… and MLB’s responsibility

Participating in sports, even non-contact sports such as baseball, can leave an athlete vulnerable to serious injury. With the proper gear a catcher can still get seriously injured. And, as we now know, without the proper gear in the middle of a fight on the baseball field, a catcher can suffer a career ending injury.

The St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue announced his retirement from baseball this weekend. While the concussion he suffered from being kicked in the face by Johnny Cueto was not his first, LaRue wants it to be his last.

Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported Sunday that LaRue has received countless concussions over the course of his career as a catcher; this most recent one was the direct result of the fight on the field between the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds in August.

Strauss quotes LaRue as saying, “I was going to retire on my own terms. It’s unfortunate that the blow that decided it came from someone kicking me in the head with spikes. I wouldn’t say I would change things if you could rewrite history. They say things happen for certain reasons. In this case, I couldn’t tell you why. Does it suck that my career is over because Johnny Cueto started kicking me in the head? Yes, it sucks.”

I’ll tread carefully here. It’s possible that Cueto was sincerely frightened on the field during that fight. We can’t rule that out. That brawl, although humorous to the extent that baseball players will never really know how to fight, was completely out of hand.

None of us know how we would respond if we were acting out of self-defense, or how horrible our actions might look after it’s all said and done. That being said, this situation has to be dealt with by Major League Baseball. While MLB is becoming an excellent example to other professional sports on handling the treatment of head injuries, we now have a career-ending injury that resulted from a fight on the baseball field. Bud Selig can not turn a blind eye to this and say it’s already been dealt with.

LaRue will head to Pittsburgh to join the Cardinals on their final road trip. Instead of walking through the clubhouse door to play catch with his teammates, he will walk through the doors of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The doctors at UPMC, with their reputation of excellence and vast knowledge of handling head injuries, will make sure that LaRue will be able to play catch with his children again. They will help him understand what he needs to do to make sure a crazy fight between a bunch of guys just taking their job seriously will not destroy his future. The question left is whether Major League Baseball do the same.

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  1. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Very good work Anna. I think the MLB does a good job trying to diffuse brawls in advance with early warnings and, to some extent, liberal tossings, but I’ve noticed that once the brawl breaks out, very little is ever done to end the situation. It is usually players restraining other players or “a play out of the events” which causes brawls like this to end…

    Any ideas as to what the MLB could/should do? I’d be interested to hear.

  2. Steve Treder said...

    “Any ideas as to what the MLB could/should do? I’d be interested to hear.”

    How about the way they handle it in hockey?  When two players on the ice square off, they’re allowed to have their fight until the point that at least one falls, and then they’re separated by the officials.  Relatively minor penalties are then generally assessed.

    But NO other player on the ice, or most certainly from the bench, is allowed to join the fracas in any way, under threat of extremely severe long-term penalty.

    Why can’t baseball institute something similar to that?

  3. TUCK! said...

    @Steve: Even the NHL doesn’t tolerate kicking, and neither should MLB. Cueto was terrified? Fine. Walk (or, as Phillips did, crawl) away. That didn’t happen, and now LaRue gets to contemplate broadcasting. Maybe. Cueto’s (still) contemplating his next start. So maybe the MLBPA (who, you know, saw their active player membership reduced by one this weekend) should step in here, too. But I’m with you guys (I think)—something (more) needs to be done.

  4. Anna McDonald said...

    Jeff- thanks and back at ya. And Steve/TUCK, I really like the point you brought up. In the official rules specifics relating to managers, players, substitutes, coaches, trainers, batboys, etc.  conduct towards each other (or the opposing team) during the game is not covered.  The general “unsportsmanlike conduct” covers this, but as you said, as much as I want the players to just play the game and police themselves, I think this situation sets a new precedent.  As we are all well aware, the “unofficial rules” are for teammates to police themselves (hold each other back, etc.), in this case it only added to the melee.  If Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips dealt with it just between the two of them, we might not be talking about a career ending injury.  Rule 11.00 Fights, sounds ridiculous, but definitions of acceptable fighting practices might be a good idea.

  5. Greg Simons said...

    @Steve – the issue I see with a hockey-style, one-on-one battle is the case where a hulking, Bobby Jenks-sized pitcher plunks a diminutive David-Eckstein-sized batter.  Is he going to charge the mound and face the likely chance of getting pulverized like Andre the Giant’s Fezzik would do to Wallace Shawn’s Vizzini?  I’d have to say that’s “Inconceivable!”  (If WWE is more your style than “The Princess Bride,” maybe a Rey Mysterio-Big Show faceoff, with an outcome that is unscripted but no less certain.)  Perhaps there can be a designated stand-in, like and Adam Dunn-sized enforcer on each team, who, if desired, gets the charge the mound in the batter’s place.

  6. MobiusKlein said...

    start ejecting player in the brawl.
    If you don’t have 9 players left for the field, it’s a forfeit.  If both teams don’t have enough players, double forfeit – both teams lose.  And suspend many players for many days too.

    If I start kicking the guys working at Youtube, my ass would be fired so fast, even though they are competitors.

  7. johonny said...

    Off the field if someone kicks you in the head with cleats, I believe it’s assault and they go to jail.  Why more players don’t get arrested I don’t understand?

  8. Greg Simons said...

    @Steve – Minimizing charging of the mound and brawls is great, but my point was that the hockey approach would make it less precarious for bigger pitchers to plunk little batters.  On the flip side, guys like Tim Lincecum might be less likely to legitimately brush back batters such as Adam Dunn if they knew he could storm to the mound unopposed.  But maybe this would get The Freak to work on his conditioning.

    This discussion reminds me of Nolan Ryan’s headlock and beatdown he put on Robin Ventura.  I wonder if Ryan is teaching that move to his pitchers.

  9. Jayme said...

    I love that this article sparks so much conversation! I agree something should be done to curb behavior like this—lets hope MLB will decide to take a stand to curb future incidents like this.  Best of luck to LaRue, as well—good guy!

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