That doctor from SNY's constantly airing New York State Smokers Quitline commercial — the one who comes into the examining room and tells that poor, haunted guy all the diseases he risks contracting from indulging his filthy habit (kind of like a one-man death panel) — might make a good medical liaison for the Mets. Imagine him opening the door, making his diagnosis and then reappearing to make another and another and another…
“You have tears in your left medial collateral ligament and flexor pronator.”
“You have a right hip impingement.”
“You have tendinitis behind your right calf.”
“You have a fractured left pinkie.”
“You have a bone spur on the back of your right elbow.”
“You have right shoulder weakness.”
“You have a bone bruise to your right knee.”
“You have a torn meniscus in your right knee.”
“You have a muscle tear in your right thigh.”
“You have a torn right upper hamstring tendon.”
Of course that's not one guy he's scaring spitless. Those are the injuries that sent ten men, all of them Mets, to occupy what is presumably baseball's busiest Disabled List. If there's a busier DL, I doubt it's on a ballclub. It's probably in a war zone.
While the Mets' DL has meant a break (figuratively speaking) for the likes of Cory Sullivan, who wouldn't otherwise be a Met right now and wouldn't have tripled twice in Phoenix Wednesday afternoon to key a rare Met victory, it has, of course, crippled the Mets' chances of contending in 2009 and strained their ability to compete — that and their composite lack of professionalism and unfamiliarity with the fundamentals of baseball. But the injuries have been the most glaring problem and will likely be both the legitimate excuse and sorry alibi the Mets lean on when this abortion of a debacle of a disaster of a season is over.
As fans, we ache for our players' pains. If one is sustained on the field, like if he falls and he can't get up, we hold our breath until the guy's on his feet or a cart and then we rise and applaud. We collectively wish him well (we may have even admired that he was playing with pain up until the moment he could play no more) and then get on with the business of rooting for his generally lesser replacement. As the 15-day mark approaches, we begin to ask when our guy will be coming back because we could really use him.
And that's when the trouble seems to start. Almost nobody is placed on the 60-day DL at first. It's almost always 15 days, just a couple of weeks. We are conditioned to believe that number. Then we are conditioned to believe the most hopeful number we hear when 15 days come and go. He was supposed to be out six to eight weeks, but if all goes well could resume baseball activities as soon as three weeks? And then he could go to extended spring training? And play a rehab game? Great!
Our expectations rise. Somebody reports something about somebody picking up a ball, swinging a bat, running a lap, hitting the stationary bike. Boy, if he's doing as well as they say, he could be back sooner than expected. Throw him into the mix and we improve a lot. Yeah, I'm sure glad he's coming back. It doesn't seem to help anybody's cause to tamp down our expectations. The Mets, like just about all commercial enterprises, are in the optimism business. Sure, he'll be back! He's bending without discomfort! He's tying his shoes again! He's eating solid food! St. Lucie beckons! Can Citi Field be far behind?
Then? Then nothing. Because the optimism is rarely founded in anything but wishful thinking. What good does it do the Mets to announce this player or that pitcher is indeed going to St. Lucie — “but don't get your hopes up”? Doesn't do the player/pitcher any good. He has to believe he's getting closer, too. I don't know how many tickets are sold on the basis of any individual player's active status, but who wants to discourage the fans by telling them, Whoa, slow down there, he's healing but he's not a walking miracle? The media need something new to report and hype up and hype whatever they've got. Someone continuing his stay on the Disabled List is not news. Someone making his way off it is.
I'm not a doctor, I don't play one on TV and I haven't watched a medical drama since Marcus Welby, but I'm pretty sure the human body is a tricky contraption, especially those human bodies that engage in unusual, maybe unnatural activities for a living. So when we hear that a person in one of those bodies is working toward recovery but encounters an obstacle…oh, we don't like that. It must be somebody's fault. Some doctor, some trainer, maybe the player himself. Somebody's too stupid or too lazy or too “soft” to get it together. The same guy we stood and clapped on weeks, maybe months ago is not someone we're happy with now.
When the hell is he coming back?
Billy Wagner may be coming back Sunday. Or he may not. I'll put this in the seen-when-believed file, but OK, he's been out for a year and nobody necessarily expected him to return at all after Tommy John surgery. That's one for some combination of science and hard work.
This is where we get into trouble because how the hell would I know? How the hell would you know? How the hell would Omar Minaya or Ray Ramirez or Dr. David Altchek know? It sounds good to say “we expect them to start coming back by the All-Star Break” or “we should begin to see a couple of them around August 1,” but what does it mean? Nothing, apparently. It's the old “nobody knows anything” catch-all, except it's true — at least until someone does know something. Wednesday there was a palpable knowing sigh emanating through Metsopotamia when word went forth that Carlos Delgado, in the midst of rehabbing his hip, strained an oblique. Oh not again!
But not what again? That a man trying to fix one part of himself hurt another? That's frustrating from a fan standpoint, but I'll bet it's way more frustrating for Carlos Delgado. It can't make anybody in the organization for whom he works happy either, whatever their role in his recovery or prognosis, however supportive they are or however cynical they've become.
Somewhere along the way, Delgado was pegged as coming back by now. So was Reyes. So were Beltran and Maine and Putz. I could swear I heard or read about the encouraging progress each was making at some point or another. Guys who went down in May and June, you could say they would return in July or August and who was going to argue? It sounded good and not unreasonable. The Mets were however many games out that they were. Add Delgado and Reyes and Beltran and Maine and Putz to the equation, and that's not such a bad team. You wouldn't have to slash ticket prices to sell seats to see that team.
Like I said, this is frustrating. There is a tendency to remember the outsized examples and blame somebody for not living up to, or for perhaps for living down to precedent. How about the way Johan pitched even though he needed knee surgery? Remember the way they screwed with Reyes' running style? How many times did they say Pedro was ready before he suffered a 'setback'? Didn't they have to fire their hospital a few years ago? There is also a tendency to cringe when we hear of the most benign “ouch,” because we recall how benignly various hips, hamstrings and hamates might have been framed before the players attached to them disappeared into the Disabled mist.
It's just possible that the Mets stretch all wrong, or that their pitchers don't warm up properly. It's just possible that they hired a battalion of incompetent doctors, or that some conniving segment of the medical-industrial complex knows that lingering Met injuries represent a cash cow. It's just possible that every Met who's gotten hurt has a mental block about recovering, or the ones with long-term contracts don't see the benefit of rushing back to a team buried in fourth place.
It's also possible that there is some sort of shortfall in the Mets' training methods; that there are doctors who shouldn't have been so certain about certain prognoses; that each player is an individual; that their aggregation of injuries has been rather freakish; that management lacked foresight in terms of roster alternatives; and that the team's communications apparatus is as fractured as any given pinkie when you consider the gap that exists between promised return dates and the reality in which those dates go by without any evidence of tangible progress.
The above is my pet theory, but when it comes to Met injuries, nobody knows anything really, and that includes me.
If you think the overpopulation of the Mets' DL is part of some great, big plot, then the book for you is The 30 Greatest Sports Conspiracy Theories of All-Time, whose new improved edition has been co-authored by Mark Weinstein, blogger of Bluenatic and editor of another fine sports book of recent vintage. Conspire to get your copy today.
And if you think 2009 should go out on the happiest, healthiest note possible, you should attend the second annual Gary, Keith and Ron end-of-season bash in the Big Apple section at Citi Field, Saturday, October 3. This is your chance to make like Cory Sullivan and stand on the warning track of a big league ballpark. Details here — and here's an added bonus because you have the good taste to read Faith and Fear in Flushing: Through this Saturday, August 15, use the coupon code Blogger and get 15% off tickets and all GKR merchandise, courtesy of Lynn Cohen.