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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.

Tony Clark: Universal DH ‘gaining momentum’ among players

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Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark met the press late this morning and covered a wide array of topics.

One of them: free agency, which he referred to as being “under attack” based on the slow market for free agents last offseason.

“What the players saw last offseason was that their free-agent rights were under attack on what has been the bedrock of our system,” Clark said. He added that they “have some very difficult decisions to make.” Presumably in the form of grievances and, down the road, a negotiating strategy that seeks to claw back some of the many concessions the union has given owners in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. CBAs, it’s worth noting, that Clark negotiated. We’ve covered that territory in detail in the past.

Of more immediate interest was Clark’s comment that the idea of a universal designated hitter is, among players, “gaining momentum.” Clark says “players are talking about it more than they have in the past.” We’ve talked a lot about that as well.

Given that hating or loving the DH is the closest thing baseball has to a religion, no one’s mind is going to be changed by any of this, but I think, practically speaking, it’s inevitable that the National League will have the DH and I think it happens relatively soon. Perhaps in the next five years. The opposition to it at this point is solely subjective and based on tradition. People like pitchers batting and they like double switches and they like the leagues being different because they, well, like it. If the system were being set up today, however, they’d never have it this way and I think even the DH-haters know that well. That doesn’t mean that you can’t dislike a universal DH, but it does mean that you can’t expect the people who run the game to cater to that preference when it makes little sense for them to do it for their own purposes.

Anyway, enjoy convincing each other in the comments about how the side of that argument you dislike is wrong.