Among all the Mets who aren’t there because of injuries, Yoenis Cespedes seems to draw the most witless derision by fans about whom you can no longer say they should know better. Because Joe and Jane Fan too often regard injuries on and off the field as the product of some moral flaw almost regardless of how the injuries were incurred.
That is why there are analysts who believe Joe and Jane Fan are bigger boneheads than a lot of the ones who earn six or higher-figure salaries to write cracks or columns condemning players like Cespedes. Or, who blog about them.
Cespedes’s Mets tenure hasn’t exactly been unhazardous to his health as it is. He was already on the injured list since last year, rehabilitating after surgery to remove calcification on both his heels. And while rehabbing at his Florida ranch, Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures last weekend when he hit a hole on the grounds, requiring surgery to end a season that hadn’t even begun for him.
To look at some of the comments on assorted forums as well as some of the headlines in the press you’d have thought Cespedes was some sort of mental case.
“MORON!” went a small passel of fan comments from forum to forum. “Folly Rancher” hollered the headline on the New York Post‘s back page. “Like a soldier who shoots himself in the foot to avoid combat,” went another fan comment. On Twitter, Slam Central Station, which describes itself as “the official banter account for the 27 times World Series champion New York Yankees,” wrote “Yoenis Cespedes after signing a 4-year, $110M contract with the Mets” to describe . . . a video of a young woman falling over while walking in a pair of highly elevated shoes.
Maybe I’m out of line but I can think of a lot more bizarre ways in which professional athletes have spent their disabled time rehabilitating. And if you think Cespedes owning, living on, and rehabilitating on a Florida ranch makes him a candidate for the rubber room, I’m afraid of what you think about Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. Who’s divided his baseball retirement between baseball administrative activities or on his Texas ranch.
If Ryan hasn’t incurred any strange injuries during his ranching life, perhaps he’s fortunate. Another former pitcher, Ross Ohlendorf, lives the rancher’s life. “Ohlendorf is sympathetic to Céspedes’ plight,” writes The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark, “because he has been there and done almost every ranch thing imaginable, right up to his current case of nasty poison ivy.”
It may be a better thing that Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures. If Joe and Jane Fan, Joe and Jane Headline Writer, and Joe and Jane Blogger/Tweeter can mock, rip, and ream him for hitting a hole on his grounds the wrong way, don’t ask what they’d do if Cespedes came up with poison ivy instead. Would you rather he broke his ankles on the dance floor of a New York hot spot trying too hard to impress a few females?
They’re already less than empathetic with the likes of Albert Pujols, whose career decline phase has been accelerated all too much by the series of leg and heel injuries he’s incurred since the first season he played for the Angels on a mammoth contract.
You hear them talk about his inability to do just about anything other than continue to hit home runs as if he was nothing more than a useless bum. You don’t hear them talk about the injuries that reduced the Hall of Famer-in-waiting to the performance level of a reserve player in the first place.
And they’ve been long less than empathetic with hapless Yankee outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s been the poster boy for almost epidemic injuries almost from the moment he became a Yankee in the first place. Remind them that Ellsbury’s injuries came entirely from, you know, playing the game, and you might be reminded not to let those pesky facts get in the way of their comforting biases.
They see the money and forget these men are only human, too. And the minute you suggest to Joe and Jane Fan, Joe and Jane Headline Writer, and Joe and Jane Blogger/Tweeter the plain truth that professional baseball isn’t just a matter of suiting up and playing a game, that it requires work and lots of it and comes with risks and lots of them, they’d sooner sign your deportation papers than ponder the depth of what you’ve just told them.
You’d have thought by some of the comments, brickbats, and slanders that Cespedes’s entire career has been one marked by recklessness. Stepping wrongly into a hole on his ranch grounds may actually be the only injury he’s incurred when not playing the game. He’s had more than his share of baseball injuries already, and a few times he exacerbated them while actually—what a concept, albeit a foolish one—trying to play through them.
(Don’t even go there about the time the Mets asked Cespedes not to play golf while he was rehabbing an injury a couple of years ago. You could probably win the pennant with the players who’ve enjoyed golf off the baseball field even when they were on a baseball disabled list. Hall of Famer Tom Glavine to fellow Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, when they went into Cooperstown together: “You made me better by watching you pitch, and you made me wealthier with all the money we took from Smoltzie on the golf course”)
Earning eight figures a season doesn’t make baseball players any less prone to the slings and arrows of the game on the field and life off it, unless you really are dumb enough to think $29 million a year immunises you against illness or injury.
And Cespedes’s ankle isn’t even close to the most bizarre injury any baseball player has suffered. Listen up, Joe and Jane Jackass.
Cespedes didn’t put his false teeth into his hip pocket and then get a bite in the butt while sliding into second base. (Nondescript pitcher Clarence Bethen thought of that in 1923.)
He didn’t break his ankle chasing (it was alleged) Jill St. John down a ski slope. (Cy Young Award-winning Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg managed that after the 1967 season.)
He didn’t take up an exercise routine involving running backward and step subsequently into a gopher hole causing a back injury. (That was 1980s pitcher Jamie Easterly’s idea.)
He didn’t try demonstrating a slam dunk technique on a storefront awning and catch his ring in the awning to shred ligaments in the hand and lose a season. (Braves closer Cecil Upshaw did that in 1970.)
He didn’t spend a day off running too fast from his kitchen back to his television set and busting a toe out of desperation to see a buddy batting on a baseball telecast. (Hall of Famer George Brett did that because he couldn’t bear to miss a Bill Buckner at-bat.)
He didn’t strain or injure his back pulling on his cowboy boots. (Hall of Famer Wade Boggs did.)
He didn’t fall asleep with a bitter-cold ice bag on his foot to give himself a case of frostbite in August and cost himself a few games. (Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson did.)
He didn’t get a sunburned face on a tanning bed. (Marty Cordova did.)
He didn’t decide that if a motivational speaker could tear the thickest phone book in half then he could, until his dislocated shoulder told him, “No, you can’t!” (Relief pitcher Steve Sparks learned that the hard way.)
He didn’t think he could get away with hauling a full heavy side of deer meat up a flight of stairs until the venison-to-be won the weight division and sent him flying down into a broken collarbone. (Clint Barmes did, also in 2010.)
He didn’t tear his left meniscus trying to smoosh a pie in a teammate’s face during said teammate’s postgame television interview. (Marlins utility player Chris Coghlan did, trying to nail Wes Helms in 2010. An accident, you say? What do you think happened to Cespedes, then, a premeditated plot?)
He wasn’t the genius who forgot to look in all directions while reaching for a sock under his bed, until the suitcase his wife fiddled with on the bed fell over and injured his hand, an injury he tried to hide until even the blind saw he couldn’t grip his bat properly. (Earth to Jonathan Lucroy, 2012.)
And he didn’t injure his ankle while jumping a trampoline, with or without a son. (Joba Chamberlain jumped into a dislocated ankle while trampolining with his then five year old son, also in 2012.)
If you still think Cespedes suffering ankle fractures on his ranch during a surgery rehabilitation makes him a moron, I have some land to sell you cheap. On Bizarro World.