“I’ve never heard of anyone pulling fat.” — Fernando Valenzuela
If you haven’t had an opportunity to check out Rob Kelley’s take on the Mariano Rivera story, please go check that out here. He said what needed to be said in this instance. It is unfortunate that it needs to be said at this point, but it needed to be said. There will be a number of stories on the injury itself and a look back at Mariano Rivera’s storied career. However, there won’t be a lot of people that mention this angle.
If Mariano Rivera were the only player to tear his ACL then it would be a freak injury and horrible luck. Yet, we have Mat Gamel from the Brewers also tearing his ACL, we have Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls tearing his ACL without contact, and we have Terrell Suggs rupturing his Achilles tendon during the NFL offseason. So, now I ask the question again: what in the heck is going on here?
The quote above is attributed to Fernando Valenzuela, but he isn’t the only person to utter it. It was his response to questions about his conditioning. It’s quite possible that he spent more time at the buffet table than he did in the weight room. Of the major sports, baseball players get that reputation more than most. There have been a number of players (particularly pitchers) who might donate their body to science fiction. Every fan has an image of their favorite fat pitcher. Bartolo Colon looks like he might quit a half-mile into a one mile race, but he’s pitching better than he ever has.
Then, there is Mariano Rivera. Rivera might be in better shape than 95 percent of the pitchers in MLB. Many of them are half his age, but they likely wouldn’t be able to keep up with his workout regimen. So, how does a player that is in peak physical condition become so susceptible to this injury? Answering that question could be the key to keeping all of our athletes as safe as humanly possible.
There can be no doubt that many modern athletes are in better shape than the athletes of the prior generation. Athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster than their counterparts from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. It’s true in the NFL, NBA, and it’s certainly true in baseball. The good news is that players can do more incredible things on their field and on the court. The downside might be more injuries like we are seeing.
There is a downside to building up your muscles as much as some of these players. Other parts of your body like the tendons and ligaments may not be able to keep up. Of course, I’m not a doctor and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but it seems logical that when parts of you get bigger while other parts stay the same size, there comes with that a propensity to get injured. This could explain why there are more of these injuries in the NFL and NBA where athletes need to weight train more.
As a former coach, I’ve seen these injuries come more in high school than ever before. Athletes are being forced to choose one sport to specialize in. With this specialization comes an increase in off-season weight training and work outs. A generation ago, there was no real off-season. Football players went on to play basketball, and then baseball. They didn’t go to the weight room because they were always playing a game somewhere. Specialization may make athletes stronger and better relative to athletes that play everything, but they may not be healthier. That’s the downside to specialization.
There is good news and bad news with this particular situation. The bad news is that the specialization train isn’t going back into the station. Coaches at all levels have seen too much improvement when they get their athletes 12 months out of the year. Furthermore, you can conceivably get more kids involved when each kid can focus on one sport. The good news is that there are always advances in training. Along the way we learned more efficient ways to weight train. We’ve learned new methods for cardiovascular workouts. More importantly, we learned when to say when on all kinds of workouts. This is why we ask questions like this. There has to be a reason why we are seeing more ACL injuries than we did twenty and thirty years ago. If we find the answer to that question then maybe we can help prevent them by working smarter.
In addition to being the editor of hardballchat.com, Scott Barzilla is also the proud father of one and the author of four books. His books can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Barzilla's Hall of Fame Index was nominated for the Sporting News Award for statistical advancement.