As a baseball writer, I'm guilty of being too callous when it comes to player injuries. When I read that Chris Carpenter was injured, I spent about 15 seconds feeling bad for him, and then I spent the next half-hour wondering what it meant for the Cardinals. It's easy to forget just how much it must suck to be an injured baseball player.
There's one player, though, whose injuries are almost impossible to minimize from a human-interest standpoint. Mat Gamel is out for the year. Again.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told reporters on Monday that first baseman Mat Gamel will miss the season due to a knee injury. He recently aggravated his surgically repaired right knee during a round of batting practice.
Gamel is the most patient player in the history of the sport. In 2008, at the ripe old age of 22, he destroyed the Southern League, and this earned him a brief appearance in Triple-A at the end of the year. He started the next season as the #34 prospect in baseball according to Baseball Ameríca, and his star was on the rise.
There was one problem: As a third baseman, he made people think of Ryan Braun, which is never what you want people to think as a third baseman. And as a first baseman, he was blocked by Prince Fielder. So he started the 2009 season in Triple-A. His performance slipped a bit, but he was still considered a fine prospect. He even got 128 at-bats in the majors, and acquitted himself well enough.
He was still blocked by Fielder, though, which meant that in 2010, he would have to play in Triple-A.
And in Triple-A, he had a good season. Considering the average numbers for a hitter in the Pacific Coast League, it wasn't a great year, but it was the kind of year that, combined with prospect status, leads to a lot more at-bats with the big club.
He was still blocked by Fielder, though, which meant that in 2011, he would have to play in Triple-A.
In 2011, he had a fine season, doubling his homer output from the previous season, and dramatically reducing his strikeout rate. After three seasons in Triple-A, learning the ins and outs of cuisine and nightlife in the greater Nashville area, Gamel was finally going to get his shot. Prince Fielder was leaving to seek his fortune elsewhere, and there was a first-base slot open, just waiting for Gamel. The wait must have been brutal; three years is a long time, especially in a profession that can spit people out before they're 30.
Gamel won the job. He was the starting first baseman for the Miwaukee Brewers. Seven years after being drafted in the 2005 draft, three years after reaching Triple-A (which is supposed to be a brief pit stop for most of the players who make Baseball America's top-100 list), Gamel was finally there.
After 21 games, he blew out his knee and was done for the season.
That's enough to make you feel sorry for the guy, and it made you wonder if Zeus caught him stealing the secret of fire, peeing on the Parthenon, or sleeping with Hera. After all that wait, the starting job was ripped out from under him.
Well, there's nothing you can do as a player except put your head down and rehab as hard as you can. It seems like a blast. Lunge walks with abduction, lateral agility drills with sports cords; really, he probably would have been doing that all for fun anyway.
After nine or ten months, Gamel was ready to play again. And while he lost his job in the interim (Norichika Aoki's surprising success pushed Corey Hart to first), injuries were giving him another chance. The first-base slot was waiting for him again. And in the middle of February, just when a player should be feeling irrationally optimistic and giddy with the promise of spring, Gamel felt a pop during batting practice.
Since the start of 2009, when Gamel was one of the most highly regarded prospects in baseball and just one level away from the majors, he has taken 238 at-bats for the Brewers. That's 18 fewer than Yovani Gallardo and six more than Jody Gerut. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
So before you get ghoulish and start wondering what the Brewers are going to do with their hole at first base, take a second and give a moment of quiet contemplation for Gamel. Patience is supposed to be rewarded, not cruelly punished. If you need your yearly reminder that baseball just ain't fair, this will do until 2014. Heck, it will probably do until 2094. Poor Mat Gamel.