Putting Nomar's health into perspective
Players' bodies react differently to physical strain of game
Perhaps you subscribe to the opinion that the formal announcement of Nomar Garciaparra's retirement after signing a one-day contract with the Red Sox involved a bit of revisionist history. Well c'mon, what did you expect? Haven't we all had a bad breakup somewhere in our past and wanted a do-over? Not that we hoped to get back together, it was just uglier than it needed to be.
Garciaparra's 2004 exit was a bad breakup followed by a breakdown. Actually, the breakdown began much earlier. We just didn't know it then.
"Pro baseball may not be a collision sport, but it is a grueling sport," says Dr. Arun Ramappa, chief of sports medicine in the department of orthopedic surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "The regular season is 162 games, not to mention Spring Training and postseason. And the skills necessary to play -- pitching, batting and throwing -- place enormous stresses on the body."
Garciaparra seemed to be bearing up fairly well under the physical and mental stress. He was a unanimous selection for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and placed second in AL MVP Award balloting in '98. Sure, he had his share of bumps and bruises before Sept. 25, 1999, but on that night, Garciaparra was hit on the wrist by a pitch thrown by Baltimore's Al Reyes.
The injury didn't seem all that significant at the time or even the next season -- he won AL batting titles in 1999 and 2000 -- but in Spring Training '01, the wrist ballooned, rest and rehab proved unsuccessful, and surgery ended his season. Even though he returned to All-Star form, his best seasons were behind him.
"If a lawyer has wrist surgery, it's not going to affect their work performance. Almost as good as new is probably more than good enough," Ramappa said. "That's not necessarily the case for a professional baseball player. Especially when the difference between being a great hitter and a good hitter is very small to begin with."
It's fair to say that when the Sox attempted to acquire Alex Rodriguez after the 2003 season, their relationship with Garciaparra went south. So did Garciaparra's injuries. He had Achilles problems that spring, and after a trade to the Cubs, he tore his groin muscle in April 2005. He bounced back with an All-Star season for the Dodgers the next year, but spent his last two seasons as a part-time player dealing with a variety of injuries and ailments, including chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a condition that limited the ability of his muscles to recover quickly from activity.
"I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating. Every individual is different. Our bodies react differently to wear and tear. Some people are born with steel-belted racing tires. Some are born with retreads and are more prone to blowouts. The Cal Ripkens of the baseball world are rarities," Ramappa said.
There's no doubt that Garciaparra's occupation accelerated his physical decline. Carpenters, laborers and others whose jobs involve repetitive exertion are also at increased risk. We can't stop the clock, but we can slow down the process.
"Keep your body tuned up. Cardio work is important, but so is strength training. You'll build muscle mass and bone mass," Ramappa said. "Working on your core strength rather than a beach body is especially helpful. And you want to include stretching. A lot of back issues and other common injuries can be prevented by investing even a little bit of time in flexibility exercises."
So whether you are interested in avoiding breakdowns or repairing bad breakups, try applying a little flexibility. You might be pleasantly surprised at the result.
Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BIDMC Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.