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Simms Like Old Times

Losing by ten runs once you’ve fallen behind by four in the first inning isn’t better than many things, but based on recent, compelling evidence [1], it sure beats losing by one run when the tying run stands on third base. A 12-2 loss [2] attributable primarily to Bartolo Colon [3] simply not having it is almost relaxing in that it doesn’t have to serve as a referendum on the near-term fate of Metsopotamia. As long as you don’t make a habit of it, you ought to be able to shake it off without it turning your lights out [4].

Shake it off [5],” along with its sibling “walk it off” and its cousin “rub some dirt on it,” are baseball aphorisms to live by. Going out there and getting after ’em is as valued an activity as there in the 162-game season. Consider, for example, Terry Collins’s assessment of one of his players after it was announced that player was going to be sidelined for a spell:

“You know what? He gets hurt. And when he gets hurt, it’s legit. It’s not like this guy’s got a bump and he won’t take two aspirin to come back the next day. This guy, it’s legit. We’ll just wait the two weeks and hopefully get him back and we’ll continue to move forward.”

The player, you might have inferred, was Travis d’Arnaud [6]. The statement dates to June 23, which is now almost four weeks ago. No, d’Arnaud’s not back as soon as regulatorily possible. No, no Met ever is. Yes, the Mets appear comical when they offer a best guess as to a player’s return and then he’s nowhere to be found when that estimated time arrives.

It’s a silly, little dance the Mets have never figured out how to untangle themselves from. The “Prevention & Recovery” signs that dot the path to the home clubhouse are about as effective at fighting injury risk as President’ Ford’s WIN buttons [7] were at Whipping Inflation Now four decades ago. I wish the Mets would just say, “He’ll be back when he’s back,” for whomever is out for an undetermined interval. Can your doctor give you a precise timetable regarding the healing of what ails you? Does your employer report rough guesstimates on your not so well being to a world full of strangers?

It’s always cathartic to poke fun at the Mets’ inability to cure and communicate, but never mind that for the moment. I’m more interested in Travis d’Arnaud the player than Travis d’Arnaud the latest example of what always seems to go wrong. Travis d’Arnaud, you’ve surely noticed, was an essential part of this team when it was playing its best, which has made him an enormous part of this team when he hasn’t been playing at all.

Nobody ever looks better than someone who’s missing from the passenger manifest of a potentially sinking ship. To be clear, the Mets — regardless of the assessment offered by Jim Breuer’s cat Peanut [8] — aren’t by any means sunk, but the offense rarely stays afloat without great struggle. They’ve produced four runs in their first eighteen innings — two Friday, two Saturday — out of the second-half gate, enough to get them beat by one and then by ten. The ten-run pounding was the aberration. The scoring of two or fewer runs, however, has occurred 36 times in 91 games thus far this year. D’Arnaud has played in 19 games in 2015; the Mets scored more than two in 16 of them.

Slapdash but not necessarily misleading conclusion: we need Travis back.

He’s not here because he’s hurt. No doubt it’s legit. No doubt he’d take his two aspirin, rub the requisite dirt on whatever’s aching (one of his elbows, in case you’ve forgotten) and strap it on the way players are admired industrywide for doing. There are stirrings that he’s en route to being en route [9]. May there be a ship for him to help right by the time his route to return is complete.

Longer term, the phrase we find ourselves using is “injury prone,” as in “Travis d’Arnaud is injury prone.” If I may pull the ol’ “the dictionary defines…” trope off the shelf, the dictionary defines prone as “likely to or liable to suffer from, do, or experience something, typically something regrettable or unwelcome”.

Is Travis d’Arnaud prone to injuries just because he gets injured? Does the sprained left elbow of June have anything to do with the bone bruise to his right wrist he suffered in May while rehabbing the fractured right pinkie of April? Is any of it related to the bone chip in his right elbow from last September? Or the concussion from last May? Or the broken left foot he endured two years ago at Las Vegas? Or the torn left knee ligament the year before that when he was still in the Blue Jay organization?

Does all of that add up to “injury prone,” or is it just a collection of bad stuff happening to the same guy? D’Arnaud plays the position on the diamond most fraught with danger, yet not all of what’s gone wrong has had to do with catching. The elbow sprain was diagnosed after a home plate collision (those still transpire, despite rules attempting to eliminate them) with A.J. Pierzynski [10]. But the pinkie fractured while he batted. The business with the wrist also came while hitting. The bone chip, removed in the offseason, wasn’t traced to a specific catching incident. The concussion surely was (a result of a backswing), and that left foot broke while he was in pursuit of a foul ball. His knee ligament, however, tore when he was a baserunner attempting to break up a double play.

You’d think this series of shots to the anatomy would take a terrible toll on the progress of a young player. Yet every time we see Travis hit, Travis is substantially better than he was before the last time we saw Travis disabled. If Travis hadn’t been hitting so well prior to his two 2015 DL stints, we wouldn’t be reflexively listing him as one of the most important ingredients we’ve been missing every time things refuse to go as well as we wish they would.

Unlucky? Absolutely. Chronic? Doesn’t seem to be. Better off doing anything but catching? It’s tempting to say yes, but the kid’s been a catcher his whole life and seems to be a perfectly good one. The Mets have Kevin Plawecki [11], another catcher whose promise continues to peek through the development process, which adds to the intrigue of what to do with the both of them come the day both of them are healthy and fully ready to contribute at the major league level.

But injury prone? Unless a spell was cast on Travis by the same unforgiving witch who drilled holes [12] in the Mets’ bats before they were shipped to St. Louis, that seems a rather medieval prognosis. I hear “injury prone” and I think back a third-of-a-century or so to another promising young player, albeit not one of the baseball variety. I think back to Phil Simms, the quarterback who seemed poised to lead the New York Giants out of the dark ages.

Simms was a surprise No. 1 pick by one of the perpetually beleaguered local football franchises in 1979. He sat on the bench while his team limped to its usual stumbling start. With nothing to lose and the future to gain, coach Ray Perkins handed the QB job to Phil. He was a revelation, reeling off four consecutive victories and raising our hopes like crazy. Maybe the Giants — playoffless since 1963, with only two winning seasons notched along the way — wouldn’t be horrible forever.

Yet no glide path to glory presented itself. Phil struggled some in 1980; separated a shoulder in 1981; tore a knee ligament in 1982; and whacked his throwing thumb on a defender’s helmet in 1983. Simms was no longer the golden boy about to lead us to the promised land. He was termed injury prone [13]. You couldn’t count on Phil Simms if he was always going to get hurt, you know.

And then? And then Phil Simms stopped getting hurt. He had a spectacular season in 1984, a very good one in 1985 and a championship campaign in 1986, culminating in arguably the greatest day any quarterback has ever enjoyed in a Super Bowl. Simms completed 22 of 25 passes and indeed led the Giants to the promised land.

The injury prone tag blew away. Phil wasn’t prone to injuries. He just happened to have endured more than his share of them in a compressed period of time. It wasn’t a permanent condition.

This old story from another sport reminds us sometimes the worst outcome doesn’t happen just because all available evidence suggests it will. Sometimes all available evidence isn’t foolproof or necessarily relevant. Sometimes the two weeks that become four weeks eventually become no more weeks of waiting.

We’re waiting for that to be the case with Travis d’Arnaud. When it does happen, it will be great to see what he can really do.