By Joe Guzzardi
Despite having instant access to a skilled training professional staff and multimillion-dollar budgets for conditioning equipment and dieticians, today’s MLB player is a fragile sort.
Too often, players beg off from their starting assignment role and cite discomfort, tenderness, stiffness or other vague reasons not to play that night’s game. The average annual salary of today’s player is $4.3 million, and the average player age is 29. Fellas — suck it up. Get out there and earn that dough!
Baseball history is filled with role models for the delicate. As teenagers, today’s players were doubtless glued to their television screens when during the 2004 ACLS, Boston Red Sox hurler Curt Schilling won game six, a courageous 2004 ALCS performance by Schilling. What they saw was Schilling’s famous bloody sock that resulted from the Red Sox team doctor having sutured Schilling’s loose ankle tendon back into his skin. The blood oozed, but Schilling pitched seven brilliant innings to earn the 4-2 win.
Or take the Cleveland Indians’ Al Rosen example. Rosen, a World War II Navy vet, the 1954 Most Valuable Player, 1953 batting champion, HR and RBI leader, and four-time All Star, was a legitimate tough guy who made himself into an expert boxer. When smart alecks slurred Rosen’s Jewish heritage, they soon found themselves flat on their backs, out cold. Rosen was selected to the 1954 All-Star team, but had broken two fingers. Instead of asking Manager Casey Stengel to sit him out, and choosing to please the hometown Municipal Stadium fans, Rosen played. His line: 4 ABs, 3 hits, 2 HRs and five RBIs.
But if baseball is played for 1,000 more years, no feat will ever come close to what happened in 1919 when lightning struck Indians’ pitcher Ray Caldwell. Within a few minutes, Caldwell was back up and completed his start.
Sports journalist Grantland Rice said of Caldwell that he could have been as good as Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson — if only he had applied himself. But Caldwell enjoyed good times that involved heavy drinking, and he routinely wore out his managers. The Indians’ skipper, the great Gray Eagle, Tris Speaker, needed a starter in the midst of a tight pennant race, and he hoped the recently released Caldwell could deliver a few.
On a dark August afternoon, Caldwell took the mound against the Philadelphia Athletics, and cruised through 8-2/3 innings with a narrow 2-1 lead. Then, lightning struck a light standard, shimmied across the grass and struck Caldwell directly.
The pitcher fell to the ground in a heap. Seeing Caldwell laid out more deflated than a week-old waffle, and fearing he was dead, Speaker rushed to his side. But Caldwell’s limbs soon came to life. Speaker asked Caldwell if he could hear him, and if so, could he continue. Caldwell dutifully got to his feet, and induced a harmless ground out to the shortstop to wrap up a crucial win. Attitudes toward job responsibilities were different a century ago!
Some years ago, St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Famer Bob Gibson recalled how he pitched a game with a broken leg. A shot off Pittsburgh Pirates’ Roberto Clemente stuck Gibson with a line drive just above his ankle. The Cardinals’ trainer sprayed the area with ethyl chloride, and sent Gibson back to the mound. A few pitches later, Gibson’s fibula bone snapped in two. Gibson said that today he would have been carted off to the hospital immediately without even limping around.
But Gibson added that new Cardinals’ players as they heard about his broken leg story “didn’t have too many guys missing games with stiff necks or blisters on their feet.”
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball and Baseball Internet Writers Association member. Contact him at guzzjo firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are distributed by Cagle Cartoons Inc. syndicate.