JOHN DOHERTY: Traditions die hard, failure lives on in big leagues

2013-07-29T21:00:00Z 2013-07-29T23:08:09Z JOHN DOHERTY: Traditions die hard, failure lives on in big leaguesJohn Doherty Times Columnist nwitimes.com
July 29, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

Last week in this space, I wondered why youth baseball leagues didn't uniformly use reduced injury factor baseballs and why they don't have automated external defibrillators on hand at each field.

But why would I expect organizers at that level to be any different than the guys in the Major League Baseball? At least no youth administrator ever paid $136 million for a somewhat-better-than-average hitter who was a mediocre fielder, at best.

That's what the Cubs had been doing since the start of the 2007 season, when they signed Alfonso Soriano. They did so because, in 2006, Soriano became only the fourth player in the history of the game to hit 40 or more home runs (46) and to steal 40 or more bases (41) in the same season.

At the time, I warned that he would never approach those numbers again. My reasoning? The previous three — Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, and Alex Rodriguez — were all steroid users and, given that Soriano was about to turn 31, age and injuries were sure to prevent it.

Now, at age 37, his Cubs experience is over and the sometimes slugger is back where he started, in New York with the Yankees.

In return, the Cubs received a Class A pitcher with a losing record.

But not before Soriano hit more than 30 home runs only twice, drove in more than 100 runs just once, and never hit over .300. As for stealing bases, 19 was the most he ever tallied in Chicago. Soriano did so in each of his first two seasons at Clark and Addison, when the Cubs finished first in the NL Central only to drop three straight in each try at a Division Series. Some investment.

The inabilities of MLB executives don't stop with overpaying for past performance, misunderstanding the aging process, and therefore routinely misprojecting future production.

They can't get the simplest safety measures right either. Six years ago, Tulsa Drillers (AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a line drive which struck on the left side of his neck, just behind the ear and below the skull. MLB's reaction was to order all base coaches to wear batting helmets but without requiring ear flaps.

Given that the absence of ear flaps still leaves exposed the location where Coolbaugh was struck, I asked MLB senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. why. At the time, Garagiola told me such safety efforts were “an ongoing process.” Must be a pretty slow one. The base coaches continue to wear helmets but no ear flaps.

If they aren't so concerned about coaches, though, they surely want to protect their stars. Don't they?

Judging by what happened to Braves starting pitcher Tim Hudson last week, perhaps not. Racing to cover first base on Wednesday night, Hudson arrived an instant before New York Met Eric Young Jr. He then ran through the base, landing on the back of Hudson's right lower leg, causing the pitcher's ankle to snap. Surgery was required and the 38-year-old Hudson will be lucky to recover by the start of next season. He expects to be ready in April but so did Derek Jeter this year.

Had the double first base used by Little Leaguers been in place, Hudson would still be healthy and playing. The youngsters and most high schoolers also use breakaway bases which have reduced sliding injuries by 90 percent.

However, rather than taking such simple steps to improve safety, the powers of MLB cling to appearances and traditions that ultimately keep disabled lists overpopulated.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at ptatcsport@sbcglobal.net. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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