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Baseball Tidbits September 6, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in sports, war.
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Philly Bluejay is not a sports blog per se—a quick look shows that only four of 61 posts so far have had sports as the primary topic—but I did want to comment a few generally interesting—and strangely inter-related—stories from the world of baseball. Bear with me.

First story. Lou Gehrig is one of the most iconic figures in baseball history. One of the best players of the pre-war era. The man who “protected” Babe Ruth in the “Murderers Row” Yankees lineup of the 1920s and 30s. The “Iron Horse” who held the consecutive games played record before Cal Ripken broke it so ceremoniously about ten years ago. The man who gave the reverberating “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth” retirement speech even as he was dying. The man who eponymously gave Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) its nom de guerre and Curt Schilling’s son his name. Now it turns out that Lou Gehrig may not have had Lou Gehrig’s disease after all! Instead he may have had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a buildup of protein in the brain due to repeated concussions. Lou played in the pre-helmet baseball era and reportedly kept playing after numerous “beanings.” It is now well known that concussions are like ligament sprains—once you have one you become more susceptible to having another one, especially in the weeks immediately following. The study in the NYT article says that professional football players are diagnosed with ALS eight times more frequently than the general population. Eight times! Former eagles fullback/battering-ram Kevin Turner was recently diagnosed with ALS. It is possible, even likely, that many of them have CTE instead. Brian Westbrook, I hope you’re reading Philly Bluejay. Aren’t two concussions in the span of a month enough? Do you really want to spend your a shortened post-football life a la Stephen Hawking? In the mean time, maybe SNL can do a third Lou Gehrig-themed skit—in this one the doctor tells him that he doesn’t in fact have Lou Gehrig’s disease! By the way, I did not mean to offend Stephen Hawking or sufferers of ALS or their families and friends—I actually have a friend whose mother died from ALS a few years ago.

Second story. Washington Nationals rookie-phenom/100-mph-flamethrower/50-million-dollar-man/face-of-the-franchise Stephen Strasburg will miss the rest of the year—and ostensibly a good part of next year as well—after undergoing ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction aka “Tommy John surgery.” Other than time lost, this is not terrible news. Tens if not hundreds of pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery and the large majority—at least of recent patients—have come back as good if not better. Former Phillie/Diamondback/RedSock and father-of-Gehrig Curt Schilling came back from Tommy John throwing harder! Evidently the procedure tightened up something in his elbow and gave his arm better “whip.” Who knows perhaps Strasburg comes back from the operation throwing 105! As fast as Cincinnati-Red-callup/105-mile-per-hour-blowtorch/future-face-of-the-franchise/Tommy-John-surgery-waiting-to-happen Aroldis Chapman! But then again, after his own Tommy John operation, perhaps Chapman comes back throwing 110! Oy vey! With the remarkable success of Tommy John, Philly Bluejay 20816 wonders whether future prospects will have elective Tommy John surgery to improve their stock! Why wait for injury? Just have a second ligament put in there and fire away! One final thought about Tommy John, it is fortunate the the first pitcher to successfully undergo the operation had a name as singsong as TJ. “Dan Schatzeder surgery” doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well. One final final thought about Tommy John, what if several years from now research will show that Tommy John didn’t in fact have Tommy John surgery after all?

Third story. About 6% of major league baseball players are switch hitters—hit either left handed or right handed depending on whether they are facing a right handed or left handed pitcher, respectively, what did you think I meant? No one in major league history has been a switch thrower or more specifically a switch pitcher—supposedly, Boston RedSox catcher Victor Martinez is completely ambidextrous and can throw 80 mph with either hand—but we may be getting close. Yankees switch-pitching “prospect” Pat Venditte is now in AA ball! The ESPN piece claims that this may be as far as he gets because Venditte’s “fastball” is not “major league”—only 88 from the right side and 85 from the left! But so what? Wouldn’t that be overcome by the fact that he could have a builtin advantage against every hitter he faces? Not to mention the fact that if he blew out one arm and had to get Tommy John surgery, he wouldn’t have to go on the disabled list. He could just pitch with the other hand! Imagine the possibilities and logistics if Pat ever made it to the majors? Would he be forced to choose which hand he threw with in a given appearance or would he be allowed to change? How often would he be allowed to change? Once? Every inning? Every hitter? Every pitch? What would happen if he faced a switch hitter? How would he keep two arms warmed up? At the beginning of every inning, would he get eight warmup pitches per arm or eight pitches total? Where would he keep his other glove? The mind boggles.

Fourth story. Brian Cole was a star outfield prospect for the Mets about ten years ago. Along with Torii Hunter, and Jose Reyes he was supposed to form the core of the Mets lineup. Unfortunately, Cole died in a single vehicle accident in 2001. He was leaving a spring training event, going 80 mph when he veered off the road, turned the steering wheel 295 degrees, and rolled his Ford Explorer three times. Cole was not wearing a seatbelt. He was thrown from the car and died. A passenger who was wearing a belt walked away. Last week, Cole’s family won a 131,000,000 dollar judgement against Ford. Huh? Presumably the judgment reflects Cole’s projected lifetime earnings profile. One can only assume that if Cole was a middle school teacher the judgement would have been for 1,300,000 dollars. Or there would have been no judgement at all. After all, there would have been no collective dreams of the entire Cole clan to be dashed on the asphalt. Philly Bluejay is cynical, but not callous. I do not mean to exploit another family’s suffering for readership such as it is. At the same time, I do not feel that I am exploiting this unfortunate episode any more than the Cole family itself is. As for Ford, what exactly have they done to deserve this? Say “no thanks” to government bailouts? Perhaps the judgement would have come down differently if Ford had taken bailout money. Perhaps the court would have been more reluctant to hand over taxpayer money to the Coles rather than corporate money.

P.S. Philly Bluejay has recently become obsessed with Steven Spielberg’s 1998 war epic “Saving Private Ryan”—perhaps the all time leader in on-screen body count. SPR was on TNT a few nights ago—stretched to four hours by the commercials—Philly Bluejay was there. He then rewatched the first 20 minutes or so—the opening of Dog Green sector on Omaha Beach—on YouTube. If you aren’t already convinced that war is hell … Anyways, throughout SPR, Ranger Charlie Company Captain John Miller—Tom Hanks’ character—has uncontrollable shaking in his right hand. A telltale sign of the onset of ALS? Is it possible that Miller was so chill throughout the action—except for the time he broke down after medic Wade was killed about two thirds of the way through—because he knew he had only six months to live anyway?

P.P.S. Philly-Bluejay-hero/ESPN-TMQ-boss/now-fellow-Bethesdian Gregg Easterbrook has a new blog. This one on Reuters. As if Philly Bluejay needs more ways to waste time! Thanks Gregg!

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