A-Rod is the “face of baseball” among people who aren’t really baseball fans

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Jayson Stark wrote a column not long ago asking readers to tell him who they think the “Face of Baseball” is. Today he has results of it, and the winner — with a plurality of the votes — is Alex Rodriguez.  But there’s some interesting fine print to be read on that:

Only 17 percent of fans who lived within 20 miles of a major league stadium picked A-Rod as their Face, compared to 25 percent of those who lived more than 100 miles away … But when we split the survey group into self-described “avid” fans versus “casual” fans, we found that casual fans who lived more than 20 miles from a big league stadium were more than twice as likely (30 percent) to choose A-Rod as their Face than avid fans who lived within 20 miles (15 percent).

And the survey, Stark notes, took place just before A-Rod made his return and was in the news all the time due to the Biogenesis stuff.

I realize that it’s not terribly scientific, but all of this flows pretty nicely with my hypothesis from yesterday which holds that A-Rod is not bigger than the game. He’s a headline and a face among those who don’t follow the game too closely. He leads non-sports news stories for non-sports reasons, just as a lot of off-the-field garbage is likely to seep into mainstream news. Put him back on the field, though, and he is comparatively diminished. Put him in front of hardcore baseball fans and they are quite adept at putting him in the proper perspective.

A-Rod is only a monster when he has time and space to be made into one. And when he is presented to (or by) people who are more interested int he soap opera elements of it all than the baseball elements of it all.

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.