Ryan Freel committed suicide via gun shot last week at age 36 and now his family is hoping that science can provide some answers about a possible link to his numerous concussions as an athlete.
Freel’s brain tissue will be sent for testing at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, where many former NFL players have been studied post-mortem for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Freel’s ex-wife Christie Moore Freel shared some revealing details about her home life during 11 years of marriage, telling Mike Tierney of the New York Times:
I don’t know how many times he would talk about sliding into second or third base and blacking out or seeing stars. I cringed that that’s who he was–all-out, full throttle. It was very hard to watch. … I know a lot of people say they weren’t shocked by it, but I really was. I really thought, at some point, the answer to all of this would come along for him. It just never did. I’m very hopeful. We certainly believe there is some sort of connection.
Freel’s step-father told Tierney that the family believes he sustained at least 15 concussions and his ex-wife shared the story of a Venezuelan winter league game in which Freel had to be hospitalized for a concussion after crashing through an outfield wall.
Tierney’s article also includes further details about Freel’s memory loss and mood swings and other post-concussion symptoms, plus a whole lot of very sad stories and comments from his family. Hopefully at least the studying of his brain tissue can provide them with some answers and perhaps help future athletes in Freel’s position.
Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.
It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.
Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.
I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.