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September 13, 2013 Friday
634 words
Head injuries in MLB on rise
Jorge L. Ortiz, @jorgelortiz, USA TODAY Sports

Buster Posey heard that the New York Yankees' Austin Romine was the latest catcher to go down with a concussion, and he wanted more details. When did it happen? How?

No one in baseball is more vulnerable to concussions than catchers, and this year their ranks seem to have taken a bigger beating than usual.

Teams have put players on the disabled list because of concussions or head injuries 18 times this year, five more than all of last season and seven more than in 2011, when the seven-day concussion DL was implemented. In 10 of those 18instances, the players were catchers, including the Boston Red Sox's David Ross twice.

The injuries are having an effect on playoff races, sidelining Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila for two weeks in August and Kansas City Royals All-Star Salvador Perez for a week early that month.

John Jaso, who ranked first in on-base percentage for the AL West-leading Oakland Athletics before suffering a concussion July 24, has not shaken off symptoms and is likely out for the year.

Romine's concussion was deemed mild, but he had to leave Tuesday's game at the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees hope he plays this weekend; he's not certain.

"With these things, you never know," said Romine, who had a severe concussion that sidelined him more than a month in 2011. "There's a lot of bad stuff that could come."

Players such as Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie saw their careers cut short, and 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau battled effects of a July 2011 concussion for more than a year.

"I guarantee you there are guys playing with concussions now because they feel like it's not serious and they can just keep playing," said Chicago Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro, who considers himself fortunate to have had just two in his career. "The one thing we know now is concussions are serious injuries and you can't mess with them."

Much remains unknown about the injury, which usually heals within a week but sometimes lingers for months. Barry Jordan, director of the Brain Injury Program at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., said no two concussions are identical simply because some people are more predisposed to sustain them than others.

"There are different variables that will influence recovery," he said. "And if you have a concussion and you continue to play and keep aggravating it, it may cause a concussion to last longer."

Romine incurred his 2011 concussion in a collision at the plate, but his latest and the large majority come as a result of foul tips off the mask. That was the case in nine of the 10 head injury-related trips to the DL among catchers this season. Other than the occasional umpire, only catchers know the impact a foul tip can have on even a protected head.

"You have to be back there to know what it feels like. I really don't know how to describe it," said Posey, the San Francisco Giants' All-Star catcher and reigning National League MVP. "The ones that seem to ring your bell hit you square on, because the masks are built so well where if there's any angle when it hits you, it will turn, which helps alleviate that force."

Gary Green, MLB's medical director, keeps track of injuries at the major and minor league levels, and he said the number of concussions in baseball is not higher this year. What has increased, he said, is the vigilance about these injuries, which in the past sometimes went undiagnosed. The NFL's well-publicized issues with concussions has raised awareness among ballplayers, he said.

"Doctors and trainers are really dependent on the athletes to report symptoms," said Green, pointing out they are not as obvious with concussions as with other injuries. "The NFL (case) has created an awareness of what's going on, and that's been helpful in educating players."

Contributing: Paul White and John Perrotto

September 13, 2013

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