Wednesday, June 8, 2011

{Insert Luke Skywalker on DL With Upper Body Injury Here}

Oh, what is there to be done with Luke Scott? Just as he appeared bound for the waiver wire or disabled list he unleashes a compact, but awkwardly over-muscled swing on a Guillermo Moscoso fastball and crushes it over the right field wall, over the standing room platform, over the wrought-iron fence onto Eutaw Street for his 7th home run of the season.

Later in the game he would square up on another ball poorly thrown by an A’s pitcher and hit his 10th double into the right field gap. After going 2-for-3 on the night his average on the season would stand at a less than robust .232, but for one night he would quiet the critics calling for his head.

It seemed so simple before Tuesday night’s game - just put him on the DL Even the bilingual slugger himself admitted that the labrum tear in his right shoulder was affecting his game. How could it not? Not only did he have to deal with the discomfort, the loss of strength in his lead shoulder, but there is also the psychological side of playing with an injury. Whether he was aware of it or not, his swing mechanics compensated for the injury, protecting the damaged arm and sapping him of his prodigious power.

After playing through it for weeks, watching his average plummet he finally conceded to having a cortisone shot. Based on the minuscule one-game sample, it appears that the shot was long over due. The non-anabolic steroid showed the great effect it has for players dealing with the wear and tear of a 162 game season.

The question still lingers, “Why isn’t he on the DL in the first place?” After all, it was apparent, prior to the injection, that he was hurting the team. Scott is on a major league roster because he can hit a baseball, and often that struck baseball ends up over the outfield fence. After the game he confessed to reporters he hasn’t been able to lift his arm over his shoulder for six weeks, so why, why, why is he playing?

Perhaps it has to do with inability of athletes in general to believe they can get hurt in the first place. They tell themselves that it’s not that bad, or that they’ve played with worse, or that it will go away in a few days. Once pain becomes a constant presence in their day, it’s hard to remember what life was like without it. So they tell themselves it’s not that bad even as they can‘t put their jerseys on without pain.

Maybe it could be his contract situation. He is playing on a one year contract, sure it pays him a healthy $6.4 million dollars, but that’s only for this year. Next year not one single dollar is guaranteed to him. Since he still in his arbitration years, he is in fact, auditioning for his pay next year. How Scott performs this year directly affects how mush he makes next year.

If he elects to go on the DL, he’ll miss at least two weeks of the season with no promise that the injury will get any better. A worst case scenario would be season-ending surgery which would severely impact his potential earnings. Scott is a bit of a late-bloomer and won’t be seeing his first full free agency contract until he’s 33. Due to his age and relatively limited skill set, his chance at a long-term, big money contract are rather remote. He needs to capitalize on one or two year contacts based on his previous year’s performance. If that means playing through some shoulder pain, then so be it.

A third, less fiscally driven motive could be the fact that he doesn’t want to let his team down. For all of his off-the-field rhetoric about presidential birth certificates and guns hidden in kitchen cabinets, he is genuinely liked by his teammates. He has performed in the past (a 162 game average of 26 HR’s/80 RBI/ .849 OPS+) and could feel that the team, especially with its current power outage, needs him.

It’s kind of odd that a town who’s most recent legend was celebrated for never missing a day’s work can be so vocal in demanding Scott’s dismissal from the team. While he is not the player Cal Ripken was, shouldn’t he still be commended for his dedication?

Isn’t there something noble about a player trying to produce no matter how much it pains him. Ninety percent of baseball fans would be hard pressed to remember any of Kirk Gibson’s 255 career regular season home runs, but most of them would remember the one he hit off of Dennis Eckersley in a World Series game twenty years ago. Not because it was the longest home run he ever hit, but because of the fact that he hit it despite the wracking pain in his knees and his staggered hobble around the bases*.

So maybe instead of denigrating Luke Scott maybe it’s time to appreciate what he’s going through and tip your cap to a player just trying to do his best.

* I was going to link a clip of the dramatic home run here, but thanks to MLB's no highlights on youtube policy I couldn't find anything. Although, for kicks type in Gibson's world series home run and watch the RBI Baseball re-creation of the final inning. Ahhhh glorious childhood memories.

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