I'm never sure what players are thinking. Take this headline:
Uggla wears contacts for first time in a live game
With these choice passages:
"After these two-and-a-half months of not being able to swing at pitches or ducking out of the way of certain pitches that I thought were closer to me than they probably actually were, I needed to see what was going on," Uggla said. "I wasn't really seeing the ball good at all. It just kind of looked like a white blur coming in."
Two-and-a-half months. "I needed to see what was going on." This is a person who relies on spotting a white sphere thrown from 60 feet away, and doing so as fast as humanly possible.
"They couldn't do all the tests that they probably needed to in spring. They couldn't dilate it, because I'd be out a whole day."
You … the …. but … I can't ...
Baseball players are kind of awful at explaining what's physically wrong with them. It's not just with their eyes, of course. Small shoulder aches become big shoulder aches, and lingering knee pain becomes intrusive knee surgery. It's probably not fair to give a blanket explanation of "machismo," "workaholism," or "job security." There are a lot of reasons for this. But the "why" is less important than the "what" in this case. The "what" is players are often big goofballs when it comes to their best interests for whatever reason.
Which brings us to Bryce Harper, who is one of the most valuable assets in Major League Baseball. The 2013 Nationals probably aren't going anywhere without his contributions; the 2023 Nationals might not go anywhere without his contributions. He is everything to that franchise. Absolutely everything.
Harper has a pretty clear idea of how his knee rehab is going:
"That really helped out a lot, being able to go to a doctor that is really high up there (Dr. James Andrews) and knows what he’s talking about and has a lot of experience," Harper said. "He really helped me calm down and not worry about anything. He told me I had no structural damage or anything like that. It’s a painful experience going through what you’re going through. He understood that. That was good. He just calmed me down a lot. He told me you might be in pain the rest of the year, you might not."
For now, Harper plans on taking the end of his rehab slowly, so as to not undo the rest and improvement he has felt over the past month.
Sounds eminently reasonable.
"If I feel good, then I’ll go play," Harper said. "If I feel something isn’t right, then I’m not going to go play. It depends on how I’m feeling."
By gum, that's absolutely reasonable. A player being honest with himself and his body. This seems like the kind of thing that comes with the territory of being a 13-year-old who was at least partially cognizant of the career and legacy he'll have as a 33-year-old. Dunno. Just spitballin'. Harper's had a long time to think about risks and rewards when it comes to his career. The last thing he wants to do is sink in Nick Johnson quicksand.
There's no point to this column except to say, "Good for you, Bryce Harper." Good for you for knowing your …
"I’ll have a conversation with him about that," (manager Davey) Johnson said. "When a player starts playing, it’s really up to me, what I think they need. It’s not up to the player. I’m always trying to do what’s best for the player. But at the same time, it’s my job to know when they’re ready and when they’re not."
dammit so much dammit
I've never known Johnson to be on the grit-it-out-you-sissy side of baseball. So this might be a quote that might need more context, or perhaps if you gave Johnson 1,000 more words with which to explain himself, he would completely change the way you looked at the game of baseball.
But on the surface, it seems like it's one person determining how much pain and discomfort another person is in. That's probably one of my least favorite things in the world, and it's certainly one of my least favorite things in sports. Managers will use subtle jabs to express displeasure with injured players in post-game interviews; teammates and front-office types will use explicit jabs to express displeasure off the record. It's just the worst. If you want to read about how awful this sort of thing can be, this is a pretty good primer.
So let's break down the risk/reward for this one and examine the potential pitfalls of the likely scenarios:
Scenario #1: Harper is a big faker
Well, that's certainly unlikely. But if his penchant for over-exaggerating his injuries outweighs his contributions on the field, maybe the Nationals can figure that out and get value back in a trade before the word gets around.
Scenario #2: Harper is really concerned about his knee, everyone
Listen to him, you idiots. Measure the risk of losing him for an extended period against the risk of losing him for a couple extra weeks. See if there's a precedent in erring on the side of caution in franchise history. Say, STARTING WITH A FEW MONTHS AGO, YOU FREAKS. But, hey, check the records. Maybe there's something there.
Those are the two scenarios, and there really isn't a lot of grey area. Either Harper is a whiny baby, or caution is warranted. The former is a problem. Not listening to the latter could create a bigger problem.
When baseball players tell you they're not hurt, or nothing's wrong? Don't listen to them. When baseball players tell you they're hurt? Goodness, listen to them. If they're a franchise player, listen more.