Disabled List Shenanigans

Yesterday at NBC I wrote with skepticism about Dontrelle Willis’ stay on the disabled list. Today Jayson Stark runs with that — and with a couple of other curious disabled list cases — and asks whether messing with the DL is a common form of shenanigans in Major League Baseball. While he asks a lot of the right questions, he calls speculation like mine “conspiracy theories,” and seems to come down more on the side of the Major League baseball who says this:

“We can’t talk about specific cases,” MLB’s vice president for public relations, Pat Courtney, told Rumblings. “But what we can say is that each DL placement must be supported by sufficient medical evidence, and it has to come from a highly qualified physician.”

In other words, the commissioner’s office is reviewing every case. And doctors are signing every form. And the players in question, their agents and the union have to be on board with every trip to DL purgatory.

and the Tigers, who say this about Willis:

“If somebody called me into court and said, ‘You’ve got to show me what you have to support this,’ I feel very comfortable in saying I could show exactly why we put him on the disabled list.'”

Sorry, still skeptical. I’m a friendly government attorney now, but I spent a decade defending civil lawsuits, a great number of which involved injuries. And I can tell you, you don’t have to be an anti-trial lawyer zealot to realize that you can pretty much get a doctor to say anything you want as long as it’s the right doctor. That’s why plaintiffs are usually subjected to independent medical exams from doctors who (and here’s where the “independent” part comes in) aren’t being paid by those who have an interest in finding an injury or seven. Even then it’s not perfect, but the IME process does cut out a lot of the baloney.

Does Major League Baseball have an analog to an IME? Maybe such a thing isn’t necessary as a matter of course — when a guy breaks his hand, it’s pretty obvious — but is there a procedure for such a thing in the event someone presents a prima facie case of DL shenanigans? Seems like in the case of Dontrelle Willis and maybe, as Stark notes, Oliver Perez and Chien Ming-Wang, such a thing would be pretty handy.

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  1. ChuckO said...

    From what I read, the suggestion was that the Tigers did this in order to get an insurance policy to pay for a portion of Willis’s salary. If that’s the case, it’s a lot more serious than DL shenanigans.

  2. mike in brooklyn said...

    It is amazing what some doctors will sign off on.  I used to work in a day program for disabled adults.  We began a program to bring these individuals to a pool to get some exercise.  The following week, about 90% of the staff arrived with doctor’s notes saying they had skin problems and couldn’t go to the pool.  I wouldn’t be shocked by any shenanigans MLB drs might be pulling.

  3. mkd said...

    Carlos Silva is on the DL right now with a case of Inflamed Suck. It’s basically an open secret that there is nothing actually wrong with him.

  4. Chris (in Dallas) said...

    While there’s no doubt in my mind that Willis’ DL stint was performance-based, I’m having a hard time finding anything intrinsically wrong with the practice on the baseball side of things.  Now the insurance policy aspect is another case entirely, but I don’t see how it’s “cheating” the system to have a DL/Suck list as a way to manage the roster.

  5. RJK said...

    Mr. Calcaterra-

    Off the baseball topic, but you know as well as I do that the IME process is manipulated as bad as plaintiff’s-side docs.  How “independent” is the exam when it’s paid for by the adverse party.  I suspect you and I can both name the same 12 IME docs in Cols.  In fact, there are several from whom I have never seen a favorable conclusion for the plaintiff.

    Nonetheless, if the teams aren’t bothered by DL manipulation, why would the league bother investigating?  The league is the teams.  Now, I suppose an ins. co. can ask for their own determination and I suspect they do.  I would guess that the opinion of some of the docs players routinely use are pretty hard to refute, e.g. I would doubt there would be too many orthos who would disagree w/ James Andrews.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    RJK—you’re crazy. All of the IME guys I’ve used in Columbus are on the up-and-up. Saints, really, doing God’s work . . .[cough, cough].

    Um, yeah, point taken.

    But you’re right, you’d think someone would have made a federal case out of it by now, but they don’t. Maybe it’s just one of those deals where everyone agrees to look the other way unless someone abuses it because, after all, eventually every team is going to have to hide its overpriced underperformers for a while.

  7. lar said...

    I was on a jury in a personal injury case a couple of years back. (Quickly, the woman, 5ish years prior, had been rear-ended by a probably drunk driver. it affected her work for a while, but she seemed to get over it and put in an insane amount of overtime in the next few years. Eventually, though, she reinjured her back and was unable to do her work as an MRI tech anymore. The trial was about whether the re-injury was something new, or an aggravation of the car accident injury).

    The injured woman and her lawyers brought out a doctor saying that, yes, indeed, she re-aggravated the prior injury. The insurance company lawyers, however, brought out their own doctor saying that, no way, it was a new injury. Supposedly, each doctor was “independent”. She was asking for something like $1.5 million.

    In the jury room, we decided that we could trust neither doctor, since they were both getting paid by their respective sides, and so everyone seemed to go off of their own feelings (and maybe some of their own prejudices… but maybe that’s just what it seemed like). Which is a shame, because I’m sure one or both of those doctors were right to some extent, but no one knew which it was.

    Oh, and spending a week of your life listening to people argue about MRI tech duties and overtime and tanning salons and all of that is about the most fun you can possibly have. Everyone should try it!

  8. DGL said...

    True deposition excerpt from the Journal of the National Court Reporters’ Association (paraphrased, because I saw it several years ago):

    Q: Do you know what Doctor (so-and-so’) specialty was?

    A: My lawyer told me he was a good plaintiff’s doctor.

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