Greinke's misstep could live in infamy
It's 40 years later, and I'm still clenching my teeth over Bobby Tolan, who was Zack Greinke before Zack Greinke.
I'll get to Tolan in a moment.
Let's just say a baseball player losing his mind during the offseason by doing something other than push-ups and reaching for the remote control isn't a 21st century thing.
This silliness was around before, during and after Monte Stratton ruined his rising career as a pitcher in November 1938. He accidentally shot himself in the leg with a pistol while hunting rabbits. Later, courtesy of a damaged main artery, his leg was amputated, and despite several comeback attempts, he never threw another pitch in the Major Leagues.
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Greinke isn't hurt as badly. This hugely important pitching acquisition of the Milwaukee Brewers over the winter said earlier this week that he cracked a rib last month playing pickup basketball. Thus a question comes to mind: What was he thinking, especially since the standard contract among players prohibits them from doing such a thing?
Oh, and hasn't Greinke been paying attention? Even the President of the United States was socked in the eye the other day from scrimmaging with a bunch of hoop has-beens and wannabes.
The early word is that Greinke will miss just a couple of starts.
Not buying it. Greinke is a high-energy player who fields his position well (as in, his rib won't have time to fully heal), and he swings more like a slugger than a pitcher (see previous statement).
In addition, those who take the mound twist a lot by nature, and that adds pressure to -- you guessed it -- the rib cage area.
Here's my point: Even if Greinke does return as soon as expected, the Brewers still will spend the rest of the season wondering if he is just one pitch away from another trip to the disabled list.
"All you have to do is ask Jacoby Ellsbury about how his ribs went last year, and about how long that [problem] lingered and about how tough it was to diagnose," said Steve Phillips, the former New York Mets general manager.
Ellsbury is the Boston Red Sox outfielder who made three trips to the disabled list last season due to rib issues.
Added Phillips, "Baseball is such a rotary game, and for a pitcher, as well as for a hitter, they have to be extremely cautious. As soon as you let a pitcher try to protect himself with his delivery, because he's got something hurting somewhere, he can end up hurting his arm, because he's going to try to change his delivery.
"So the Brewers have to be very, very cautious."
Which means this is very, very troubling for the Cheeseheads.
After nearly two decades of mostly sinking in the standings, they are expected to challenge for the National League Central title.
They still have the bruisers at the plate, ranging from Prince Fielder to Ryan Braun to Corey Hart, all capable of waking up the echoes of Harvey's Wallbangers. They still have a nice starting rotation -- even without the recovering Greinke -- that features the likes of Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf. They still have up-and-coming closer John Axford prepared to do at least a decent imitation of his predecessor, Trevor Hoffman, a future Hall of Famer.
Greinke is a key piece for the Brewers, though, along with his right arm that won the American League Cy Young Award in 2009. Which brings me back to Tolan, because he was a key piece for my Cincinnati Reds during their early days as the Big Red Machine.
Tolan was the Reds' budding Lou Brock. In fact, when he led the National League in stolen bases in 1970, he was the only person not named Brock to do so from 1966 to 1974.
He could field, and he also could hit. At 24, he managed a .305 batting average with 21 home runs and 93 RBIs in 1969, and then he spent the following year joining the prolific likes of Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez by hitting .316, 16 home runs and 80 RBIs to complement his 57 stolen bases.
With much help from Tolan, the Reds officially became the Machine by storming to the 1970 NL pennant before losing to the All-Star loaded Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
The Reds were equally All-Star loaded, and they were young. They'd be back in 1971.
Then news came during the offseason that Tolan violated a clause in his Reds contract by playing pickup basketball. He ruptured his Achilles tendon, and just like that, he was gone for the season. The Big Red Machine became the Little Red Wagon with a fourth-place finish in the NL West, and the culprits were many: a brutal year at the plate for Bench (.238), a mediocre pitching staff (seventh out of 12 NL teams in ERA and last in complete games and strikeouts), a league-leading 103 errors, including a staggering 20 by Perez at third base.
I blamed Tolan.
Although Tolan rebounded in 1972 to win the NL's Comeback Player of the Year Award, and despite the Reds capturing another pennant that October, it didn't erase the horror of the year before.
What's with these guys and basketball?
During the fall of 2003, Aaron Boone got a new middle name from Boston Red Sox fans (that we can't use in this family setting) after he slammed a home run for the ages with the New York Yankees. Then, that spring, Boone became the impetus for Alex Rodriguez wearing pinstripes after Boone damaged his knee in hoops.
If not basketball, you've had other stuff torture baseball players during the offseason -- motorcycles, for instance.
Ask Ron Gant and Jeff Kent.
"You know, there actually is a clause in the player's standard contract that includes language that says players cannot participate in any risky offseason or in-season behavior, including -- but not limited to -- and then there is a whole list of things," said Phillips, before giving the list.
Skydiving. Water skiing. Snow skiing. Snowmobiling.
Spelunking . . .
"That's actually in there," said Phillips, referring to the art of exploring wild caves. "I know for us [with the Mets], when it came to Edgardo Alfonzo, he had a ranch down in Venezuela, and we added horseback riding. We put it in, but he wanted to take it out. He fought it."
The thing is, in the long run, it doesn't matter if any of these things are in or out of the contract of players.
Some guys will just do what they want to do -- and then wonder why folks continue to roll their eyes after, say, 40 years when their names are mentioned.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.