Should Players Play Through Minor Injuries?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira  has strained his wrists hitting balls off a tee and may miss six to eight weeks of the season.  While this is yet another blow to the Bronx Bombers and I certainly mean no slight to the player or the injury, it has made me wonder if guaranteed contracts have made teams overly cautious and players lazy.

 

There was a time in baseball when if you were not on the field producing when you were of little use to a team regardless of your past productivity.  As such, players would often play through minor to nagging injuries and attributed it to what needed to be done in order to bring home a paycheck.  The multimillion dollar guaranteed salaries of today cause teams to err on the side of caution like they never have before.  Although he is healthy, the Seattle Mariners were taking no chances with Felix Hernandez after signing his record-breaking contract and have limited his spring training appearances.  King Felix only recently took the mound against an opposing team and as a further sign of caution, decided not to pitch for his native Venezuela in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

 

This could be understood as pitchers can often be very fragile due to the strain they put on their bodies delivering 90 plus miles per hour pitches and breaking balls every fifth day for approximately six months.  In the case of a position player, the thought is that if nothing is broken, torn, strained, or at risk of being further damaged, then they need to suck it up and play.  I can only imagine what my coach would’ve said if I told him I wasn’t going to play for six to eight weeks because I strained my wrist.  If it’d been determined there was no structural damage and the only thing I stood to experience from playing was discomfort, then I would’ve been told to rest it for two to three days, tape it up, get back out there, and quit my complaining.

 

Players who were unwilling to follow these guidelines usually got themselves a very comfortable spot on the bench in between the Gatorade cooler and the box of sunflower seeds.  The big difference of course is that we did not have millions of dollars in the bank or millions of dollars that are promised to us.  With the rigors of a long season, it’s alleged that players can now take a week or two off for injuries and discomforts that could be played through.  The security of knowing that you’ll have a job, or at the very least your paycheck regardless of your time on field has made many baseball players unmotivated and with a sense of entitlement.

 

Imagine if you could sign a contract where your employer guaranteed your income for the next five to seven years regardless of your performance.  If your production, behavior, or abilities are not up to par they have no choice but to try to get as much productivity out of you as they can order move you along and keep paying you.  Naturally it’s only human nature for people to want to try to exploit the system.  If you’re on a team that’s hopelessly out of contention playing in the dog days of summer in a hot, humid, stadium one can see the temptation to come up sore and need seven to 10 days’ rest.

 

I have always mandated the only fair thing to do in sports is to give players a base salary and unload the millions of dollars on to it via incentives.  If you’re at .280 hitter who hits 35 to 40 home runs and drives in 125+ runs a year, and the market says you should be paid between $15 to $20 million a year, great.  Then the player needs to assume some of the risk in the form of incentives.  For example, a base salary of $5 million, $5 million for 30+ home runs, and $5 to $10 million more for RBI above 100.  Naturally there would be provisions put in place for legitimate injures and so on.

 

Naturally I don’t expect any agent, union, or player to agree to these terms, but most of us can definitely understand the need to be paid for your current performance rather than what you have achieved in the past.

 

I know the genie is definitely out of the bottle on this subject, and the ways of the past are not likely to return anytime soon.  That being said I think we can all agree that making millions of dollars and sitting out for aches and pains that people every day put up with for menial paying jobs does seem really out of place.

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