Palmer won 83 games from 1970 to 1973, but he hurt his ulnar nerve in 1974 and made only 26 starts. He was healthy enough to throw a complete game in the playoffs, but the Orioles cited his lack of durability as a reason to cut his salary the next season. Pitchers tried everything to grunt through injuries, Palmer said, because it was the only way to be paid.
“It didn’t make us any better than these guys,” Palmer said. “I’m not saying these guys aren’t terrific players who play their hearts out, because they do. It’s just a different era.”
Both are right. Seaver has a valid point in his clear disgust at the way in which pitchers are babied today when it’s not even working. But Palmer hammers home the real reason that pitchers and teams are more willing to work together to allow pitch counts, innings limits and paranoia to trump an employer-employee relationship: money.
If baseball players were still indentured servants as they were during the time Seaver and Palmer were in the nascent stages of their career, you wouldn’t see these protectionist edicts limiting the pitchers from injuring themselves. The clubs wouldn’t care; the pitchers would be more interested in keeping their jobs than being able to pitch when they’re 30; and the agents – if players had agents at all – would shrug their shoulders because they weren’t making that much money off the players either. Palmer had won the Cy Young Award in 1973 and finished second in the MVP voting, was injured in 1974, still made 26 starts and took a paycut for 1975. That’s what players dealt with. It wasn’t take it or leave it. It was take it. Period.
In 1974, Scott Boras was a 21-year-old outfielder/third baseman in his first year of professional baseball with the Cardinals’ Rookie team in the Gulf Coast League. Now he has the power to tell teams how they’re going to use their employees to whom they’ve given multi-million dollars in guaranteed contracts and bonus money.
Last night on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast, Orel Hershiser stated that The Verducci Effect – a study of why pitchers supposedly get injured by writer Tom Verducci – had been “debunked.” Despite their acknowledgment of the theory, I don’t think any credible person inside baseball or the medical community took all that seriously a random study from a baseball writer for any reason other than to validate what they already wanted to do. In other words, “Here’s a written article to allow me to explain away why I’m shutting down Stephen Strasburg.” I wrote about the absurdity at the time. Now all of a sudden, it’s trendy to question it as more and more pitchers get injured in spite of the attention paid to it and other theories formulated with a confirmation bias.
Are the new strategies making pitchers better? Is weight training good or bad? Do pitch counts help or hurt? Should the chains be removed and pitchers allowed to build up a tolerance to high numbers of innings and pitch counts or should they be babied more? Seaver, Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton and countless others pitched inning after inning and never had significant injuries and, back then, Tommy John was a pretty good sinkerballer and not a term that pitchers and teams loathe to hear. We don’t hear about the number of great talents who came up with a non-specifically diagnosed “sore arm” and either lost their effectiveness or never pitched again.
The Mets and Nationals did everything humanly possible to keep Matt Harvey and Strasburg on the mound and pitching. Both got injured anyway. There’s no ironclad method to keeping pitchers healthy; no smoking gun; no pitching coach/manager to blame; no reason for it to have happened. It just did. All the second-guessing and preventative measures aren’t going to change that and baseball is certainly not going back to the days in which pitchers threw 300 innings.
Pitcher injuries are part of life when one chooses to become a pitcher and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. That was true in 1960, 1970, 1980 and it’s true in 2013. The game may change, but that fact won’t.