The Cubs Trainer vs. The Secretive Nature of the Industry
Gordon Wittenmyer in his Sunday Sun-Times article extolled the virtues of Cubs trainer, Mark O'Neal. It's a really nice piece explaining how valuable an athletic trainer can be to the ballclub. Beyond the obvious treating of injured athletes, the job involves organizing effective treatment protocols, reviewing medical histories and records and something as simple as honest communication of his medical opinions to both the athlete and management after assessing all this medical input. It took some time but he's created a sense of trust of his judgement from athletes and management.
The line between keeping the manager and GM fully informed and not betraying a player's confidence is not a tough one to walk, O'Neal said, as long as it comes with honesty, straight talk and the confidence he and his staff know what they're doing.
I remember Baseball Prospectus' medical writer, Will Carroll, extolling the virtues of other orgainizations medical/training staffs dating back to October 2004 with him awarding Tampa the first Dick Martin/Best Medical Staff award. Subsequent winners were Milwaukee in 2005 and 2007, White Sox in 2006, and the Pirates in 2008. I wondered why the Cubs were never a part of that discussion? One component of that award was days on the disabled list. Ding, Chicago we've had some problems.
The Dick Martin award which is presented by Baseball Prospectus, honors the Major League Baseball medical staff that has proven itself best at preventing injuries, rehabilitating players who do get hurt, and for contributing to the overall baseball medicine, knowledge base. The award was named for now retired Minnesota Twins' trainer, that BP wanted to honor for his contributions to sports medicine over a 30-year career in baseball. In Will Carroll's inaugural description of the award, he mentioned that one reason trainers were previously unrecognized was because of "the secretive nature of the industry." From these secretive roots the Cubs are still working through some remaining issues.
Have the Cubs progressed from Carroll giving medical "news" like this in spring 2006? There was the explanation that Prior's poor velocity was because of his mysterious flu-like illness earlier in the off-season:
Mark Prior, on the other hand, is more worrisome. He’s still missing his normal velocity in Arizona, making some wonder how an illness could continue to sap his strength. A shoulder injury would be an easier explanation, though sources with the team continue to insist there’s no structural problem.
Things have changed in the O'Neal era to the point that his staff has
won the "Training Staff of the Year" at the recent winter meetings in
Las Vegas. Now, I've not previously read about this award and it's not to be confused with the Baseball Prospectus Award (for the best medical staff) but a hard earned trophy on the shelf is...something to show the grandkids someday.
Have we swapped the Kerry Wood/Mark Prior aching-breaking our hearts for the Rich Harden/Milton Bradley version? Assessment of health risk in athletes is a complex equation. I was recently skeptical about this lovefest of honesty on the part of the medical staff when the Cubs announced Harden's MRI/Arthrogram last October had subtle laxity and then at the Cubs Convention in January they said Harden had a (rotator cuff) tear, albeit partial thickness. I doubt Mark O'Neal was involved in that loopy pathway of information. Still, misinformation to the press has been the burden this orgainization has carried for quite some time. It's a big upgrade if the trainers aren't a part of such deceptions. Mr. O'Neal's got more work to do on the "culture" if the Cubs are going to vie for the Dick Martin award.
Maybe the Wittenmyer article is an attempt to make nice with the Cubs after he ripped them in his blog after all the diagnostic misinformation in mid February when Harden's slower-than-everyone-else-program for spring training was all the buzz:
Can anybody tell me what the advantage is in omitting those details and being vague about these things? It's not like the Cubs have to protect the information for the purposes of shopping Harden or for any on-the-field competitive reasons (scouts have eyes). I've covered three other teams in my career, and the ones that were most up front about these kinds of things had the fewest headaches with the way the information got out. And the fans stayed well informed, without the yo-yo effect.
Picking up Harden's $7M option as well as signing Milton Bradley to a $30M x 3 contract was weighed by Hendry after consulting head trainer O'Neal for his insight and hands on assessment as to how willing these athletes were to follow rehab protocols O'Neal was recommending. In Harden's case, a shoulder with a partial cuff tear or in Bradley's case preventative rehab for universal body-part breakdown. Certainly the transformation of Kerry Wood from broken down starter to reliable closer even with a partially torn rotator cuff happened on O'Neal's rehab watch (and Kerrry got there without the interference of a surgeon!). That's pretty convincing evidence from my viewpoint. Potentially award winning evidence of the value of an excellent trainer.
Having a good physician who makes correct diagnoses and can make good treatment decisions is just one facet of a patient/athlete's recovery from injury. As an orthopedic surgeon, I definitely rely on my physical therapists and ATC's to get the best outcomes for my patients. It's not just the rehab protocols but their insights into the specific medical problems and their judgement and feedback while treatment is ongoing. In the spotlight of professional baseball, it's the same but with Papparazzi. The Mark O'Neal era? It's not the same job as back in the day, taping Gabby Hartnett's ankles. It's a tough job getting the medical side of baseball right with all the noise from the media as a potential distraction from the task at hand. As a blog author (and die-hard fan), I guess that means myself included as noise-maker.
...and as quoted in the Wittenmyer article, Jim Hendry (I'm a GM, not a doctor) said:
''There are two or three relationships for a general manager that are most important to the success of the team. No. 1 is with the owner, No. 2 is with the manager and No. 3 is with your trainer. The successes and failures of a team rely a lot on the health of a team.''
I wish they would just give the press the correct information on diagnoses, medical tests and surgery results. Seems like a loophole that needs to be closed to complete the circle of honesty, integrity and truth...and someday (cue in the Laugh-In theme): The Dick Martin Award (oh, and a World Series trophy when you're putting presents in our post-season stockings Santa)
Please take a moment today to vote on the best Cubs Season Ever.
Hagsag 2 hours 30 min ago (view)
It is hard to blieve that Corey Black is still around. Why?
Arizona Phil 10 hours 10 min ago (view)
Remember, the Cubs have until 5 PM (Eastern) on - SUNDAY - to decide whether to add any of the 25 minor leaguers who are eligible to be Rule 55 minor league second contract free-agents or 6YFA to the MLB 40-man roster, sign the player to a 2021 minor league successor contract, or allow the player to walk. (Some -- perhaps even most -- of the 25 have no doubt already signed successor contracts - TBD).
Arizona Phil 11 hours 20 min ago (view)
The Cubs have claimed 2B-3B-LF Max Schrock off waivers from the St. Loius Cardinals, and LHRP Rex Brothers has been sent outright to AAA Iowa.
If Brothers doesn't elect free-agency immediately, he will be automatically declared an MLB Rule 55 minor league 6YFA on Sunday at 5 PM Eastern, unless he agrees to sign a 2021 minor league successor contract).
Brothers is out of minor league options and he is arbitation-eligible post-2020, so he was likely to be non-tendered on 12/2 anyway.
Arizona Phil 12 hours 3 min ago (view)
K-DUB: It's pronounced "MAH - day"
crunch 13 hours 32 min ago (view)
"Jon Lester said in an interview on SiriusXM Friday that he's had conversations with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein "about getting something done, coming back and being a part of the organization." "
ummm...how about no? i mean, thanks for those 3 good seasons in your first 4 years as a cub...but after those last 2...yeah...no.
also, the cubs claimed 2nd/3rd max schrock off waivers from STL (no power, bit of speed, slow to react in the IF even though the glove isn't bad). meh.
K Dub 13 hours 40 min ago (view)
Cubs had a prospect named Jose Made (also Dominican) between 2007-2009. I believe his name was pronounced like the verb "made".
tim815 14 hours 54 min ago (view)
I lean two syllables.
He was Dominican-born, so Mah-day would have made sense, but that's a good Q.
K Dub 23 hours 8 min ago (view)
PHIL: How is Kevin Made's last name pronounced? Is it mah-day? Or like it's spelled - made? Thanks!
Cubster 23 hours 34 min ago (view)
Brewers decline Ryan Braun's option. Any predictions as to where he goes?
crunch 1 day 1 min ago (view)
KBO (korea) ends their season tomorrow.
a.russell started off hot, but severely cooled off to a .253/.317/.336 slash (not counting today's game). if he comes back to the US (and finds a team that wants to sign him), it should be rather cheap.
Hagsag 1 day 13 hours ago (view)
Around the corner or in the ditch?
crunch 1 day 15 hours ago (view)
my dream of seeing s.castro end his career with 3000+ hits and a WAR in the mid-30s, making HOF voters sweat, came to an end this year with the shortened season followed by the early injury. he came into the year as a just-turned 30 year old (march 24) with 1617 hits.
George Altman 1 day 15 hours ago (view)
Jerry Reinsdorf is reasons 1 thru 100 why I could never root for the White Sox and have hated the Bulls since 1999.
Sonicwind75 1 day 16 hours ago (view)
Feels like Ricky and Starlin Castro should form a support group. Everytime your rebuilding team is about to turn the corner and you're gone.
Cubster 1 day 18 hours ago (view)
76 yr old Tony LaRussa to manage the W/Sox. Reinsdorf decision over objections.
Poor Rick Renteria. History repeats itself, NOPE. This won't end well (except for bring your dog day).
Cubster 1 day 19 hours ago (view)
but, but, but we're rounding the corner. The vaccine is warming up in the bullpen. Tucker's missing email package from Rudy is just lost in the mail. There are no pee-pee tapes. Corona, corona, corona. I like beer. ...and the DeutchBank will just forgive billions of MLB owner's debt if they ask nicely. How are the Russian minor leagues looking this year Phil?