Hidden side of Brandon Belt’s battle with concussion

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Giants first baseman Brandon Belt missed the rest of the 2017 season after he was hit in the head by an Anthony Banda curveball on August 4. The injury marked Belt’s fourth concussion. For many sports fans, injuries like a strained hamstring are easy to sympathize with because one can see a player limping. Concussions have not garnered the same kind of sympathy from the general public, which is why this Andrew Baggarly column for The Athletic is so important.

Baggarly describes the ways in which Belt’s life was adversely affected following his concussion last year. He was sensitive to light and sound and slept all day. He had mood swings. Belt said, “Small things would make me angry, and that’s not me.” Belt was less social and, in Baggarly’s words, “lethargic, frustrated, and irritable.” Describing his overall mental state, Belt said, “Depression is a good word for it.”

Baggarly cited some interesting studies. One, from the Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington, showed that a history of concussions is correlated with more than a threefold increased risk of depression. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had a study that showed that patients with clinical depression and patients with multiple concussions shared unique white matter injury patterns located near the brain’s reward circuit.

The NFL has garnered almost all of the attention when it comes to traumatic brain injury. But baseball has had a problem with it as well. Former Reds outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide on December 22, 2012 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A postmortem examination revealed that Freel had been suffering from Stage II chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As CNN noted in December 2013, Freel was the first baseball player to be diagnosed with CTE. As CTE can only be conclusively diagnosed postmortem, no one really knows how many baseball players are dealing with it at the moment. We just know that if they have had head injuries, especially multiple concussions, there’s a very real risk.

Belt made a two-hour drive each way twice a week to see a specialist at Stanford for vestibular therapy to improve his balance and visual acuity. When he went home to Texas in late September, he continued to see a specialist in Houston for vision therapy.

Fortunately, Belt is no longer dealing with concussion symptoms and is looking forward to his eighth season in the majors. Had his 2017 campaign not ended early, he certainly would have set a career-high in home runs and might have also done so in RBI and runs scored. Those are goals he may be able to accomplish this season. Still, Belt’s wife Haylee worries about what happens if Belt suffers another concussion. “You definitely wonder, like, when are they going to say, ‘If you get hit one more time, we’ve got to stop.’ I’ve seen him come out of three before, so you always hope for the best. But you never know. There could be that one time,” she said.

Read Baggarly’s full column here. It’s worth the price of admission.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

SAN DIEGO — Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.