SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Do Baseball Players Get Hurt So Much? And, Why Do Games Take Sooooooo Long?

A few years ago, I watched a 1980 highlight film featuring the Phillies.  Most players looked tall and lean, and they didn't get hurt as much.  Pitchers went longer into games, they weren't as specialized, and it seemed that they didn't get hurt as much, either.

Today, the players are bulkier, and it makes one wonder whether the training methods are simply out of touch.  Witness, a few years ago, and the story on how the 49ers got to the Super Bowl against the Ravens -- by being the least injured team.  How did they accomplish that?  Because they had an innovative strength coach who emphasized flexibility over bulk.  After all, if you're too bulky and not flexible, you're likely to pull or tear something.

One of the problems with baseball is that the extra bulk seemingly is a bad combination with sudden movements.  After all, it's hard for a baseball player to get totally loose, especially with how long games are (and I'd submit that if the ball is in play only 15 minutes of the 3:30 it takes to play a game, that players are more likely to be inactive for too long a portion of the game, which then increases the likelihood of a "sudden movement" injury.).  It probably is the case that the smaller strike zone, the permission for batters and pitchers to fidget more between pitches, and the increase in commercials has not only lengthened games but increased the periods during the game when players are inactive, thereby increasing the chance for injury.  The extra bulk doesn't help; extra flexibility would.

Today's players resemble linebackers; yesterday's resembled wide receivers.  The games were faster then, and, yes, they were better.  I recall going to Vet Stadium with my father to watch Steve Carlton pitch and getting out of there in less than 2 hours.  That was pretty cool, and the games weren't 1-0, either, as the Phillies could hit.  But they went faster, and there wasn't as much time spent on the DL.  Today, the games are slow and more players get hurt.  

Some might counter that the players are better and that baseball is innovative, but they aren't and it isn't, not if the games are slower and the players get more injured.  Sure, baseball draws, but at some point it might not.  Remember, only forty years ago horse racing was one of the most popular sports, perhaps because the track was one of the few places where one could place a bet legally.  Today, it's all but gone, and only gets highlighted when there's a big race.  Boxing also once was more prominent, but too many questionable judging decisions at the Olympics hurt it.  It used to be Americans watched track, swimming and boxing primarily during the summer games.  Who watches boxing now?

That's precisely what baseball has to worry about.  Soccer has increased in popularity after years of trying to break through (okay, so the MLS remains a bit of a "last chance" hotel, but the English Premiership gets a lot of play in the US, as will the World Cup).  The steroid era, and baseball's lack of repentance about it, stained it.  The significant drop off in hitting and the length of games plague it.

Get back to when fans could get in and out in 2:15.  That would make the game more fun.

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