Factoids I was not aware of:
In light of this, baseball is absolutely right that the All-Star Game truly does decide something important. Too bad, then, that nothing about how the All-Star Game is conceived, constructed and executed shows any evidence whatsoever that anyone truly appreciates the gravity of that which its outcome determines.
And if you doubt that baseball cares very little about the All-Star Game’s impact on home field advantage in the World Series, here’s a little thought experiment: Say Ron Washington decides to pitch Justin Verlander eight innings, allowing him to throw 115 piches, and leaves all of his starters in for the duration tonight. After the game he says “I had my best pitcher throwing bullets and kept in my top players all game because the Rangers are going to make the World Series, dammit, and this year we want to be at home. It counts, and I treated this game just like I’d treat Game 7 of the World Series.”
Think everyone would be cool with that? I don’t think so. I think there would be outrage and anger and immediate calls for change, and not just from Jim Leyland. And I think that outrage would be proof positive that baseball isn’t truly serious about the All-Star Game mattering, even though, in reality, it does.
In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.
Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”
Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.
I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.