I recently wrote a piece about Jarrod Dyson playing through an injury, and a reader commented that if Dyson were not 100 percent, he shouldn’t be on the field. But if every big-league player had to be 100 percent before his name went in the lineup, you couldn’t field a team.
Professional players say the only day you’re 100 percent is the first day of spring training; after that, it’s something less. As of Tuesday morning the Royals have played 79 games; nobody is completely healthy.
The other day Rusty Kuntz talked about how tired players were at this point of the season and told me to watch for injuries; Miguel Cabrera went down the same day. A buddy of mine that played minor-league ball slid into a base, got a strawberry on his hip and told me that it would heal in October. Other sports are rougher, but nobody plays and travels like baseball players.
These guys get tired, and the All-Star break is just that, a break — unless you make the team. Then there is no break for six — or if you’re lucky — seven months.
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When the All-Star game was held here in Kansas City I got to see what a surreal — and tiring — experience it could be for the players. A lot of them showed up for media day coming straight from the airport, and media was everywhere — you couldn’t walk through the dugout. And everybody wants a piece of the players’ time. Players are usually bringing families and friends along and those people have to be taken care of — tickets, lodging, food — whatever they need is usually taken care of by the player.
The players go through a quick, pretty much useless practice; if you’re swinging the bat badly in July, a round of BP at the All-Star game probably isn’t going to change anything. It’s done more for the media’s benefit than the players’.
The game prep is minimal; most of the time players know the other players they play against and their tendencies. During the regular season coaches come up with a game plan: we’ll pitch so-and-so away and play him away. At the All-Star game there’s no time for that; you might be facing hitters you’ve never seen, playing with teammates you don’t know and being coached by a guy you’ve never met before.
So just about the time a player could use four days off to recover mentally and physically, the All-Star player is asked to do even more.
Coaches get tired, too
It’s very cool that the Royals are getting to take so many players and coaches, but you wonder what effect this might have on the rest of the season.
The other day Ned Yost was doing a radio interview and I heard him say he’d been spending 2-to-3 hours a day on the All-Star game. I’ve been around big-league managers — they don’t have two or three empty hours a day.
So whatever time is being spent by the manager and coaches on the All-Star game is being taken away from their regular game prep. And if the participating players and coaches come out of the All-Star break even more exhausted than when it started, how does that affect the rest of their season?
One of the reasons it’s hard for a champion to repeat is all the stuff a champion has to do. The extra responsibilities and requirements make the next year harder: more interviews, less time off, banquets, award shows — and the All-Star game is on that list.
And you’d feel the same way
If right about now you’re thinking the players are a bunch of crybabies and you’d be thrilled to play in the All-Star game, let me call BS.
I played in a men’s amateur baseball league here in Kansas City and several times took a team to the national tournament held in Phoenix. We usually played six games to qualify for the playoffs, and then it was single-elimination.
The tournament always started on a Monday, and after the first day I’d have players coming to my room complaining that they hadn’t played enough. By Wednesday I’d have players coming to my room asking for a day off — and sometimes it was the same players who had complained about not playing on Monday.
Baseball is a grind.
Play several days in a row and your legs feel like lead, your arm hurts and you wake up every morning exhausted because you can’t sleep; you’re jacked up on adrenaline from playing the night before.
It’s absolutely true that we weren’t professional players and we were not in the best condition; the only time my pitchers iced their arms is when they reached for a beer in the bottom of the cooler.
But it’s also true that playing six games wiped us out; pros are in much better condition, but they play 162 — they get tired. And some of them will be honest enough to admit that they like having “All-Star” on their resume, but they’d just as soon skip the game.
Enjoy seeing the Royals in the All-Star game, but don’t be surprised if they don’t come out of the gate breathing fire in the second half. And the second half starts with a double-header in Chicago — good planning, huh?