Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is Beast Mode to Blame for MLB's Rash of Injuries?

One hundred years ago, baseball was a rough and tumble game, played by tough guys named Honus, Ty, Tris, Stuffy, and Buck.  They were underpaid by unappreciative owners who had complete control over their easily replaceable commodities.  If they got hurt and were unable to play for any extended period of time, they didn't get paid; not too surprisingly, these guys hardly ever missed a game.

When the season ended, these early baseball pioneers usually went back to the farm or the factory, to make ends meet until the the next Spring, when they hoped to continue their playing careers for at least one more year.  They stayed in shape during the off-season, baling hay, working in the mines, or picking cotton.  The weight room wasn't part of the regimen.  Beast Mode would have to wait for another century.

As the years went on, the game became a bit more refined and the players made a bit more money, but when the season came to a close, they were soon back home trying to make a buck doing whatever they could.  The big-name players might find a nice off-season gig working at a car dealership, or selling insurance.  Anything to keep the paychecks coming.

As the game progressed, the revenues increased and eventually players started getting a bigger cut of the action.  Free agent contracts became increasingly more lucrative for the players; more costly for the owners; more outlandish in the eyes of millions of fans who still have to work for a living.

The pressure for the players to stand out from their peers probably had a lot to do with the advent of the Steroids Era.  Home run records fell, much to the delight of fans everywhere.  Chicks may dig the long ball, but Congressional hearings dug up the dirt on widespread steroid use involving many big-name players.  Scandal forced MLB to adopt a random drug testing program, which has no doubt discouraged the use of performance enhancing drugs; a positive test now results in a fifty-game suspension for the offending party; assuming no chain-of-custody irregularities somehow come into play.

While obscure loopholes may exist to get an offending party off the hook, the vast majority of MLB players aren't taking any chances with the juice; instead, they're pumping themselves up the old-fashioned, Beast Mode way.  But have too many players taken Beast Mode a bit too far?  Has all this weight lifting caused far too many cases of tight muscles which become easily strained when players are constantly swinging for the fences?  Or when they accelerate a bit too quickly out of the box trying to leg out an infield hit; or going from first to third, or trying to score from second on a sharp single to right field?  I certainly think so.

This past Spring Training, when 19-year old phenom Bryce Harper was trying to make the Opening Day roster of the Washington Nationals, he was hampered by a bit of "tightness" in his calf.  I wonder if that condition may have possibly been the result of those famous heavy-duty leg squats he can be seen performing on You-Tube?  There's no doubt about it; the kid's an animal; a five tool player with incredible upside potential, if he can keep the calves from tightening up too much.

Speaking of You-Tube sensations; Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes put on quite a weight-lifting show as well, among other things, which no doubt got him a nice major league contract with the Oakland A's.  When he's been in the lineup, he's been a big catalyst; however, a muscle strain in his left hand landed him on the DL from May 7 to June 1, and a srained left hamstring on June 7 has him sidelined again; at least for a while.  After the injury, a somber Oakland analyst lamented, "He's built so tight; such a strong-body kid."

Speaking of strong-bodied catalysts; there's no doubt Dodgers' slugger Matt Kemp was more than just a bit Beast Mode-motivated heading into the 2012 MLB season.  But did all those 6 am workouts do more harm than good; especially for the legs?  A recurring left hamstring strain has him on the DL for the second time, and will more than likely cost the NL's best hitter - when he's able to play - what seemed to be a certain MVP Award this year.  As it stands, in just 36 games he had already whacked 12 home runs - a 54 home run pace over a full 162-game season.  Obviously, the Dodgers could use that type of production in the lineup on a regular basis; maybe he could have mustered a hit or two Friday night in Seattle.  As it stands, LA became the latest no-hit victim of 2012 - the fourth, overall.

The last time I checked, strained obliques and strained hamstrings are currently the leading cause of disabling injuries for MLB, followed closely by strained groins and strained backs.  Wherever there are tight muscles, there are plenty of issues; strained calves, shoulders, quadriceps, pectorals, and lats have wreaked plenty of havoc, as well.  How much of this is the result of overdoing the Beast Mode routine?  I don't know, but I have a feeling it's more than anybody would care to admit; at least publicly.

I know there are "strength and conditioning" specialists on most teams; maybe they need to place a little less emphasis on the "strength" portion of the job description, and more on "conditioning".  It couldn't hurt.


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