Monday, October 24, 2011

2012 Wish List Part VII: Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room

The Twins had a million problems in 2011, and the biggest one was the number of injuries. Their use of the Disable List was legendary -- and not the good kind of legends. What's baffling is that it doesn't seem as if Bill Smith is willing to admit that anything could have been done about it.

Obviously, I'm no expert. My experience with anything medical related is limited to: taping basketball players' ankles in high school, owning a couple of anatomy and medical terminology books, knowing how to use WebMD, and being a mom of student athletes. However, whenever Smith says that they only had one instance that wasn't what he's calling a "collision" injury (and he's said it repeatedly), I don't buy it. 

In fact, I think it's B.S. And I don't mean Bill Smith.

While it's true that several of the injuries were unavoidable mishaps -- Nishioka's broken leg, Delmon's broken foot, Denard's concussion, --  I feel like there were an awful lot of obliques, quads, forearms, and shoulders that are more "conditioning" injuries than "collision" injuries. Obviously, these things are typical baseball injuries, and no team is exempt from them. I'm just confused as to why Smith is reluctant to mention them. Did he forget about them? Is he lumping them in with the collision injures? Does he feel like they were unavoidable?

Also, I question the handling of the injuries once they occurred. It seemed like things that they claimed should be day-to-day wound up being DL stints, and the DL stints that they claimed would be around the 15-day minimum would be a lot longer. Days to weeks, weeks to months, and so on. Was the trouble with how they were estimating the returns, or with how well they treated the injuries?

It's hard to know who's at fault here. It would be easy to say that they should just let the entire medical training staff go -- the doctors, athletic trainers, conditioning coaches, therapists, scanner operators, guys who schlep the ice -- and start over. Well, that's not happening; Bill Smith said so on ESPN1500. And it probably shouldn't happen. Yes, the training staff may need to improve some processes and procedures. But the athletes need to be held accountable too. Joe Mauer admitted he came to spring training out of shape because of his knee surgery. I'm pretty sure that some of the other players could work on their preparedness.

I don't have any solutions for this mess. Do the players need to improve their off-season conditioning? Does the team need to teach the players better techniques for injury prevention? Does Gardy need to start kicking some butts? Do the athletic trainers need to be better educated in progressive therapy techniques? Do the players need to be held more accountable for their own health? Does everyone top to bottom need to have a better understanding of the difference between "hurting" and "injured"? Does the team need to invest in bubble-wrap uniforms?

I can't say. But I do wish that as a first step towards solutions, Bill Smith would properly admit to and identify the problems.


JimCrikket said...

I agree, those comments of Smith's were baffling. Did he think nobody would "fact check" or did he fall asleep for half the summer and not notice all the DL time due to muscle strains, etc.? Very odd, indeed.

John Gregory said...

You raised good points and there are others.

Players are normally reluctant to express anything negative, but J.J. Hardy had some quotes this season that leave you reading between the lines that the Twins' medical expertise can be questioned.

Nishioka's broken leg occurred on a play where it looked like he could have protected himself better. Maybe this was a fine point in major league coaching that hadn't been gotten across to him yet. With a player coming over like that, it needed to be a priority to force feed him some things in those first months.

I seem to recall Plouffe having a hamstring pulled in his first week in the majors. Seems to me an infielder should never have that happen, if proper stretching and conditioning is being taught. Didn't cause much lost playing time, but it raised a question in my mind.

Revere made that amazing catch where he climbed up the wall to go get the ball. Thrilling, and a season highlight; but how thrilled would we have been with that play if instead his cleats had gotten caught in the padding and he snapped his ankle? Makes me wonder if there is an organizational mindset that makes injury more likely/ I.e. does playing it safe bring you in for more hazing (from coaches and/or players) than on other teams?