In the good old days when the only Performance Enhancing Drugs that ballplayers used were martinis and non-filtered cigarettes (and the occasional pep pill) spring training needed to be longer than the Hundred Years’ War because ballplayers had to play their way into shape.
The players were paid about as well as Bob Cratchit and often had to work off-season jobs to make ends meet.
Things are different today.
Now the players come to camp in shape and don’t need a month and a half to get ready … or at least the position players don’t. Pitchers might need six weeks to get their arms ready, position players need about two weeks’ worth of at-bats.
The ticket office, on the other hand, needs all the time it can get: spring training is a wonderful time to sell tickets. Nobody has lost a game that matters yet and the manager can say his boys are rounding into shape and this might be their year. Generally speaking, managers tend to avoid saying things like: “We’re not very good and from what I’ve seen, we ain’t going to get a whole lot better.”
OK, you’ve got pitchers and ticket sellers who need a long spring training and position players who only need a couple weeks to get ready. So if you’re a position player and want to shorten training camp, what do you do?
Fake an injury.
It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. So if you’re trying to figure out which spring training injuries are fake and which ones are real, here’s a guide.
Might be fake
The injured player will probably be a veteran — at least it better be. If you’re going to take a couple weeks off, your spot on the team better be secure. Rookies need to play to secure their place on the team. This is how you know Jarrod Dyson’s oblique injury last spring was real; he was being given a shot at starting and needed to play.
The player’s injury will be vague and hard to detect. It will have something to do with muscles; quads, hammies, groins, obliques and backs are popular injuries. The player says he felt something give and now it hurts, and that’s hard to refute.
The injured player might be someone who played winter ball. If a player went through a 162-game regular season, then played winter ball, does he really need six or seven more weeks of baseball to get ready?
And before anyone gets too outraged that a player failed to give his all for God and his country and a meaningless game in the Cactus League, remember: the team might be in on it. “Joe felt some tightness in his hamstring, so we decided to give him a day off” sounds a lot better than “Joe is currently suffering a hangover that would bring a charging rhino to its knees.”
And here’s one final clue that an injury was fake:
The player will miraculously get better with two or three weeks left in spring training, just in time to get ready for opening day.
So how do you know when someone’s really injured?
If the player falls through a barn roof, drops 12 feet, lands on a concrete slab, knocks himself out, breaks a rib and has three non-displaced fractures in his vertebrae, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s real.