No Rx for Trips to the DL

PUBLISHED: April 8, 2011

I'm no doctor, although I have played one on TV. But as a reasonably qualified baseball fan, I'm having a hard time diagnosing some of the maladies suffered by the nation's best-conditioned, highest-paid, and most-pampered athletes.

One of baseball's top pitchers, the Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez, was placed on the 15-day disabled list after suffering - are you ready for this? - an injured cuticle. No knock on Jimenez, an all-star last season, but can you imagine, say, a construction worker taking a two-week sick leave with an injured cuticle?

One week into the new season, Major League Baseball's official injury list showed 119 players unable to participate. This, after five weeks of spring training.

The Angels, Padres and Blue Jays share the dubious honor of leading the Majors with six players from each squad already on the DL. Among the half-dozen disabled Padres, three are suffering from "soreness." Around the Big Leagues in early April, 17 players were officially listed by MLB has having "strains." What ever happened to No Pain, No Gain?

Fans of the world champion Giants were mystified last month when right fielder Cody Ross was seen on TV taking one step toward a fly ball and going straight to the disabled list with an injured calf. Hey, stuff happens. But with each new season more of these guys are breaking down.

This could be called the "Thoroughbred Theory" of modern athletes: the more carefully they are bred, fed and trained, the more fragile they become.

I've heard several veterans theorize that back in their days fewer players were categorized as injured simply because there were fewer categories. I imagine Ted Williams was never shelved with an ulnar collateral ligament strain, because no one had ever heard of such a thing.

Then, too, some of the injuries modern baseball players suffer are actually attempts by the front office to avoid a pain in the roster. When pitcher Brian Wilson was ready to leave the DL the other day, a spot on the Giants 25-man roster magically opened after pitcher Santiago Casilla discovered he had an "inflamed right elbow," forcing him to take Wilson's place on the 15-day DL.

Last year blogger Jeff Zimmerman analyzed data and determined that the number of disabled players increased steadily between 1989 and 2009. Over the last decade, the Kansas City Royals sent the most players to the DL, the Chicago White Sox the fewest.

Baseball's disabled list will expand even further this season as a result of a wise move by MLB to institute a new 7-day DL for players suffering concussions. Yet, the number of routine pains and strains is also on the rise.

It's worth noting that players in baseball and other team sports collect their salaries even when shelved by injuries. On the other hand, pro tennis players, golfers, racecar drivers, and others in individual competition, are faced with no-play, no-pay - and seem to suffer fewer disabling cuticle injuries.

Then we have sluggers Adam Dunn of the White Sox and Matt Holliday of the Cardinals, each of whom underwent appendectomies during the first week of the new season. Neither opted for the DL, vowing to return in less than two weeks - the same gutsy recovery achieved last season by Andres Torres during the Giants pennant race.

Clearly players like Dunn, Holliday and Torres believe that in the Big Leagues, as in the beer commercial, sometimes you've simply got to "Man up!"

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.

Index of Previous Columns