One-game playoff Deep Thought

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The Rangers are out. And the Braves — as approximately 2,245 of you have reminded me — are out too.  They were the losers in baseball’s new one-game playoff and thus their season has ended.

Normally when a team gets knocked out of the playoffs there is space and time for anger and/or reflection and/or crying about it. If only the manager wasn’t an idiot! If only our bullpen didn’t suck! If only x, y, z, etc. etc.!!

Really, though, it’s hard to get worked up about how it all ended this year. I hope Rangers fans feel the same way. I hope that fans of any team that plays and loses in the wild card playoff from here until the end of time feels that way too, because one game — while meaning everything in the context of this new playoff format — means nothing in terms of how good, bad, flawed or whatever a baseball team is, and thus should not form the basis of a fan’s anger or sadness.

This isn’t sour grapes. I realize the season ended and if they wanted to advance, my Braves had to take care of business. They didn’t, and it’s all on them. I’m not going to blame baseball for it or claim that their elimination was somehow illegitimate. These are the rules, and if the Braves don’t like being eliminated in a one game playoff, they should have won their division.

But it’s not gonna cause me, as a fan, to be too mad or sad about my team.  For my entire baseball-watching life, one game — outside of occasional playoff series elimination games — hasn’t meant anything.  Bad games happen and the guys live to fight another day. Think of how many Game 1 flops your favorite team has had in playoff series in the past. Now think of whether, how they did after Game 1 affected how you felt about them. Think about how it would have changed if they were playing in the wild card series then.

What I’m saying is that just because Bud and the TV networks decided that one game is everything doesn’t mean I have to change how I’ve always understood baseball. And my understanding of baseball is that a team’s value is determined over a season. Or, less fully, over a month. Or less fully than that, over a series.  And, the 2012 playoff elimination notwithstanding, I will still and will always judge the Braves 2012 season as a successful one.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.