Looking around the Fansided Network, I note that it is most heavily populated with young writers – many of whom are still in collegiate writing programs with visions of sports journalism, and that is great. Also out there are a few young guys like me, merely somehow stuck in an old body for some reason.
An advantage to being an old dude is the ability to actually remember players that, for many younger writers, are merely a name with a reputation and a page of statistics.
One of the big themes of the first week of Spring Training is that of the list of injured players. The presence of paranoia in Orioles fans is not without substance or history! It is like “here we go again, verse 15!”
Having made 50+ trips around the sun, it sure does seem like modern players are injured to a greater extent than players of the past. I’m not sure how that could be definitively quantified, but anecdotally I can certainly say that in the past it did not seem to have the pervasive character we see today. I just do not remember players being out that frequently for extended times, nor the daily rehearsal of disabled lists and things of that nature.
Why is this? Are modern players just soft? I don’t think so… but let’s speculate on some reasons for this condition, and maybe some readers would like to post some more.
1. Players from the past simply played through injuries, whether that was wise to do or not.
2. Players from the past could get away with playing through many injuries. The team and organizational depth was not the same as today. Players today, with all the advantages of technology (for one example), are able to capitalize upon any weakness in an opponent – there is a narrower margin for error.
3. Sports medicine and modern diagnostic technologies are able to more early and quickly diagnose and begin treatment for problems that arise. Jason Berken’s hamstring pull would have been a problem 30 years ago, but it would not have been reported so widely, nor treated so aggressively with such tools as an underwater treadmill! Britton’s shoulder would not likely have been mentioned nor examined for inflammation.
4. A more invasive press and extensive information network dredges up issues and reports on them more widely. This difference alone would make a similar number of injuries seem like a lot more now.
5. There is so much money invested in players, that teams now feel the need to protect their investments with an abundance of caution at the onset of any symptom.
So I really do not think the players of today are softer than those of even a decade ago… in fact, just the opposite. I will use one example – citing a player who was on the Orioles for two of his dozen years in pro baseball: Pete Incaviglia … a.k.a. “Inky.” He played briefly for the Orioles in 1996-97, hitting a total of 7 homers, though he had 206 for his career.
Inky was also on the famous grungy Phillies team of 1993 – the squad personified most vividly by current commentator John Kruk. The “Krucker” was from just west of where I live in Western Maryland, he being from Keyser, WV … a town where he once said a “big business was Mrs. What’s-Her-Name – the local Avon lady” – whom I guess was a bit obese. Well, Kruk himself was no studmuffin, as he said, “I ain’t no athlete – I’m a baseball player.”
Inky however, though a big guy for sure, was more like a modern player. I distinctly remember it being said of him that he was a guy who really liked weight-lifting (and bench 440). This was remarked upon by Phillies announcers that season as an anomaly among the players – that Inky really enjoyed it and was disciplined about it. Clearly, it was far more the exception than the rule. Are there any players in the modern era who are NOT regularly and seasonally participating in weight training?
Well, you get the point.
But before I close, let me tell you a couple more tidbits about Incaviglia. Another way that he was like some current Orioles players was his propensity for either hitting homers or striking out. He would hit moon-shots – like some unnamed player for the Birds last year – but also of similarity, Inky twice led the majors in strikeouts.
I believe his Oklahoma State single-season record of 48 homers and 143 RBIs still stand as NCAA records. And another amazing fact about him is that he went straight from the college ranks to the majors (Texas Rangers) without ever playing in the minors. He was known to do things like hit a ball clear through the protective cage for batting practice pitchers. Inky was also a colorful guy with great quotes.