Playing Hurt

Mike Wilner says a lot of things I agree with in his post yesterday talking about Vernon Wells and Edwin Encarnacion's wrist surgeries. In two of the last three years Vernon has had terrible seasons and seemingly in both he has tried to play through injuries. Now to his credit, neither year has he tried to use the injury as an excuse. In 2007 he hurt his shoulder and he never said anything about it, publicly, though the team knew and shut him down in September. This year we never knew anything about the wrist and wouldn't have known except the Jays announced he was having surgery. He had a cortisone shot in spring training and was taking anti-inflammatories during the season.

Now we tend to admire players for playing hurt. TV color commentators will give you 10 minutes on how 'back in their day' you played hurt, they didn't have Tommy John surgery. 'Why Mickey Mantle hit 500+ home runs on one good leg.'  And I do admire guys that try to tough it out through an injury. Maybe it's the hockey background we have, growing up on stories of players getting stitched up in the trainer's room and coming back to play next period. "Don Cherry says get up."

But baseball, especially batting, is such a split second thing that it doesn't always work to play hurt. But like Wilner says:

It’s very difficult to blame a player for not wanting to come out of the line-up if he’s physically able to play (never mind play well).  It’s exceedingly rare to find a player who will step back and say "Not only am I not helping, but I’m hurting the team and embarrassing myself in the process.  I have to ask out."  Don’t blame Wells for wanting his name written into the line-up everyday.

So who to blame?

At some point, Cito Gaston (and John Gibbons before him) has to be the grown-up, as it were, and tell Wells that he’s doing more harm than good trying to play in his condition and sit him down - or at least drop him to a far lower-leverage spot in the batting order until he gets healthy.

Is is an amazing thing that with a bad wrist Vernon played 158 games in CF. Not many health guys play that much. Only 8 players in the AL played more games last year. And, in case you didn't notice, Vernon had a terrible season. Now part of why he played so much is likely because Cito really didn't have a reasonable alternative to him on the bench after Rios was let go, but you would think that would be a 30 second conversation with the GM. "Hey JP, Vernon's wrist is bad and he's not hitting at all, I think a few days off would do him some good. Think you could find me a CFer that would take his place and not embarrass us too badly." JP would look into his memory for guys that played a pretty decent CF back in the 90's and, voila, Brad Wilkerson would be back on the team quicker than you could curse the baseball gods for saddling you with this team to cheer for. 

A good part of why he played so much, despite playing so poorly was the lack of a someone else that could do the job but then a well put together team would have useful bench players. We, on the other hand, had Kevin Millar and Johnny Mac, nice enough people but not guys you would want to see in CF. So I'm hoping that next season, when Alex Anthopoulos puts together his roster, there is a fourth outfield that can actually play all 3 outfield spots.

I hope the surgery goes well and that Vernon comes into next year pain free and hitting great.
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