It is spring training, and that means some pitchers will miss a few starts to minor aliments. Before you breathe a sigh of relief after that pitcher is back, it pays to be cautious.
Stephen Strasburg: During his first big league starts, he was having trouble getting comfortable on some pitching mounds. In his start in Cleveland, he had the ground crew out to mess with the mound. Later, he had shoulder fatigue. Once could explain the fatigue as his body getting use a major league starting pitching schedule. Going forward, he needed Tommy John surgery. To me, the landing issue and the shoulder fatigue were huge indicators that something was amiss. Why? Because of The Dizzy Dean Injury Cascade.
In 1937, Dean was pitching for the National League in the All-Star game. Earl Averill from the Indians, was batting for the American League. Averill hit a comebacker that hit Dean’s foot, fracturing his toe.*
* “Fractured. Hell, the damn thing’s broken!” Dizzy responded. I love that quote. Almost as good as Gomer Hodges, after going 4-for-4 to start his big league career, stating, “Gollee, fellas, I’m hitting 4.000”.
It was this toe injury that led to Dean’s injury-shortened career. While still nursing a sore foot, Dean resumed pitching. The soreness caused him to change his pitching mechanics, leading to the shoulder and arm problems that Dean was never able to fully overcome, leading to his retirement in 1941.*
* Apparently Dizzy learned from his mistake. In his one-game comeback in 1948, he pitched four shutout innings before hurting his hamstring running out a single. He took himself out and stated he was done.
And you might ask, Who cares about Dizzy Dean’s toe? Because Dean’s broken toe cascaded to his shoulder and arm troubles. I call it The Dizzy Dean Injury Cascade.
Why Dizzy Dean?
First, Dean is just a fun player and baseball person to research. So while many pitchers from the 1920s or 1930s could be used as examples, Dizzy’s toe quote wins out. His case was also one of the most dramatic and universally accepted.
Most importantly, it shows the cascade potential of any injury to a pitcher. He broke his toe, leading to shoulder and arm issues and quieting a great career. For pitchers, any injury can lead to other injuries. Altered mechanics or additional stress can cause issues up the pitching motion’s kinetic chain. Fixing one link in the chain could cause the next weakest link to break. Sometimes a weak link can cause another weak link to break. It can be a vicious cycle.
When you see a pitcher having issues in one area, it is best to monitor the pitcher to stop any cascading injures. This applies to any pitchers, from the young ones to 47 year old lefties.