Ned Yost picked up the phone, heard his franchise catcher was injured after being run into by his backup catcher in what amounts to a marketing campaign disguised as competitive baseball, and, well, yeah.
The Royals manager’s reaction was the same as yours, probably.
“I’m kicking Drew’s ass when I see him,” Yost said.
That would be Drew Butera, the backup, who … how do we describe what he did to starter Salvador Perez in a World Baseball Classic game the other day?
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Initially, everybody called it a collision, and that’s true, in the technical sense: Butera did collide with Perez. But this was less Pete Rose into Ray Fosse, and more stumbling toddler into a wall. Either way, Perez needed help off the field, and a flurry of phone calls between exasperated Royals coaches and executives lasted through the night.
Two important points before we go any further. First, this was not Butera’s fault. He was slowing down because he was going to be out at the plate by a lot, but the throw home was awkwardly cut off, giving Butera a split second of hope. Then he tried to pull up again once Perez had the ball, but momentum carried him into the bigger man’s legs.
And the second important point: Perez will be fine. They think. They hope. Maybe. Probably? For now, let’s stick with maybe.
The first MRI showed nothing more than swelling, though he’ll have another done on Monday. Perez posted on his Instagram page, “Thank God everything is fine with my knee,” but the Royals are going to want more confirmation than social media can provide.
“I’m not,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, when asked his confidence that Perez was not seriously hurt. “I won’t be confident until he gets out there and plays.”
Vincent Key, the Royals’ team doctor, traveled from Kansas City to Royals camp on Sunday morning, but Moore said this was a previously scheduled trip.
Perez will undergo more testing on Monday, and the same way those videos are only funny if the kid gets up after the fall, the tests on Perez will determine what kind of jokes can be told about Butera’s stumble.
Because it’ll be a lot funnier to call Butera “the assassin” if Perez is OK.
If it’s something worse — there’s always the chance the inflammation is hiding a more serious injury on the MRI — then it’s a jaw-droppingly unfortunate on-field accident six weeks after Yordano Ventura’s tragic death.
The last time two Royals players collided into each other it left Mike Moustakas with a torn knee and Alex Gordon with a broken wrist and the Royals with a torpedoed 2016 season.
No matter the result, Perez’s injury sparked another round of debate about the World Baseball Classic. This is unavoidable, and was the moment MLB created the WBC. The NBA, NHL, and major soccer clubs go through the same thing when their athletes compete internationally.
Baseball’s version is more awkward than the others, though, because the WBC’s newness gives it the feel of constructed commercialism, and the event’s timing means pitch limits, and that the athletes are still working their way back toward full strength.
“I understand why it can make coaches and managers and executives uneasy,” Moore said. “Nobody wants to see players get hurt.”
These are all natural concerns, but as comforting as it might feel to simply eliminate the WBC, that would be like buying a truck because your friend’s sedan got wrecked. The truth is, players get hurt.
Butera didn’t awkwardly fall into Perez because it was the WBC. He did it because he is a human, and was playing baseball, and when humans play baseball they sometimes awkwardly fall.
The worry within the game about pitchers is more real because they are not meant to be in midseason form in early March, but even then teams put cautious restrictions on what their guys can do.
Perez’s knee gave out in the WBC, but the same awkward play could’ve happened in Surprise on Sunday. You might remember that the most serious injury of Perez’s career — the one that required knee surgery and limited him to 76 games in 2012 — occurred in a spring training workout.
Earlier this spring, Brian Flynn injured his ribs falling through the roof of his barn. Mark Quinn was once injured while kung fu fighting with his brother. George Brett once broke a toe rushing to a TV to watch Bill Buckner hit. And this is just one professional baseball franchise.
This isn’t the WBC’s fault, in other words. It’s not even Butera’s fault. As long as humans play baseball, those humans will occasionally be injured.
But just in case, Butera is probably waiting on that MRI to know he’s in the clear. Then we can joke about the assassin.