Another violent collision, another few yawns

Ronald Martinez

Goddammit I'm so sick of this shit.

Sorry. Yeah, it's just the Internet. But my mom might be reading. Your mom might be reading. A seven-year-old might be reading. So yeah, I'm sorry. But every once in a great while, I'm watching a baseball game and my usual good nature deserts me. For example, Thursday night when I was watching Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

In the bottom of the fourth, Detroit's Brayan Peña pinch-hit for catcher Alex Avila. This was obviously sub-optimal for the Tigers, as Avila's generally considered a stalwart behind the plate and the Tigers really needed to win Game 5. In the top of the fourth inning, Avila had taken a foul ball off his mask, with his mask actually coming off. In the olden days, this sort of thing was not worth mentioning. In 2013, it's commonly known that taking a foul ball off your mask might lead to a concussion.

But that's not what knocked Avila out of the game. It was actually something that happened in the second inning:

Avila's mask popped off on that play, too, although it doesn't seem he actually took a blow to the head. According to the Tigers, he was lifted in the fourth inning because, on this play in the second, he suffered a left patellar tendon strain. Which shouldn't be terribly surprising, if you watch his left patella during that collision.

When it happened, though, it wasn't obvious that he'd injured his leg. Because there was a collision and his masked and helmet popped off, there was some speculation about a concussion. Usually I listen to ESPN Radio, but my trusty transistor wasn't handy, so I stuck with Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. Which was bad for my mood, but good for my inspiration bone ...

Buck: Jim Leyland went to the home-plate umpire, Dale Scott, and I think they're going to check on the health of Avila... They are, to make sure he's okay after that collision, which was violent at the plate, with Ross lowering his shoulder into the right shoulder of Avila ... That was a serious collision.

McCarver: I think he got him more on the right arm, and there wasn't the neck and the head involved. It coulda been a little more serious...

Buck: Both Avila and Ross missed time, the two catchers, missed time this year, suffering with concussions...

Shortly, the Tigers finally got out of the inning. When they came back for the bottom of the second, they showed a clip from during the break, when Avila got another quick examination from the trainer. After a quick out, Avila came to the plate, which gave the guys another chance to talk about him. And McCarver actually got off to a decent enough start ...

The medical community obviously knows a lot more about concussions now, and precautions are taken... I played 50 years ago, and I don't know how many I had, but in those days being concussed was not that big a deal. Nobody knew anything about it. But it does, as someone who's a little older, has played, and been popped in the head a bunch of times, it is a concern. And it's a concern that you can't do anything about it.

Look, that's just asinine. McCarver seems to still have his wits about him. Most of them, anyway. But the pitchers didn't throw as hard when he played, and the baserunners weren't as big. And maybe he was just one of the lucky ones. Some football players become Minnesota Supreme Court justices, and some become Mike Websters. Neither is representative, and both are possibilities.

When you're playing, you're expected to ignore all but the worst injuries. If you think you can play, you're supposed to play. But this knee-jerk sense of macho obligation needn't extend to management, or the guys in the booth. It seems impossible to eliminate concussions from baseball. But both their frequency and their severity might be limited, if the right people are paying enough attention. There are rules at virtually every level of baseball and softball, except for the professional game our hemisphere, that essentially preclude violent collisions at the plate.

It's an odd thing: Everybody's now at least semi-concerned about concussions ... but what about patellar tendon strains? What about exploding legs? Why do we allow this violence at the plate, but nowhere else? Why do we think it's okay for catchers to take hits from baseball players built like the linebackers of Tim McCarver's era? Something should be done, something can be done, and something will be done. Eventually.

But that will require a different way of thinking. Maybe I shouldn't get so exercised over something McCarver says. He might never think differently about baseball violence, but then again he's retiring in a couple of weeks. As long as nobody's dumb enough to hire him over at Major League Baseball, he probably won't do much more damage than he's already done.

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