in the outfield. Before the stroke, he had a headache and a feeling of weakness through his body. Eventually, that progressed into vision problems and paralysis in the left side of his body.[77] A massive blockage in his right carotid artery necessitated emergency surgery that evening. An examination by neurologist William S. Fields showed that Richard was still experiencing weakness in his extremities and on the left side of his face. He also had blurred vision through his left eye. A CAT scan of Richard's brain later showed that Richard had experienced three separate strokes from the different obstructions in his arterial system. Furthermore, the arteries in his right arm were still obstructed.[78] Later examinations showed that Richard was suffering from extensive arterial thoracic outlet syndrome. While pitching, his clavicle and first rib pinched his subclavian artery.[79] As a result of this problem, Richard would feel normal for the first few innings of the game but after putting repeated pressure on his subclavian artery, his arm would start to ache in pain and eventually start to feel "heavy".[80] His wife at the time, Carolyn, told reporters, "It took death, or nearly death, to get an apology. They should have believed him."[26]


The criticism was vile and bizarre. As the article notes, he was coming off 3 straight complete game shutouts. Over his next 4 starts he managed only 18 innings and a bad but not catastrophic 4.08 ERA (which was just one bad game really). Immediately, he was a malingerer. The guy who had pitched over 1100 innings the previous 4 seasons and was averaging 7.5 IP per start in 1980 (despite not lasting 1 inning in one of them) ... and suddenly he's getting lazy? And any med types want to explain that first diagnosis? A completely obstructed artery in his right arm but that's OK?
   15. Vailsoxfan Posted: March 07, 2014 at 09:36 PM (#4668144)
The problem with putting every pitcher through MRI is not the cost, It is the reliability. Research is showing more and more evidence that MRI diagnosis and pain frequently don't correlate. When you have a pitcher with pain you do generally find a cuff tear, bone spur, labral tear or whatever. But if you MRI a bunch of healthy pitchers as a control group you find a similar set of MRI findings. Most of the research that I have seen in this area has been done on back pain and knee arthritis, but shoulder/arm pain is probably similar. New pain research is also showing that pain can be extremely influenced by positive test results. They have tested pain free people and found stuff and told half the people what they found and didn't tell a control group and the ones who they told had significant increases in pain. You risk shutting down a lot of pitchers like Washington did with Strasburg over test results that may or may not be relevant.
   16. DanG Posted: March 08, 2014 at 01:13 AM (#4668182)
One team in baseball history had seven 11-game winners:

1976 Reds
15-9 Gary Nolan
14-7 Pat Zachry
12-7 Fred Norman
12-10 Jack Billingham
11-3 Don Gullett
11-4 Santo Alcala
11-5 Rawly Eastwick

The Reds of the Sparky Anderson era couldn't keep any pitcher healthy for long, mainly due to abusing every good arm that came along. A quick run down of those seven:

--In 1976, Gary Nolan was the only pitcher in the rotation for the whole year. And that was basically the end of his career.
--Don Gullett was the veteran ace, 25-years-old and in his 7th year. He started the season on the DL and was off and on it most of the year. Finally back to stay on August 30, he went on to make two excellent postseason starts.
--Pat Zachry's 128 ERA+ was the best among Reds starters and he became the ROY at age 24. He entered the rotation on May 9th and started a few times on two or three days rest. He never again had a season as good.
--Jack Billingham had been the Reds workhorse since 1972, but now was wearing down, missing several starts in mid-season while compiling an 81 ERA+. Did not start in the postseason.
--Fred Norman was a journeyman lefty who had been with the Reds since 1973. He joined the rotation for good on June 22nd and was solid the rest of the year.
--Santo Alcala was a 23-year-old rookie who wasn't much of a prospect. He filled the back end of the rotation for most of the year, lucky to have the Big Red Machine supporting him.
--Rawly Eastwick was their brilliant 25-year-old closer. He led the NL in saves his first two full years (1975-76) while being used like there was no tomorrow. For Rawly this turned out to be the case, basically. Four times in 1976 he pitched three days in a row, pitching 107.2 IP with 59 GF. He had nothing left by the 1976 postseason. He saved 18 games in the rest of his career.
   17. greenback calls it soccer Posted: March 08, 2014 at 09:21 AM (#4668202)
--Pat Zachry's 128 ERA+ was the best among Reds starters and he became the ROY at age 24. He entered the rotation on May 9th and started a few times on two or three days rest.

Zachry was frequently used out of the pen on between-start days, but I can only find two "true" three-days-rest games (6/1 and 8/2), and both came after double-headers.

At the time the Reds were known for two things when it came to starting pitching. One was the five-man rotation. The other was that Anderson was thought to be aggressive about going to his bullpen early and often. Hence the Captain Hook nickname. The Reds finished 7th (out of 12), 12th, 11th, 5th, 7th, 11th, and 8th in IP/GS in the NL from 1970 to 1976. So as far as pitcher abuse is concerned, there's nothing unique to the Reds in the stat sheets. Aside from the rub-some-dirt-on-it mentality with regard to pitching back in the day, what I see here is mainly a good argument for the modern 12-man pitching staffs that annoy people so much.
   18. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 08, 2014 at 09:34 AM (#4668203)
I think it's naive to think that no athletes are capable of malingering or faking injuries. Just ask any of the Yankees who played with Carl Pavano, the man who once sat out because of an "injured buttocks" or some such nonsense.

The late Chris Brown was notorious for being unable to play through even the slightest of injuries.

And as much as I love Jose Cardenal, he had some of the most ridiculous injury claims while playing for the Cubs.

Baseball players are no different from people who work in other walks of life. There are always people who call in sick at the drop of a hat and will create any excuse to not have to go to work.
   19. Lassus Posted: March 08, 2014 at 10:17 AM (#4668209)
Just ask any of the Yankees who played with Carl Pavano, the man who once sat out because of an "injured buttocks" or some such nonsense.

Absolutely ask the Yankees, I mean, then he hurt himself SHOVELING SNOW, come on now! Oh wait, that one actually almost killed him.

Anyhow, the idea is that you actually check out what's wrong before you get all NONSENSE on someone, especially an investment. Someone pitches with a bad bruise on their gluteus medius and something else goes wrong, it's easy to blame JR Rich - I mean Pavano.

   20. spycake Posted: March 08, 2014 at 10:36 AM (#4668211)
With reduced salaries and lack of free agency, was the cost/benefit analysis just that much different in the 1970s? What did expert medical advice and procedures cost compared to a player's salary at the time?
   21. Bug Selig Posted: March 08, 2014 at 11:08 AM (#4668216)
Baseball players are no different from people who work in other walks of life. There are always people who call in sick at the drop of a hat and will create any excuse to not have to go to work.


Actually, they are completely different. They go through a multi-year, multi-step weeding-out process that is unbelievably good at separating wheat from chaff. The guys who "call in sick at the drop of a hat" or fold under pressure or any of the other nice-sounding-but-largely-without-substance cliches might exist, but they don't get to the majors.

You actually responded to an article and series of posts about how players with invisible injuries are overwhelmingly often questioned by their teammates and end up vindicated with "ask any of the Yankees." Have you come around to a round-earth model yet?
   22. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: March 08, 2014 at 11:18 AM (#4668218)
I'm sure there have been a few athletes who have exaggerated injuries to get out work or because they're wimps, but it's probably a tiny, tiny number. As Bud noted, these are incredibly competitive people at the very top of their profession. The suggestion that some meaningful % of them are lazy malingerers is nuts IMO.
   23. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 08, 2014 at 11:41 AM (#4668225)
With reduced salaries and lack of free agency, was the cost/benefit analysis just that much different in the 1970s? What did expert medical advice and procedures cost compared to a player's salary at the time?


Another point is that people like Jobe are considered pioneers for a reason. There simply weren't as many real sports-medicine experts available to seek advice from in the early 1970s. Teams don't discourage players from seeking second opinions anymore the way the Reds opposed Nolan seeing Jobe. I suspect this was mostly a case of the Reds believing that there was no reason to think that the Dodger's team doctor would know anything that there own team doctor didn't. Now, every pitcher who feels a twinge flies down to see Dr. Andrews, and their teams don't complain because it's generally acknowledged that Andrews' team does know more about this stuff than anyone else. Now that might not actually be true, but it is generally acknowledged.
   24. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:09 PM (#4668233)
#9 Well no. I think a lot of people carping about the babying of today's pitchers simply don't understand the state of pitcher health in the 60s.


Shouldn't there be a notable decrease in the number of Hall of Fame caliber pitchers that came out of that period? Maybe there is; I'll have to look it up. But off the top of my head it seems like a remarkable number of very durable pitchers were young during the late 60s/early 70s: Seaver, Ryan, Perry (both Perrys, actually), Niekro*, Blyleven, Carlton, Sutton, Reuschel, Palmer.

If you argue that starting pitchers today throw at a significantly higher stress level on a per-pitch basis today, you may well be right. I think it's hard to support the hypothesis that the overall state of pitcher health in the 1960s and 1970s is significantly different from today, with the specific exception of Tommy John surgery extending careers.

That's elbows; a major shoulder injury is still likely career-ending in 2014. How many pitchers have come back from a major shoulder injury to keep pitching for years afterward? I'm sure there are several I can't think of right now; Orel Hershiser is the only name that comes to my mind. But it's much, much rarer than pitchers returning from major elbow injuries.
   25. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:12 PM (#4668235)
Yes, every one of the Yankees was wrong about Pavano, as were all the coaches and members of the front office staff. They were all wrong. That injury to his buttocks was a real killer.

Round earth model? What does that have to do with an allegation that a player might just be jaking it. My goodness, that's such an outrageous claim.

I'm not the one living in the fantasy world that every ballplayer who has ever made the major leagues is as tough-as-nails and incapable of exaggerating the nature of an injury. Do most players want to be on the field and have a threshold for pain? Absolutely. The Gary Nolan story is an example of a player who got a raw deal. But the idea that there are NO exceptions to the rule is just plain ludicrous. (I notice no one objected to the Chris Brown example.)

And Lassus, the snow-shoveling accident happened well after his Yankee tenure. It's irrelevant to the argument here.

   26. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 08, 2014 at 12:36 PM (#4668241)
A list of late 60s/early 70s pitchers who had long and successful careers free of major injuries doesn't tell us anything about the overall state of pitcher health back then. There certainly are pitchers who debuted in the decades since who had long and successful careers free of major injuries. You have to look at how many pitchers did get hurt.

How many pitchers have come back from a major shoulder injury to keep pitching for years afterward?


Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling both pitched pretty much their entire careers with surgically-repaired labrums. Also, Chris Carpenter and Al Leiter. Among currently active pitchers, Anibal Sanchez, Jose Valverde. But yeah, less than 50% make it back at all after major shoulder injuries.
   27. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 08, 2014 at 01:22 PM (#4668256)
A list of late 60s/early 70s pitchers who had long and successful careers free of major injuries doesn't tell us anything about the overall state of pitcher health back then. There certainly are pitchers who debuted in the decades since who had long and successful careers free of major injuries. You have to look at how many pitchers did get hurt.


I don't think the number of pitchers getting hurt was much, or any, different in 1974 than in 2014.
   28. GregD Posted: March 08, 2014 at 02:33 PM (#4668283)
I don't think the number of pitchers getting hurt was much, or any, different in 1974 than in 2014.
Aren't there studies that address both the likelihood of getting hurt and the likelihood of coming back? I vaguely remember but 1) could be misremembering and 2) don't recall what they said
   29. Jim Wisinski Posted: March 08, 2014 at 04:13 PM (#4668329)
Personally I don't think pro athletes fake injury* or malinger** to get out of playing or to excuse poor performance, I think they are far mote likely to deny or minimize an injury, if a guy says he's hurt or sick, the odds are overwhelming that he is in fact hurt and you should take it at face value.


Pro sports (and high level college sports as well) are chock full of stories of players hiding injuries to stay on the field or doing whatever it takes to get through the pain and still play. Hell, we're always hearing about players getting injections and such to be able to handle the pain and it gets accepted as "normal" even though the correct medical recommendation for sore or damaged body parts is sure as hell not "inject something to mask the pain so you can keep on using it". The new NFL concussion protocols are showing that attitude more than ever, there have been a number of incidents already where players have tried to avoid being subject to those protocols or been very upset when they're tested and barred from going back in the game.
   30. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: March 08, 2014 at 04:30 PM (#4668330)
Yeah, for a few years there the new way of saying "concussion" in the NFL was "neck injury" (though it seems like that quietly went away last season) and in the NHL the new way of saying "concussion" is "upper body injury".
   31. PreservedFish Posted: March 08, 2014 at 05:11 PM (#4668339)
Actually, they are completely different. They go through a multi-year, multi-step weeding-out process that is unbelievably good at separating wheat from chaff. The guys who "call in sick at the drop of a hat" or fold under pressure or any of the other nice-sounding-but-largely-without-substance cliches might exist, but they don't get to the majors.


I see this asserted frequently on this site but it doesn't stand to scrutiny. Of course the MLB is likely to have significantly more ambitious and industrious personalities than your average office or cafe or factory. But that doesn't mean that there couldn't be lazy MLB players or that all weak-willed or nervous personalities* would have been weeded out.

The differences in talent are tremendous and there are concomitant differences in the amount of effort or work ethic necessary to hit the majors. Do we really think that every story ever about a talented but lazy player is bullshit? And it stands to reason that if your Pedroias are rightfully known for their intense ambition, there exist other players with less of that particular attribute.

Also, people change. The idea that penniless Manny Ramirez at age 17 and wealthy Manny Ramirez at age 22 and life-of-luxury Manny Ramirez at age 34 are all going to have the same sense of work ethic is preposterous.

Finally, it's possible that a guy like Pavano (or JD Drew) does in fact have off the charts work ethic compared to your average guy, but he is a veritable loafer in comparison to other players in the small world of MLB.

* I mean, we know about the extreme cases: Ankiel, Steve Blass, Mackey Sasser etc.
   32. Bug Selig Posted: March 08, 2014 at 06:19 PM (#4668378)
Yes, every one of the Yankees was wrong about Pavano, as were all the coaches and members of the front office staff. They were all wrong. That injury to his buttocks was a real killer.

Yes, every one of the Reds was wrong about Nolan, as were all the coaches and members of the front office staff...

You're making the exact mistake that the article is about. Is there more to your case than "Shelley Duncan's medical opinion is good enough for me"?

Round earth model? What does that have to do with an allegation that a player might just be jaking it. My goodness, that's such an outrageous claim.

Your allegation was that major league baseball players are no different than anyone else. That's nowhere near "a player just might be jaking it." Backpedal at will, but at least acknowledge it.


   33. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: March 08, 2014 at 08:55 PM (#4668430)
I think it's naive to think that no athletes are capable of malingering or faking injuries.


I agree.

The trouble is thinking you can identify which ones are the malingerers and which ones aren't.
   34. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: March 08, 2014 at 08:56 PM (#4668431)
Edit: Double post.

   35. Bruce Markusen Posted: March 10, 2014 at 06:28 PM (#4669221)
First off, my understanding was that Nolan was mostly being second-guessed by Sparky Anderson and the front office, and not by his teammates. In contrast, Pavano was being questioned by many of his own teammates, along with the manager and the front office.

I'm not backpedalling at all. There are people in every profession who feign or exaggerate injury/illness and don't show up as much as they should. If I gave the impression that I only thought Pavano "might" have been jaking it, then let me correct that. I'm convinced that he WAS jaking it, as was Chris Brown during his career.

A third player was Mickey Rivers, who was notorious for letting it be known that he wasn't feeling well or didn't want to play. That was a subtle message that was to be relayed to George Steinbrenner, who then sent Rivers one of those famed "little white envelopes" that contained an advance on Rivers salary. Once Rivers received one of the envelopes, he suddenly pepped up and felt better, and was ready to play. (And I liked Rivers, who was one of the more colorful players of the era. But there's no doubt that he jaked it at times during his Yankee career.)

Anybody who followed the Yankees of the late 1970s had little difficulty "identifying" Rivers as "one of the malingerers." It wasn't exactly a science to do so.
   36. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: March 10, 2014 at 06:43 PM (#4669227)
First off, my understanding was that Nolan was mostly being second-guessed by Sparky Anderson and the front office, and not by his teammates. In contrast, Pavano was being questioned by many of his own teammates, along with the manager and the front office.

As if they'd have any better an idea than, well, some idiot named Bruce blowing hard from a keyboard.
   37. frannyzoo Posted: March 10, 2014 at 07:34 PM (#4669248)
You mean this Bruce, Lance?

I don't personally know any of the "players" in this little brouhaha, but c'mon, it's BBTF, not YouTube/Yahoo Sports/IMDB comments here.
   38. Tom T Posted: March 10, 2014 at 10:56 PM (#4669310)
Research is showing more and more evidence that MRI diagnosis and pain frequently don't correlate. When you have a pitcher with pain you do generally find a cuff tear, bone spur, labral tear or whatever. But if you MRI a bunch of healthy pitchers as a control group you find a similar set of MRI findings.


The way this came across was as the use of MRI (or other imaging modalities) being a negative, but this (mismatch between diagnosis and pain) is actually a good thing --- the MRI can't "lie" per se, nor can it "hide" a symptom. Athletes, on the other hand, often will not report pain or other symptoms, precluding effective diagnosis. Add to this that many doctors or medical staff are under employment pressure NOT to acknowledge possible diagnosis of injury (cf. Notre Dame and Dayne Crist's transient neurological event", as it was called), and imaging or other non-invasive objective measures become critical. It is fairly apparent that most teams would be better off financially (and possibly in aggregate performance) by not shutting players down "unnecessarily" (i.e., when they don't complain of pain or present other symptoms), but the medical staff should be quite interested in looking after the long-term interests of the patients and at least putting such an option on the table.
   39. Zach Posted: March 11, 2014 at 01:54 AM (#4669342)
the MRI can't "lie" per se, nor can it "hide" a symptom

What do you mean? The MRI lies every time it shows a possible injury on a player who can keep playing.

Not every baseball injury is preventable. Also, most baseball careers are really short. Shutting a guy down who is playing effectively in order to prevent an injury that may or may not be preventable is a very risky strategy. You could easily deprive a guy of a huge chunk of his lifetime income for no real benefit.
   40. Zach Posted: March 11, 2014 at 02:23 AM (#4669344)
Think of adding sand to a sandpile. With every grain you add, the pile gets steeper and more likely to have a landslide. If you keep on adding grains, you'll get a power law distribution of landslides -- lots and lots of little ones and a few big ones. It turns out that people can predict the distribution of landslides, but it's really tough to predict when the next landslide will come, or how big it will be. The same logic applies to earthquakes and, I'm guessing, to tearing fibers in an arm ligament. It's easy to diagnose that a big tear has already occurred, but hard to predict when the next one will come.
   41. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 11, 2014 at 07:45 AM (#4669365)
The MRI lies every time it shows a possible injury on a player who can keep playing.


That's not a lie, it's a dilemma.

Shutting a guy down who is playing effectively in order to prevent an injury that may or may not be preventable is a very risky strategy. You could easily deprive a guy of a huge chunk of his lifetime income for no real benefit.


I'm a bit confused... who are all these guys who are pitching effectively and not complaining of any pain who are being shut down on the basis of MRI findings?
   42. Ron J2 Posted: March 11, 2014 at 09:58 AM (#4669419)
#20 One thing that may have made a difference was Les Cain winning a settlement for the handling of him (forced to pitch through injuries by Billy Martin).

Granted it was a small amount of money and was a worker's compensation case rather than a claim directly against the team, but it was a real eye-opener for a lot of people in baseball. Arguably not for Martin, but ....
   43. Ron J2 Posted: March 11, 2014 at 11:33 AM (#4669502)
#24 I don't think it follows. What it shows is that a certain number of pitchers survived the handling BITD. An awful lot of very talented pitchers didn't.

What is unclear to me is how much things have changed. Pretty clear that there have been more high value careers recently than during the 80s, but pitcher health is still murky at best.

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