An injury suffered in celebration is no less painful than any other
The Angels' Kendry Morales broke his leg after a walkoff grand slam on Saturday
Manager Mike Scioscia said afterward, "It will change the way we celebrate"
But something about that anti-celebration sentiment seems wrong
Celebration injuries have happened before, of course. I recall Kansas City's Mike Sweeney wrenching his back when picking up Carlos Beltran during a celebration. I don't know if this story is true, but you can read that the poker player Justin Smith blew out his knee celebrating an ace-high straight at a World Poker Tour Event. In Spain, Real Betis striker Sergio Garcia twisted his left knee while celebrating a goal.
And perhaps the most famous celebration injury involved NFL kicker Bill Gramatica. The Gramaticas, Bill and and his brother Martin, had developed moderate fame and scorn for their massive, "I can't believe how good a kicker I am!" celebrations after making field goals. Bill blew out his ACL after one of those self-congratulatory leaps of joy. People will often note that the injury happened after a 42-yard field goal in the first half of a December game against the New York Giants. The Cardinals' record was 5-7 at the time. The celebration was after a kick that pulled his Arizona Cardinals to within 7-6 in the game.
Anyway, there have been more injuries during celebrations than you might expect. Then, maybe that's because of our biases. Maybe we should expect it. Bill Bryson in a classic column that was reprinted in his hysterically funny book I'm A Stranger Here Myself went through the Statistical Abstract of the United States and found the almost perfect juice for a humor column -- a table simply called: "Injuries Associated With Consumer Products."
Well, the Abstract still comes out annually and they still include that incredible table. The latest information shows that in 2007, more than 70,000 people were involved in injuries involving bottles and jars, more than 100,000 were hurt on trampolines, 155,000 suffered injuries somehow involving "Footwear," and 532,061 went to the emergency room because of injuries related to beds.
If you had to guess, what would you say created more injuries: Lawn mowers or Tableware? Hammers or televisions? Saws or skateboards? Of course, you already know the answer because, otherwise, I would not have asked. It's the second choice in each of those scenarios.*
*If you know what's good for you or you plan on actually trying to get something done today, you will definitely NOT go on the Internet looking for the Statistical Abstract of the United States. I did. And I could basically spend the rest of my life just looking over this thing.
A few things I have found out:
More than half of all American men are 5-foot-10 or shorter, and about 60 percent of American women are 5-foot-5 or shorter. But, of course, this changes as we get older. More than half of all American men 70-79 are 5-foot-9 or shorter, women 5-foot-3 or shorter.
High school boys, on average, watch more television and are more likely to spend three or more hours on a computer than high school girls.
Atlanta is the busiest airport in America, which I might have guessed. There is, after all, the old joke about if you want to go to heaven you have to connect through Atlanta. But I did not realize just how much busier it is than any other airport in the country. Eight million more people enplaned -- yes, the word is "enplaned" -- in Hartsfield International than in second-place Chicago O'Hare. More people enplaned in Atlanta than in JFK and LaGuardia combined. I also found this interesting: More people enplaned in Honolulu than in Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City or Cleveland.
While we're at it: The most used flight route in America in 2008 was between Fort Lauderdale and New York. Well, we all have to visit Grandma. In fact, the top six routes all involved New York:
1. Fort Lauderdale-New York
2. New York-Orlando
3. Chicago-New York
4. Los Angeles-New York
5. Atlanta-New York
6. New York-San Francisco
Also on the list: New York-Las Vegas, Miami-New York, New York-West Palm Beach.
No surprise here: They are projecting that Americans are going to spend considerably less time reading newspapers (an estimate of 150 hours per year by 2012, down from 192 hours in 2004) and way more time playing video games (an estimate of 142 hours by 2012 way up from only 73 hours in 2005). But what is surprising, at least to me, is that they are projecting that people will spend quite a bit more time in the next few years listening to recorded music. I'll have to talk with my buddy Pop Warner about this.
OK, I have to stop. I should have followed my own advice and never gone to read the Abstract.
All of this is, of course, is built around what is almost certainly the saddest celebration injury I have ever seen -- the celebration injury of Angels' first baseman Kendry Morales. There seemed something sturdy about Morales. There have been numerous good stories -- including an excellent one by SI's Ben Reiter -- about Morales and how much he wanted to play baseball in America, how hard he tried to escape Cuba before finally making it out. He was jailed. Boats failed to show. He was banned from playing baseball. But he kept trying until he finally crossed the water and made it to America. He signed a big deal, worked through numerous adjustments, and emerged as a major player in 2009, hitting .306, slugging .569 and banging 43 doubles and 34 homers.
He was not hitting quite as well this year -- his doubles are down -- but well enough considering we're only in May. And on Saturday, bottom of the 10th inning, with the bases loaded and one out in a 1-1 game against Seattle, he hit a high fly ball that sailed over the center field wall, into the rocks, a grand slam. More than that. A walk-off grand slam. One of baseball's big thrills. He ran around the bases happily, but certainly not with any undue flair. I say this because in Ben's piece, there's a story of Morales' first minor-league home run -- apparently he just stood there and watched it, putting on a show because, Morales said, that's what was expected in Cuba. Morales' game has changed since then. He ran around the bases without too much emotion, flipped off his helmet as he approached the plate, and jumped toward home plate and his waiting teammates.
Here is the best video I have found so far of the scene -- the camera shakes a bit, but it still gives you the story.
It appears that Morales' leg broke the instant he hit home plate. On the video you can see that his teammates stop celebrating IMMEDIATELY... one of the more haunting images is how, about five seconds after he hits home plate, players start to walk away shaking their heads. Few things hit the gut harder than a sudden, precipitous, roller-coaster-drop from elation to agony.
It wasn't that long before the evil tweets and gag comments began pouring in: Inevitable, of course. The first walk-off homer where the guy couldn't walk off; call it a limp-off home run, a carry-off, and so on and so on and so on.
Black humor is a big part of just about anything we do, of course, but I think this speaks to something else: It seems to me that we are simply geared to not take seriously injuries that do not come in the rage of war, in the line of duty, in the heart of a game. We can understand someone getting hurt crashing into home plate, but there seems something insubstantial -- something even offensive -- about a guy getting hurt celebrating a home run. This is so true that, in a fit of depression, Angels manager Mike Scioscia said afterward, "It will change the way we celebrate." He often wondered if such celebrations were "accidents waiting to happen."
But is that the lesson here? I think we would all agree that Morales was doing something pretty safe. He was doing what ballplayers who hit walk-off home runs do. I think most people would agree that this was just a case of horrible luck, that a well-trained athlete ought to be able to jump on home plate and be surrounded by teammates without worrying about breaking a leg. Maybe you don't like the walk-off celebration, maybe you think it is pointless. But it's not exactly reckless. There are no flying knives.
I remember a few years ago, I was walking out of our house during an ice storm and I slipped on the ice on the porch and fell backward -- like something out of the Home Alone movies -- and my back cracked against the edge of a stone stair. I stayed down for a couple of minutes, unsure if I could move, unsure if I had broken something or if I had whiplash, unsure even if I had been paralyzed -- it was a very awkward fall and that stair hit me right in the middle of the back. And during that time, you know what I was thinking? I was thinking: "This is probably the dumbest injury in the history of the world." Obviously, I turned out to be OK, but it seemed to me afterward that I was probably thinking the wrong thing there. But I think that's what many of us are conditioned to think. We separate injuries -- dumb and not dumb, worthy and unworthy, real and laughable.
But injuries are injuries, whether they be by spoon or saw. Injuries are bad luck and a lot of pain, regardless of the circumstances. You can't put your life in bubble wrap. Teams can ask and even demand that athletes not take undue risk -- riding motorcycles, summer recreation basketball, whatever -- but nobody can ask athletes to simply stop living. If they want to stop the walk-off celebrations because they're crass, fine. But if they're stopping them because of Morales' fluke injury, well, something about that seems wrong. We simply cannot control the world, and it's silly and even a bit arrogant to think that we can. Morales will certainly miss months and a couple of the local writers have already suggested that he could miss the season. It seems to me an awful thing, like all serious sports injuries... and no less.