If I asked you to name a contact sport, I bet football would be the first one to pop into your head or maybe to some lesser extent boxing. You would be right on both accounts as the professional athletes of those two respective sports get paid to hit each other hard and often. Major League Baseball on the other hand would probably be one of the last sports you would think of. I mean they do not have any real contact with each other do they? It is not like they are out there tackling each other and with the exception of a few charging the mound incidents where in reality very few punches are thrown and even less actually land, there is no real fighting. Well, the answer to that question is yes, baseball is a contact sport, and many of its athletes have the concussions to prove it. With these concussions, and symptoms of post-concussion syndrome on the rise, Major League Baseball has decided to step in and take this issue seriously.
Any fan of Baseball can tell you though the players do not have as much contact with each other as say football, the sport is quite physical. Ask any second baseman that has been taken out on the back end of a double play or a catcher who has been bowled over during a play at the plate, and they can tell you just how much physical contact does exist. There are also the outfielders who run head first into walls while trying to make a catch and infielders who dive to rob a hit. Though they may not be out there tackling an opposing team member, they are throwing their bodies around at high rates of speed, and suffering the same type of injuries many professional athletes face. This does not even include getting beaned in the head by a 90 MPH fastball or hit by a wicked line drive.
The result of many of the scenarios mentioned above is the player ends up suffering from a concussion. Many of these concussions go undiagnosed, and the players continue on as if nothing has happened. What many people do not understand about concussions however, is that they are considered traumatic brain injuries. As with any injury, some are worse than others, but the effects are just as serious. Even what is considered a minor concussion can result in a loss of mental function.
A concussion is caused by some kind of blunt force trauma to the head. This trauma in turn causes the brain inside the skull to move at a rapid pace and then quickly decelerate. The brain itself is encased in cerebrospinal fluid which acts as a cushion for the brain, but when this “cushion” fails as the result of the blunt force trauma, the brain is damaged resulting in a concussion. This is exactly what happens when a player slams his head off the turf after diving for a ball or when a catcher is nailed in the facemask by a foul tip.
The problem in Baseball as with many sports is the player may suffer from a mild concussion, but never know it. The result of this is the player may then in turn continue to play before they are truly ready causing further damage and opening themselves up to more concussions. A person suffering from a concussion may also develop a more serious problem often referred to as post-concussion syndrome.
This post-concussion syndrome is what Major League Baseball has decided to take a closer look at. In the 2006 season, three fairly high profile players ended up suffering from post-concussion syndrome, which became a red flag. Jim Edmonds of the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Matheny of the San Francisco Giants, and Corey Koskie of the Milwaukee Brewers all suffer from post-concussion syndrome to varying degrees.
Edmonds developed the problem after suffering from a concussion when he ran into the outfield wall while trying to track down a home run. He ended up missing a month of the season and reported that he suffered from dizziness, blurred vision, and even stated he had trouble reading along with bouts of forgetfulness. To this day he says he still suffers from headaches.
When asked about his condition by ESPN baseball writer Jerry Crasnick, Edmonds had this to say, “That’s just the way it is to be a professional athlete. You’re taught to be a machine, but sometimes machines break down, and there are all kinds of reasons why.”
In his article “Concussion-related Issues Having Impact on Diamond”, Crasnick also discusses former Giants Catcher Mike Matheny. Matheny, a four time Gold Glove winner was forced to retire this past off-season due to the results of suffering from one too many concussions. Matheny has long been described as one of the toughest players in the game, but after suffering from multiple home plate collisions felt he could no longer continue.
Matheny’s former teammate Geoff Jenkins had this to add, “Mike Matheny is the toughest player I’ve ever played with, hands down. I saw him get hit in the face with a ball from Julian Tavarez and he wanted to play the next day. For him to shut it down, he must really be messed up bad.”
Corey Koskie is also mentioned in Crasnick’s article about the rise of serious problems among players as a result of having a concussion. Koskie actually suffered whiplash when he flipped onto his back while trying to make a play. As a result he began suffering from exhaustion, memory lapses, blackouts, and being visually over simulated by watching television. Koskie even reported driving to certain places, but not remembering how he got there. With Spring Training nearing its end, Koskie is still unable to play, but has been able to do some good. He has sort of championed the cause against post-concussion syndrome, and thanks in part to his efforts; Major League Baseball began to take notice.
With the help of Los Angeles Dodgers trainer Stan Conte, who has fifteen years experience as a trainer in Major League Baseball, mostly with the San Francisco Giants, Baseball began taking a look at the seriousness of suffering from a concussion. Conte developed a questionnaire and sent it out to 261 professional catchers. The results showed that 25% of them reported suffering from symptoms of post-concussion syndrome with many of them never realizing they may have even had a concussion in the first place.
According to Stan Conte, “It’s no longer a case of ‘getting your bell rung,’ or ‘shaking it off,’ or ‘dusting off the cobwebs.’ It’s a little more serious than that. There are chemical changes in the brain each time you suffer a concussion. And each time you get another concussion, you increase the chances of the next one.”
For its part, Major League Baseball began developing more sophisticated tests to help diagnose players. The standard use of MRI’s and CAT Scans are also still in practice, but the problem with these tests is that they can often show the player are “normal” after they have suffered a concussion which in many cases is inaccurate. Baseball is also looking at its evaluating criteria in hopes of being able to better diagnose post-concussion problems.
Perhaps the most important development has been the ImPact concussion management program. In Jerry Crasnick’s article he describes the program in this manner, “About half of baseball’s 30 teams belong to the ImPact concussion management program, the ImPact concussion management program, which provides “baseline” readings of brain functionality for individual players. The test results give teams a benchmark when players suffer concussions.”
The information the ImPact concussion program can provide is important, and could possibly even save careers. With the knowledge that a player is suffering from a concussion or post-concussion syndrome, the team can develop a rehabilitation program for the player. This way, instead of a player thinking they are fine and then going out and continueing to play only to damage themselves further, they can get the appropriate help.
Trainer Stan Conte commented, “The worst thing anybody can do — a doctor or a trainer — is put somebody else in harm’s way without even knowing it.”
Though Major League Baseball may not be considered a contact sport, the professional athletes who play the game would probably beg to differ. With players suffering from concussions and post-concussion syndrome on the rise it is time of Major League Baseball to stand up and take notice. Though efforts are being made to develop better tests and evaluation systems along with the implementation of the ImPact concussion program, there is till work needing to be done. Baseball players may not be tackling each other or pummeling opposing teams with their fists, but the speed with which they play the game makes the danger just as real. Just ask Milwaukee Brewer Corey Koskie who has spent this Spring Training watching his teammates prepare for the upcoming season while he slowly recovers or former San Francisco Giant Catcher Mike Matheny who after suffering from one too many concussions has had to call it a career.
Crasnick, Jerry. (2007) “Concussion-related Issues Having Impact on Diamond”
Retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/spring2007/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=2807197
ImPact Test retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://www.impacttest.com/
“Concussion” retrieved March 23, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concussion