Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins is, for the second straight season, attempting to come back from a concussion suffered on July 7, 2010 in Toronto when his head collided with the knee of Blue Jays second baseman John McDonald.
It didn't look like anything serious at all when it happened:
But Morneau, who was hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 HR and 56 RBI in 81 games -- exactly half a season's worth -- at the time, did not play at all the rest of the 2010 season, and had the worst year of his career in 2011, in and out of the lineup, suffering the aftereffects of the concussion. This AP story says that Morneau is "healthy" and ready to take the field this year:
Morneau says he'll fully participate during the team's first full-squad workout on Friday. He says he's been working out without any problems, but will ease into practice early in spring training.
The former first baseman says he's eager to get back on the field and resume a leadership role with the Twins.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast. Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune writes of comments Morneau made before those first workouts Friday:
"Well, I don’t think there will be a career if it’s something I’m dealing with," he said. "That’s the reality of the whole thing. I’m obviously not going to continue to mess around with this if it continues to be a problem. There comes a point where you can only torture yourself for so long.
"It’s something I love to do but you keep preparing and you keep being left out, that’s something that nobody wants to go through ... obviously it’s been a tough winter that way. I try not to think about that kind of stuff. Obviously it’s crossed my mind and it’s something I’ve had to think about but when that stuff comes into my mind I continue to look for something positive, and look how far I’ve come in the last week or in the last month and just hope it continues to go well."
Morneau was also quoted in Souhan's article as saying that what he's gone through is "torture", and, interestingly enough, at the bottom of the AP article (that was posted on sportsnet.ca) appears the following tweet from Souhan:
After listening to Morneau, I think he knows the end is near, and wants to give it one more try.— Jim Souhan (@SouhanStrib) February 24, 2012
This could very well be the case, unfortunately. Corey Koskie, a fellow Canadian and former teammate of Morneau's with the Twins in 2003 and 2004, had a concussion during the 2006 season when he was playing for the Brewers. After sitting out two seasons, he attempted a comeback for the Cubs in spring training in 2009, but after playing in just three games with five at-bats, he announced his retirement:
He took himself out of Thursday's spring training game against Seattle in the third inning. Koskie batted twice in the game and fielded a pair of grounders. But he said he began feeling ill after diving for another grounder.
"After that play, I just thought, 'What am I doing out here?'" he said Saturday. "Whether I got the wind knocked out of me a little bit, I did feel a little funky after it. I don't think it was a concussive event. But I did feel a little funny, whether it was the heat, because it was hot out there."
This is what Morneau risks, even though he's younger now (30) than Koskie was when he attempted his comeback (36). Concussions can cause changes in the physiology of players that cannot be seen, as Corey Dawkins and Marc Normandin wrote a year ago:
Concussions are not just the symptoms that people experience; they also include biochemical changes that occur rather rapidly. There has been a lot of attention paid to the chemical changes inside the brain following concussions—and rightfully so. These changes can lead to horrible long-term effects that are irreversible (for now), but even more importantly, they cannot be easily observed.
That's the situation Justin Morneau appears to be in right now. He can do workouts just fine, but when he actually gets on a baseball field, in a game situation, will he shy away from diving for a ball? Will he constantly think of how to avoid situations in which the concussion could recur?
If so, he needs to retire, because I'm sure you see that's not a way for a professional athlete to succeed. It's a shame, because Morneau had been one of the best players in baseball before his injury, possibly even on a Hall of Fame track if he kept up his previous performance.
Corey Koskie might have the best advice for his fellow countryman:
"I wanted to get back out there," he said. "I wanted to play. It might have been a little too soon. I might not have been prepared. I kind of decided, I said, 'You know what? Really, is it worth it? Is it worth the risk to go out there and play a couple more years versus having the rest of my life, living a normal life?' That's one of the biggest questions with a concussion because you try to minimize your symptoms, and you always feel you can do it.
"I know I can go out there and do it. But there is a little more head risk. Is it from my neck? Is it from my head? Is it really worth the risk to go out there and find out?"
So even if Justin Morneau feels healthy, it might, unfortunately, be time for him to retire from baseball in order to have a normal life outside the game.