SI Vault
Steve Wulf
August 28, 1989
A lot of them are on the disabled list, as baseball suffers through the worst rash of injuries in recent memory. Theories abound for all the carnage
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August 28, 1989

Where Have All The Players Gone?

A lot of them are on the disabled list, as baseball suffers through the worst rash of injuries in recent memory. Theories abound for all the carnage

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Sports physicians feel that the problem with weight training is that while many players build up the muscles that increase the acceleration of their arms, far fewer players bother with the muscles that govern deceleration. "Most of the injuries are overload, overuse injuries: shoulder, back, hamstring," says Ben Kibler, an orthopedic surgeon at the Lexington (Ky.) Clinic of Sports Medicine. "Microtears occur in the deceleration phase, and those tears lead to muscle weakness, so the muscles can no longer regulate the huge force that's created during throwing. I advocate weight training very strongly. But too often you see players who are Cadillacs in front, for acceleration, and Volkswagens in back, for deceleration."

Nowadays, nearly every team employs a strength coach, because it is clear that weight training can be beneficial if done correctly. But Pirate strength coach Warren Sipp admits that even the professionals haven't mastered the mysteries of baseball. "We're still on a shakedown cruise," he says. Perhaps injuries will decrease as baseball learns more about conditioning. Right now, the dangers appear to be equal to the benefits.

One thing Kibler prescribes is a rethinking of baseball's traditional warmup period. While most clubs have stretching exercises before batting practice, the players negate the benefits by sitting idle before the game—up to an hour and a half for home teams, an hour for visiting clubs. "The turf is 115 degrees," he says. "Then they go into an air-conditioned clubhouse and are in a sitting position for an hour. Then they go out, and they're no more loose than if they never did anything at all. There would be nothing wrong even if they did some stretching in the fifth inning of long night games."

Artificiality. Yeah, yeah, artificial turf. The funny thing is that even though there is a larger percentage of artificial surfaces in the National League (6 of 12 stadiums) than in the American League (4 of 14), players in the latter seem to be more affected by the turf, because they can't get used to it. Says Adam, "When we play back-to-back series on artificial turf, it's triage in the trainer's room. They just line up. I'd like to have all our games on grass."

However, Doc Ewell, the trainer emeritus of the Astros and a man who used to tape Joe DiMaggio's ankles, maintains that artificial turf is better. "I was the first trainer to have to deal with AstroTurf," he says, "and only a couple of times have I seen an injury actually caused by the turf. You eliminate sprinkler heads, wet grass and the chances of your feet slipping out from under you. In the overall picture, I would much prefer turf over grass."

In any case, some brands of artificial turf are clearly better than others, and clubs would be doing baseball a great service if they installed state-of-the-art surfaces every few years.

Another artificial culprit blamed for the rash of pitching injuries is the aluminum bat. Says Cleveland pitching coach Mark Wiley, "It could be something as simple as aluminum bats in high school and college. Pitchers don't get as much positive feedback from their fastballs [because of cheap hits], so they start throwing more breaking stuff, and that hurts their arms."

The Man Shortage. Right now baseball is playing a man short; even though a 25-man roster is in effect, every team carries only 24 players. This was done to hold down costs and to teach the Players Association a lesson. But that 25th man could be a pitcher who saves wear and tear on the arms of the other pitchers, or a position player who might give another player a much-needed rest.

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Seattle. One of the reasons the American League has more injuries per team is its insane schedule. Every team has some bizarre road trip, but consider what the Mariners had to go through this year. They flew from Seattle to Boston for a series May 23-25, to Milwaukee May 26-28 and to New York May 29-31, then back to Seattle for a game on June 1—and they didn't have an off day until June 8. The Orioles recently went through a killer road trip: Baltimore to Oakland to Minnesota to Kansas City to Boston to Baltimore in a 14-game, 14-day swing that had them playing a day-night double-header in Fenway.

Get Me A Plate of Chicken-Fried Steak, Will Ya? Herzog maintains that players didn't have as many muscle pulls in the old days, partly because they ate hot dogs and red meat and not as much chicken as they do today. Nutritionists might argue with that, and, indeed, many clubs employ them.

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