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Something’s Broken

Hey! We took two out of three from the Nats!


Oh yeah, that [1]. OK.

Before we plunge in, a few things:

1. Pitchers break. No one knows exactly why they break, or how to stop them from breaking. It’s a problem that costs their industry millions and millions of dollars a year. If you want to get acquainted with baseball people’s best guesses about why and read a terrific story besides, go out and get Jeff Passan’s superb The Arm [2]. But even it only discovers suspicions and areas for further inquiry, not smoking guns.

2. There’s a survivor’s bias among pitchers, and that bias makes their expertise highly suspect. Tom Seaver [3] and Nolan Ryan [4], to name just two, didn’t emerge from their long careers with intact ligaments (only more or less intact in Ryan’s case) because they had perfect mechanics, exemplary work habits, or were warriors whose epics preceded The Age of Wuss. No, the principal reason they survived is they won the genetic lottery at conception. The difference between Tom Seaver and Tim Leary [5], or Tim Leary and Les Rohr [6], is much smaller than we let ourselves believe, because we don’t like to think we’re watching 130-odd rounds of Russian roulette a night. If I want to know about elbow injuries I’ll ask a doctor, not a retired pitcher.

3. Young men are macho about pain and the possible reasons for it, and young men with the superhuman drive to succeed as professional athletes are really macho about pain and the possible reasons for it. This is stupid for anyone and particularly stupid for anyone who’s part of a team, but it was an issue when our forebears were making cave paintings, so good luck changing that one.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Noah Syndergaard [7]. I’m going to fly in the face of 21st century digital discourse and wait for more information and an analysis of that information by someone who knows more about the subject than I do. When Noah grimaced in pain I turned away from the TV in despair, thinking that the awful moment I’d long expected to arrive finally had. That was followed by a bit of desperate bargaining with the universe: He’s grabbing under his arm. That wasn’t the shake of the elbow we’ve seen before that means Aw Fuck. That’s something else. It’s something else, right?

Maybe it is. “It’s my lat,” Syndergaard seemed to be saying out there, which would be comforting except the lat bone’s connected to the shoulder bone and the shoulder bone’s connected to the biceps bone and the biceps bone’s connected to the UCL bone and the UCL bone is connected to the sit-in-the-dark-in-despair-till-mid-2018 bone.

But I’m starting to do what I said I wouldn’t do. Let’s wait and see what an actual doctor says.

Here’s what I do know, however: everyone is assuming the worst for reasons beyond the biceps problem and Noah being a flamethrower with a UCL.

They’re also assuming the worst because these are the Mets we’re talking about.

And that’s prejudicial conduct this club thoroughly deserves.

This has been true for years — injuries are misdiagnosed, downplayed, handled haphazardly and allowed to blossom into full-blown disasters. It’s been true across multiple managerial reigns and front-office tenures, and accompanied by talk — though never for attribution — that the problem isn’t the much-reviled training staff or the brass but the owners.

I think that’s important when we try to understand why players go rogue, seeking second opinions, ducking doctors or balking at counsel. They’ve been told by their teammates that the men who sign the checks aren’t trustworthy. Sometimes that manifests itself as not believing good news; sometimes it shows up as refusing to risk bad news. Ultimately it’s the same mistrust.

And those players don’t need to be told, because they’ve seen it for themselves. We don’t have to go back to Ryan Church [8] to see that — we just have to look at last week.

When Syndergaard couldn’t go because of a biceps issue, Matt Harvey [9] was sent to the mound instead. No big deal, we were told — Harvey’s ready and willing. Except it turned out Harvey had lifted weights heavily the day before, and been told about his new assignment three hours before taking the mound.

Matt Harvey is coming off a surgery that’s riskier than reknitting a UCL. The Mets know this, and yet did something bizarrely reckless with his health. I can’t tell you how much I hate typing this next sentence, but here it is: If I were Scott Boras I would be furious with them, and rightly so.

Or take Yoenis Cespedes [10]. Last Wednesday, after sitting out for five days, Cespedes was taking batting practice when he grabbed at his leg in obvious pain. That’s not a rumor — it was on video [11]. He played that night and again Thursday — at least until he pulled a hamstring in the fourth inning and was lost for who knows how long.

How many members of the organization saw or were told about what happened in batting practice? And yet Cespedes was put in the lineup. How many members of the organization are aware of the uncertainty of recovery from thoracic outlet surgery? And yet Harvey was sent out to pitch with minimal communication and indifference to his health.

Again, this happened not in some less-enlightened age that good people all regret. It happened last week.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Noah. My profound hope is that it’s a relatively small thing, and an unlucky coincidence. Those things do happen. But whatever’s wrong, I don’t trust the Mets to deal with it effectively or responsibly, and I don’t think Noah Syndergaard or his teammates do either. That’s a problem that’s bigger than an injury to any individual player — even if he’s the brightest of stars.