WEIGHING IN

By:  Holly Horning

Did you happen to catch Al Avila’s statement about Bruce Rondon on Monday? You know, the one about how the Tigers were “monitoring (him) during the offseason as all Tigers players are followed by the strength-and-conditioning operatives”? And that his weight was fine?

And somehow, Bruce managed to gain, according to analysts, somewhere between 30-60 lbs in less than 30 days and mostly while he was away for the WBC.

Riiiiiight.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way. This blog is not about being overweight. I don’t care about how much anyone weighs unless you are a loved one or it goes against the grain of what you are supposed to do for a living. And this guy is an athlete whose performance was seriously impacted by his physical change. We have a right to call this out in the same way as a doctor who smokes or a nutritionist who buys faux food from a vending machine.

But this blog is also not about Bruce. He is just the most recent poster boy (and not surprisingly, the most susceptible) for a system that has continued to fail the team and holds no one accountable. Year after year, the Tigers are listed as one of the heaviest teams in MLB.

And when you have a policy that is not adopted, nor enforced with coaches who do not have the tools or support to impact their clients’ lives, the blame falls upon the organization which has failed to show its value or importance to their employees.

In the earlier days, the team feasted on pizza after every game. Then, David Restovich was hired as the team’s nutritionist and spent 17 years in that position before resigning less than 24 hours after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder. And even then, how much impact did he really have during that 17-year tenure?

He said “ But I obviously couldn’t stay here where my expertise would not be used or appreciated…. A nutritionist for the Tigers in 2012 is no different from being a Conestoga wagon salesman in 2012. In fact, it’s probably worse.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Since then, the Tigers have not had a dedicated nutritionist on board. The Lions only hired their own less than a year ago. It would appear that someone is working for our Bengals, but not full time, according to records found. Or just maybe, they don’t want to be found. At least not yet.

Some evidence suggests that the Tigers are employing an indirect way to counsel players. Buffet tables are color-coded now to indicate the nutritional value. More vegetables and lean protein are “green” while the “red” table offers a warning, but little else. Hopefully, this is the first baby step in trying to establish acceptance.

What is more telling is the physical condition of some players seen in Spring Training and early this year. In addition to Rondon, VMart also appears visibly heavier which is always good for those bad knees, right?

But Nicholas Castellanos does look really terrific, doesn’t he? That’s because he said he hired a nutritionist in the off-season. A few other players have done the same. Just look around – you’ll know who they are. And it’s a concern when players have to go outside the organization to get what they need.

The truth is that well over half of MLB teams have a full-time nutritionist. They oversee and plan each athlete’s menu, even cooking them their meals. Reports have them removing junk food from airplanes and hotel rooms and even sending players on road trips with their own food. Would you be surprised to know that the Cardinals are the ones credited with being the first to introduce this? And would we also be surprised to learn that once again, the Tigers are one of the slowest teams to adopt new and proven strategies?

What few have actually identified is that it is hard for a group of athletes to get on the same page when it comes to food and nutrition. And that is because they all come from different countries with different cultures and cuisines. One-third of both the 25-man and 40-man roster were raised outside the US. And there are even regional issues within the US.

Some, like Iggy, come from countries that have few fresh vegetables and dairy products. How do you know what to eat if you were never exposed to them, couldn’t get them or couldn’t afford them, when growing up?

And ironically, as I write this, Justin Verlander is on tv talking about going through his workout before he has eaten anything. He mentions that the clubhouse is now full of healthy food, but that he is not a “healthy eater.” One look on his social media shows lots of his pre-packaged, restaurant and fast food meals. He also didn’t discern that all calories are not created equal. My long-time nutritionist won’t believe me when she hears this, especially coming from a professional athlete.

But as we’ve seen, talent that isn’t physically up-to-par can be lost. Can the Tigers afford to waste these skills? Can they expect that players will be accepting of new philosophies that are not embraced, known or practiced within their original culture? Will they willingly, and on a timely basis, adopt new habits?

As someone who deals in inspiring change in my non-baseball professional life, I can tell you without hesitation, no. Awareness is rare but most change comes from an initial not-so-subtle push.

The Tigers need a dedicated nutritionist who will work with each individual and show them how nutrition impacts performance. And weight. Until then, let’s hope that Castellanos’ new look and performance speaks volumes to his team mates – and that he becomes the team’s inspiration for others hopping on board.


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21 thoughts on “WEIGHING IN

  1. There isn’t one right way for each athlete. So unless they put out a swimsuit calendar I only care about wins and losses .

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    • Rondon isn’t with the team right now because like in past he’s incredibly inconsistent along with the tigers feel they have a potential answer with Jimenez also. For every time I’ve heard tigers fans complain about a so called ‘out of shape Cabrera’ he just continues to put up elite hall of fame numbers every year.

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      • Hi, Bill – You bring up some interesting points. Some might say about Rondon that one reason he is ineffective this year is because of his weight. His location and MPH are both off from the good year he had in 2016. As for Miggy, I’ve seen him up close and would never describe him as overweight. What some people are seeing is that tv easily adds 15-20 lbs on someone. Miggy simply has an extremely powerfully-build body that is very broad up top and he really stands out esp. when you see him standing next to other players. Thanks for keeping the conversation going! – Holly

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  2. I know the media likes to stir things up and don’t do their due diligence in finding out that it is possible to gain a lot of weight in short periods of time. I am a compulsive binge and over eater, and I have done it, not as much as Rondon, but he may have enablers around him, or his income makes it easier for him to get food for his cravings.

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  3. Great piece, Holly. Team nutrition goes hand in hand with the Tiger’s Way manual. Just like our team nutritionist, I’m not sure if anyone has provided any hint that that guideline even exists. Has anyone writing for or reading TT found out anything more about our Tiger’s Way?

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    • Hi, Ray – Thanks for your kind words. As for the Tigers’ Way, I have my operatives working on it. 🙂 But seriously, I think this is a very proprietary document and being kept closely guarded. Eventually, some details of it will get out but it’s still too new. As always, many thanks for keeping the dialog going and spreading the word about TT. – Holly

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  4. Thank you, Holly, right on! Now for the 200th time, broaden this and get a Medical and Conditioning (including nutritional) Director. Provide plans for each player, with monitoring (not by some “operative” per Avila) but a bona fide trainer. Make arrangement for specialists who are called in early–this seems to have worked with Martinez this year.

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  5. Players going outside the team for coaching, especially minor leaguer s like Casper wells or jhony Peralta for defensive help is amazing. Others like Matt Joyce were immediately sent down by thier new team, Tampa bays maddon to improve thier basic skills. Physical conditioning is just another fundamental.

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  6. Thanks Holly, for very tastefully (no pun intended) addressing the weight issue. Size does matter. The flexibility and ease of movement are the biggest problems brought on by excess weight. Just ask me.

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  7. “Year after year the Tigers are listed as one of the heaviest teams in MLB”……..okay, no they are not and that is simply not true at all…. In fact the tigers are listed as the 19th heaviest team this season in Major League Baseball for average player weight.

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    • Hi, Scott – Not sure where you get your sources but this year’s figures aren’t out yet. The most recent numbers have the Tigers somewhat improved and ranked #7 in heaviest teams with an average weight of 265 lbs. The MLB average is 196 lb. Thanks for keeping the dialog going! – Holly

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      • Hi, Herb – It’s a complicated story. First of all, the reports were not based upon “official” MLB statements. And then there’s the long-standing controversy of what is actually reported by teams and what is really the truth. For example, the Tigers and MLB have Rondon listed at 275 but other sources have him listed at 330 – even more. In all fairness, teams can’t report real weights without players’ permissions due to medical laws. The vast majority of Tigers are well over 200 with the rest within 10 lbs of it. Not explained in the report is whether the list is of the 25- or 40-man roster. But studies show that the weight of MLB players keeps going up due to more muscle mass which we know is heavier than fat. And then there are the issues concerning teams, like the Tigers, that are built for power so they have players who are naturally bigger and taller – all of which impacts weight. The reports also don’t break down players by BMI which is more telling. However, as I mentioned today, my blog is not about weight. It is about nutrition and how it impacts weight and performance. – Holly

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  8. I laughed when I read Avila’s comments. Bruce is like an alcoholic when it comes to food. He can’t control himself.

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  9. Coolaid anyone. Rondon looks like the PILLSBURY doughboy and Cabrera looks very unfilt. Miggy could coast in his youth, but as he ages, keeping in shape is paramount and that includes ones weight. The Tigers conditioning program is a complete joke.

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  10. Fascinating! Holly, of the teams who employ nutritionists, do any extend this service to their minor league prospects?

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    • Hi, Max – Ohhh, are you giving me a new assignment? This one will take time…… From what I learned so far, the minors are a major nutritional void. Young guys ignorant of how to eat and it impacts performance combined with little meal money and bus trips that tend to go near a majority of fast food restaurants. Some MLB clubs extend nutritional counseling to the minors – and then it also depends upon the level, too. Some do a quick hit with teams during spring training only. The teams that tend to invest in their players beyond salaries are the usual suspects – Cards, Cubs, Giants, Angels, Rangers and a few more. Thanks for keeping the discussion going! – Holly

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  11. When I read Avila’s comment about all of Rondon’s weight gain in the WBC and that he was doing fine until then, my BS detector was going off like crazy. How stupid does he think we are? 50# in two weeks? There is no honesty and accountability in either management or the individual players.

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  12. Illuminating piece Holly. V-Mart too heavy with those knees? Aging team should be watching their nutrients and calorie intake even more so that a youthful one. Too light in the pen and too heavy on carbs and fat.

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  13. I remember some years ago when the entire White Sox starting lineup was listed at 6’3″ or taller. I’m guessing there was some heft in that group, but weight/fitness was not such a big deal as it is now.

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