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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Baseball’s Mental Health Reckoning

Sherriff walked away from baseball. He walked away from the game of his childhood dreams, formed over trips to Dodger Stadium with his father, who was such a fervent Dodgers fan he told his son he wouldn’t speak to him if he ever signed with the Giants. He walked away from the game he had been playing as a pro for 11 years for low wages; only this year would he be making his top salary, $574,800, at the age of 30.

The next day Angels pitcher Ty Buttrey, 28, quit baseball. Four days later, reliever Chris Devenski, 30, left the Diamondbacks for personal reasons. Seven days after that, Phillies outfielder Adam Haseley, 25, left baseball. Last September shortstop Andrelton Simmons, 31, left the Angels to deal with depression and suicidal thoughts before joining the Twins for the 2021 season. Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, 35, opted out of last season and this season, forgoing $13.56 million in salary, to be with his family while concerned about racial injustice. Rays pitcher Ryan Thompson, 28, had an emotional breakdown days after pitching in the World Series last year, burdened by how the job of playing baseball had skewed his priorities.

A mental health crisis is percolating in baseball. To be clear, not all players placed on the restricted list for “personal reasons” experience mental health issues. One agent, though, with a client who stepped away from the game says he asked the players association how many players were on the restricted list with mental-health-related issues and was told, “More than a dozen.”...


RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 21, 2021 at 04:49 PM | 12 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: mental health

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: April 21, 2021 at 06:04 PM (#6014805)
Obviously I see this only from the outside, and a distant outside at that, but baseball seems to have done relatively well here over the last 5+ years. I haven't noticed them placing any stigma on players suffering issues, the IL is there to be used. I hope MLB/MLBPA are doing a good job of making resources available and I assume mental healthcare is part of the health plan. It wasn't that way when I was a kid and probably not even 10 years ago.
   2. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: April 22, 2021 at 12:03 AM (#6014878)
baseball seems to have done relatively well here over the last 5+ years.
Perhaps it's the pandemic forcing the issue, but it seems most of society is expanding its understanding of mental health - accepting that depression is a tougher battle than just feeling happy, realizing anxiety is not something experiences only by neurotic characters in sitcoms.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: April 22, 2021 at 02:17 AM (#6014884)
I think so too, at least in Oz and NZ. But I would have guessed that sports, the locker room, the fans would be about the last bit of society to come around so I'm surprised/glad that it seems to have happened.
   4. Dr. Pooks Posted: April 22, 2021 at 11:22 AM (#6014916)
It's definitely been understandably memory-holed, but Roberto Osuna at one time received widespread praise for disclosing that the reason he missed a save opportunity despite being in the bullpen on the active roster for the Jays in 2017 was due to acute anxiety.

CBC 2017 link
   5. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: April 22, 2021 at 12:33 PM (#6014932)
baseball seems to have done relatively well here over the last 5+ years.

Going back a little further, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to process the death of his father the prior year. Dusty handled that very well.
   6. Brian C Posted: April 22, 2021 at 03:29 PM (#6014962)
This article mostly doesn't seem to describe "mental health" issues at all. It's describing mostly people who are unhappy with their jobs and need a break or want to do something else. And more power to them, but this is like virtually everyone else at some point or other. Life is hard, times can get bad, and everyone needs help coping at some point or another. And I don't doubt that some of these players have deeper issues of actual mental health to deal with.

But I don't think that Verducci is really making that case here, instead focusing on how guys feel or the pressures that they face. And it cheapens the term "mental health" to group everyday, universal stressors into that bucket - it seems like we should be saving that term for people that have more severe incapacities than not being sufficiently excited to play baseball.

I mean, sure, Andrelton Simmons dealing with "depression and suicidal thoughts", sure, that's a mental health issue. But there has to be a difference in category between that and being "concerned about racial injustice", right?

(At any rate I'm not sure that Verducci meant to say that being concerned about racial injustice is a sign of mental unhealthiness!)
   7. Jay Seaver Posted: April 22, 2021 at 05:55 PM (#6014979)
And it cheapens the term "mental health" to group everyday, universal stressors into that bucket - it seems like we should be saving that term for people that have more severe incapacities than not being sufficiently excited to play baseball.

Eh, the common cold and HIV are both "infectious disease", and I kind of think that it's worth thinking about the whole continuum in both cases. Those everyday stressors can add up to a breakdown or just minor frustration over time, but even if you KNOW something won't lead to collapse, it's good for everyone to strive for an actively positive experience, rather than just not-miserable.
   8. Brian C Posted: April 22, 2021 at 07:19 PM (#6014989)
I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about the common cold as "infectious disease" in everyday talk. I mean, I'll concede the point is technically true. But what I'm talking about seems more like the equivalent of a few kids catching a common cold and reading headlines darkly intoning that their school is "reckoning" with infectious disease, i.e., everyone would think that's a dumb overstatement.

And I agree that "it's good for everyone to strive for an actively positive experience", and don't want anyone to think I'm saying otherwise. I'm not making an shake-fist-at-clouds argument that those soft millennials are just too damn weak or anything like that. I just think we need a way to talk about those everyday stressors that doesn't lump the people with "minor frustrations" in with the "adds up to breakdowns". The former group is not suffering from poor "health", they're just dealing with the same stuff as everyone. The latter group are potential risks to themselves and others. It's not the same thing, just like no one talks about the common cold and HIV as the same thing.
   9. Howie Menckel Posted: April 22, 2021 at 07:45 PM (#6014994)
ESPN has been running a program of late on Braves superstar Freddie Freeman talking emotionally about being a young boy with a mom who had cancer - as well as the awful day at school when he's sent to the principal's office and he sees his father and his uncle there for - well, some reason.

so he knows. it is quite powerful.

there seems to be no trepidation from Freeman about offering such raw honesty. it's a new era in so many ways.

in the mid-1990s, I had a close friend of Jamaican/Asian heritage who was engaged to an Irish lass, and we met once over a few beers to talk through his trepidation about bringing mixed-race kids into the world - given what he feared they might face.

not even 10 years later, my seatmate at work winds up being a young woman whose parents were - yep, Jamaican and Irish. we had many a conversation, and it became clear to me that she seemed to have experienced no trauma at all from her ethnic background (one never knows for sure, but she grew up in a famously diverse community so I believe it).

my buddy wound up having three sons, and from all accounts they grew up just fine.

society does change, and these 20-somethings and 30-somethings are not bound my previous norms that in many cases were really "abnorms." they're not going to shove mental health issues under the rug.

I can only imagine a youngster who lost a parent seeing that Freeman episode and gaining immense resolve. even your hero is not immune, and look, he made it. of course, it's not even about being great at baseball; it's about being successful in spite of.
   10. Brian C Posted: April 22, 2021 at 08:00 PM (#6014996)
I guess I want to clarify more where I'm coming from, because I don't want to be mistaken:

1) Being unhappy at your job is not, I don't think, a sign of mental health struggles. Indeed, being empowered and willing to walk away seems to me like a sign of strong mental health, on its face.

2) I worry about overuse of the "mental health" terminology in part because I had a brother who had struggles from an early age and was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder as an adult. One of the ways (among others) that this manifested itself was susceptibility to addiction: drugs, alcohol, gambling. He did some time in prison for drug offenses and eventually died of an overdose at 35, mostly estranged from family and friends. As time goes on, I feel extraordinarily sad for him and the misery he endured. He struggled with mental health, and never got the help he needed, if that help even exists in the first place. My complaints about my job or whatever daily frustrations I have don't seem like the same category to me, even at those times where I feel some real anxiety about them.

3) As a corollary to numbers 1 and 2, it seems to me that if those "minor frustrations" equate to mental health struggles, then everyone is struggling with mental health. Is this really true? It seems like a case where if you include everyone under that umbrella, you actually have a meaningless term on your hands.

4) The comparison to the common cold is even more instructive when I think about it, precisely because we would never say that someone with a common cold is struggling with their health just because they have a cold. Unless they had some underlying issues - which of course some people do! - we would understand that this is a healthy person who's just dealing with a thing for a few days. Naturally, I take the point that we all have to take some preventative care to ensure our physical health, and I would agree that the same is true of our mental health as well. But does normal day-to-day maintenance of our well-being constitute a "reckoning"? That seems like a ridiculous overbid.
   11. Mayor Blomberg Posted: April 22, 2021 at 08:49 PM (#6015002)
Also true that we don't know what these players are actually going through, only how they described it publicly, It sounds to me like with Murray it was more than, Gee, this isn't fun anymore.
   12. Jay Seaver Posted: April 23, 2021 at 12:09 PM (#6015065)
But does normal day-to-day maintenance of our well-being constitute a "reckoning"?

I don't think that the article is implying is that every individual's day-to-day problems constitute a crisis, but that professional baseball can be a uniquely stressful environment at the best of times, the past year and change has certainly not been the best of times, and there's room for improvement in terms of both dealing with this stress and in not causing it in the first place. The "reckoning" is that these issues have been under the surface a long time, but current situations have made dealing with it a higher priority.

Anyway, I don't think it cheapens the severe issues people have to say that everyone struggles with mental health, and that acknowledging and acting on that makes things better for everyone. To abuse the common cold analogy a little more, many fewer people have had colds or the flu over the past year because of the steps we've been taking to avoid Covid, and I've heard from a lot of people who say that they'll probably keep wearing masks during flu season or when they feel the sort of crud that they would previously just pushed through. That will probably make things better for everyone in the future, and the same is true for mental health - yes, there are people who need the equivalent of an emergency room or treatment for a chronic condition, but that's easier to provide (and less stigmatized) when it's available for even those whose current issues don't meet some sort of threshold.

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