A PAIN IN THE NECK

By:  Holly Horning

Time to ride the injury rollercoaster once again this year. Today’s candidate? Jordan Zimmermann.

JZ had 2 rehab assignments in which he threw 50 – 78 pitches each but in only 4 innings. He consistently fell behind most of the hitters and his fastball speed and command were off. Yet, it was deemed he was ready to return to Detroit.

Why? Because he told the team he was pain-free.

But once back with the Tigers, he was warming up before his start last week and everyone noticed that there was something wrong. Dubee did. So did Salty. Presumably Ausmus, too. But no one said anything and he took the mound. Even when Brad and Kevin Rand noticed that something was amiss and visited him, he told them he was fine and stayed in the game – only to leave minutes later in the second inning after giving up 6 runs and putting the game effectively out of reach.

And now Zimmermann is once again on the DL with a re-aggravation of an older injury. And once again, it brings up that issue fans have been discussing since 2013 about how well the Tigers watch over and manage player injuries.

And it’s been a troubling pattern. For the past 4 years, the Tigers have never made the list of teams with the most official injuries. However, that’s because many of the players who are injured, don’t go on the DL. Where the Tigers do consistently rank is with injured players on the active roster.

We’ve watched Miggy hurt for what seemed like forever – watching him grimace and limp. And Victor, too – unable to hit because he couldn’t use his legs and literally had to drag them out of the batter’s box. JV also comes to mind when he rushed back from a rehab he didn’t want to do. And there are others – but you get the point.

I don’t know of another team that treats its most expensive players with such a cavalier attitude when it comes to injuries.

To be fair, this has been an issue that was seen during both the Leyland and Ausmus regimes as well as the Dombrowski and Avila eras. And yesterday, Brad responded that they took Zimm’s word that he was fine. Despite seeing otherwise.

And I’ve got a real problem with that. Not just with Ausmus, but with a whole host of support staff in the form of coaches, trainers and presumably medical staff. Everyone appeared to have signed off – at least those with the real decision-making power.

Interestingly, before JZ’s return to the DL, I was listening to a group of former players talk about injuries. All said that there is no one in baseball who will admit that they are injured. The norm is that they will play through injuries – minor and major because that is the culture. It’s also about keeping their jobs and maximizing new contracts when the time comes.

They talked about having injuries so severe that they should have been seeking treatment. Broken bone severe. Several of these players-turned-analysts shared stories of having injuries that were so visibly apparent yet routinely had the trainers tape them up. Trainers who turned a blind eye and did it despite the risks. Trainers who also didn’t tell managers.

Combine that with a report I read over the winter mentioning the issues created by the majority of ball players who don’t trust the team doctors and see their own independent doctors. Doctors who are required by their profession not to divulge medical information unless the patient allows it. And these athletes don’t share the information with their team for the most part. All in the name of protecting their careers and income.

In the case of Zimmermann, we’ll never know.

So the other question to ask is whether the Tigers also take risks in allowing injured players to stay off the DL. Do they do it because they are pushing to stay in the race? Was Zimmermann so desperately needed back in the rotation that they turned a blind eye to the apparent red flags? If the Tigers had landed another starter, would JZ still be in Toledo?

While it’s understandable that highly competitive athletes want back in the game, it’s the “team” game think that needs to take priority. When you play injured, you put both yourself and your team at risk. When you play injured, it’s about what you want. And when you play injured, you’re not thinking about what is really best for the team.

Maybe if someone had stopped Zimm from pitching, the Tigers may have had a better chance to win that game. And maybe he wouldn’t have ended up back on the DL.

So who’s at fault? The player or management? Or both?

It’s worrisome when any profession practices averting eyes when it comes to injuries. It’s part of an unenviable corporate culture when a string of decision-makers decide to ignore the long-term implications in favor of a much-wanted short-term gain.

12 thoughts on “A PAIN IN THE NECK

  1. Holly again has hit the nail on the head in the injury realm. The Tigers handling of all of its injured players, not only but especially it top talent, leaves one scratching his or her head. They really need an organized medical area, with a Director of Player Health (a Czar, if you would). Avila, Ausmus, and Rand just do not cut it!

    Like

  2. And a pain in the thumb as well,Holly! Is Cameron’s hurt thumb more or worse than it is? They showed him in the dugout yesterday with a thumb cast. However, we need him in the lineup because he is the straw that stirs the Tigers’ drink!

    Like

  3. Allowing a player to override the decision of medical/training staff is preposterous & points to managerial & corporate failures. Something is influencing these judgement calls. Could it be an undue emphasis is placed on the amount of $’s lost? Is the medical personnel autonomous or under the direction of a specific person?

    Like

    • Hi, Helen – Great points you bring up. All teams handle medical issues differently and with the Tigers, the medical staff makes a recommendation but they aren’t the decision-makers. Additionally, someone with ties to the Mud Hens said that JD went against advice to rehab longer and came back based upon his own decision. The Tigers aren’t alone in this method with Michael Brantley being the poster child this year for rehab gone wrong and trying to come back too soon.
      Thanks for continuing the discussion! – Holly

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Holly, you suggest that other teams handle this issue more rationally than the Tigers. Can you give examples of teams that approach injuries with more intelligence?

    Like

    • Hi, Max – Great question. Research has found that each team has their own system for handling injuries. Some have medical staff running things while others simply allow input but the Front Office makes the decision. Others tell players when they can return from rehab while another team allows the player to decide. One great example is the Nats who decided this past winter that they didn’t like their entire medical process and fired everyone involved. It was deemed that injuries were one of the primary causes for the Nats disappointing season. This decree came from the owner who insisted that there be a new structure and someone to oversee/make decisions. It’s worked very well so far this year. I will add that the Tigers’ way of handling this most probably dates to DD being in charge and wanting to oversee everything and make all the decisions as he’s continued to do in Boston even though he has a GM with no decision-making power. Al Avila may want to address this over the winter and make changes. Thanks for continuing the conversation! – Holly

      Like

      • The Tigers might be more inclined to rest the wounded if they had some guys on the bench or in Toledo who could plausibly fill in. Last year, when Miggy was hurt, the best they could do was Jefry Marte, a career third baseman who had approximately as much professional experience at first base as I do.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. And we’re talking BB here. Football and hockey athletes are far worse conditioned to ” hide” injuries. But with the Tigers were past the PLAYER culture and trainer “tape jobs.” We’re talking glaring obvious injuries and Ausmus writing the guy’s name on the game day starting card. What gives? Z job cost a game.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I wonder how the Oakland A’s, with their “No Star, No Huge Salary” teams, handle the medical issues with players?

    Like

  7. Your post has raised some interesting questions so I started reading 🙂 The Tigers are nowhere to be found on the list of Martin-Monaghan award recipients. Is there a way to find out if they were ever in the running & have any of the trainers been honored individually in other award categories? Is there a stat for ranking teams in this area?

    Like

  8. Hi, Helen – Great question and something I was saving for another blog. The Tigers have never won any of these M-M awards, nor were they even close in the running. What’s unknown is how much power they have within the organization. They may make recommendations which are not followed by the team. Dombrowski controlled and had the final word on everything and it may be too soon for Avila to tweak the system. I will mention that at one point, the Tigers had a nutritionist, who quit on the team and said that he was given no power or platform to influence the players. That power comes from management, which may be a clue. Btw, the Tigers never replaced him. We’ll tackle this subject more in the coming months so stay tuned. Thanks for reading! – Holly

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s no need for coffee in the a.m. with such thought provoking articles waiting to be read. TT gets the juices flowing. Thanks, Holly, for shedding light on an especially interesting & timely topic.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.