Getting injured in professional baseball can be hell.
Frankly speaking, getting injured in any walk of life can be hell, with the specific circle of hell you’ll occupy tightly correlated to the severity of your injury.
However, for simplicity sake, lets keep this conversation centered on those nagging types of injury that prevent athletes from performing at their highest level, and all that comes with it. I’m talking about the kinds of injury that most folks could push through in order to do their day jobs but turn the world’s best athletes—those who must be in peak physical condition to compete—into liabilities.
First, we have to understand that any injury which takes a player off the field is, for that player, life altering.
All athletes gauge their present and future value by their ability to contribute on a playing field. Removing their ability to play removes the fixed point by which they’ve mapped out their lives, and cuts them off from their main source of validation. Their physical ability has been a life defining constant. By the time they reach a level like the big leagues that ability is all encompassing. It’s not fair or healthy, and it really shouldn’t be this way, but it is a natural byproduct of pushing yourself to be one of the world’s best in an industry built on clearly measurable results. Either you are good or you are not good. And if you are good, you must prove it over and over and over again. In time, you learn to measure your worth based on good outcomes. In time, you become your outcomes.
But in order to generate those outcomes, you must to be healthy. Everything you are or will be flows from your health.
This is why older athletes sum up all career advice in one, succinct statement: Don’t get hurt.
Second, If you or anyone you know has been laid off work after years of doing their job, then you have some idea of what getting injured feels like for a professional player. Short of getting released, this is how most athletes come into contact with their own mortality, and it can make them question life itself.
People say that baseball is a great sport because it has no clock. That’s not true.
While there is no game clock, the amount of time you have to play baseball, the amount of opportunities you’ll have to impress, and the window you have to prove yourself—they are all nonrenewable resources on a timer you can see.
As soon as you start chasing the pro sports dream, the clock starts ticking, the options start to vanish. Every other job you could have taken—many more stable than sports though far less “glorious”—represent an opportunity cost paid to pursue your dream. Most players don’t think of it this way. Nor should they. If you want to chase a dream like major league baseball, wherein you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than seeing your dream realized, you can’t think of all you’ll give up/risk to make that dream come true. Hell, athletes are prized for their ability to tune out “distractions.”
For the record: The fact that we use the word “distraction” in place of what normal folks call “other options” should tell you a lot about how our minds work…
However, unless you’re one of the best that’s ever been, you’ll most likely come into contact with one of these “distractions.” Usually the hard. And when you do, they will expose just how one-dimensional your life has become.
Third, I don’t blame you if, despite all I’ve said, you still don’t feel bad for injured athletes. At least the big leaguers. After all, If a player gets hurt in the big leagues, chances are they’re making better money than most working stiffs will see in several year’s. For many, this is reason enough to harden a heart.
But I’m not saying you need to sympathize. I’m not saying professional baseball players aren’t lucky be part of a union, or work in an industry where half a million dollars is the league minimum. What I am saying is, the psychological conditioning these men go through to reach the top paves the way to a seventh circle of hell experience when bodies break and identity vanishes.
That can make for uncharacteristic behavior.
Now that you know this, it may offer some insight into what a guy like Steve Tolleson has been feeling, and why he may very well have let some trainer or front office staffer know that he wants to quit. Getting hurt when you’re an in-between guy trying to stick in the big leagues, with your future vacillating between quadruple-A back-up, bench guy in the Show, and fat contract can be psychologically harrowing. He was most likely saying he wants to get out of his situation, verbalizing the “distractions” he’s been thinking hard about lately. I mean, if you’re miserable, does saying something like, “this is bullshit, I hate this, I should just quit and go do financial advising” sound unreasonable?
Only if it’s blown out of proportion by the media who feeds folks who already hate you for getting paid more to do less.
If you’re an extrovert, working through the problem aloud in the ear shot of Jays’ management or trainers or press… It can lead to the wrong impression, which will of course get reported to front office titans who spend zero time in training rooms to maintain a healthy context.
I’ve no doubt that Steve Tolleson has said he wants to quit baseball. Players do not want to be injured, or, if they have to be, none of them want to be stuck in a training room, away from their family, constantly reminded that they are a piece of meat in an industry that only cares about one thing: are you any good? No, I’m hurt, I’m nothing.
However, there is not a lot of sympathy for players who can’t get healthy. Not from management or fans. If you’re AA and you want the best for you player but you also have a team making history, you have zero time for players who don’t want to be a part of what you’ve built.
Factor in confused, emotional thoughts, a Union that won’t let players get taken advantage off, and the implications of being a “quitter” for a players career = things get messy fast.
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