03/10/11 11:15 AM ET
Major Leaguers no strangers to offbeat injuries
Greinke's hoops incident hardly unique in annals of baseball
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
Greinke's fractured rib, suffered in a pickup basketball game last month, was the latest in a long line of non-baseball maladies players have stumbled, fallen or run into over the years. That, of course, doesn't soothe the Brewers' temporary loss of their new ace, who will start the season on the disabled list.
Still, it could have been worse, or at least stranger. It could have been a sneeze that put him on the shelf. Or sleeping. Or a video game. Or the package it came in. Or even venison -- yes, venison.
It's tough enough around the field sometimes, as we've seen in a string of bizarre injuries in recent years that didn't directly involve playing the game, per se.
There was Kendrys Morales' broken ankle in a home-plate celebration with the Angels and the Marlins' Chris Coghlan's torn meniscus while delivering a shaving-cream pie last year. Three years before that, Milton Bradley blew out a knee while Padres manager Bud Black tried to hold him back from arguing with an umpire.
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Decades before that, the Cardinals' Vince Coleman was knocked out of the 1985 World Series after being caught up in an automatic tarp rolling out onto the field at Busch Stadium. And over the years, dozens of players have broken something more precious than a clubhouse wall or garbage can after a frustrating outing or at-bat.
It's one thing to get hurt on the job. But outside the confines of the field, players still manage to get themselves dinged up, sometimes in ways that defy reason a lot more than stretching for a rebound and hitting the deck.
A few prime examples:
Poor execution of the sneeze play: Perhaps the most famous incidence of baseball injury related to sternutation occurred in 2004, when Sammy Sosa was injured at his cubicle in the Cubs' visiting clubhouse in San Diego. He sneezed, winced in pain, went to the trainer's room -- and was not only scratched from the lineup but wound up spending a month on the disabled list with a back strain.
"It would be better if I would've hit off the wall or we had a fight with somebody, but geez," Sosa said at the time.
More recently, Padres pitcher Mat Latos landed on the DL last year after trying to stifle a sneeze instead of letting it fly like he does with baseballs on the mound.
Bloodied by packaging: Adam Eaton hasn't lived this one down, even within his own family. "Now, anytime I'm around a family member with a knife, usually somebody says, 'Do you want me to do that for you?'" Eaton said in a 2007 interview.
That's because Eaton, then pitching for the Padres in 2001, accidentally stabbed himself in the stomach with a pocket knife while trying to open up a package of DVDs ("Backdraft" and "Happy Gilmore"), requiring a trip to an emergency room to repair an inch-deep gash.
Jason Isringhausen also lost a knife fight with packaging, stabbing himself in the leg while trying to open the hard-plastic wrapping of the auto-security device "The Club" in 1997 -- a year with the Mets in which he'd already broken bones in his hand punching a garbage can and contracted tuberculosis, of all things.
Then there are times when what's inside the package ends up causing problems. Joel Zumaya's injury in 2006, which kept the Tigers reliever out of the American League Championship Series, apparently came at least in part from never putting "Guitar Hero" back in the box, playing the game so much he strained his forearm.
KO'd by dead deer: Infielder Clint Barmes was in his second full season after a brilliant rookie campaign with the Rockies when a wrestling match with deer meat on a staircase ended his 2007 season. He sustained a broken collarbone; the deer was still dead.
Barmes initially said he was carrying groceries up the stairs, because he didn't want to implicate teammate Todd Helton, who gave him the deer meat after they were out riding ATVs on Helton's property -- another possible no-no. But all was forgiven, the venison was especially tender and the truth eventually came out.
Like with many things in life, truth and fiction are often hard to separate with off-field injuries.
John Smoltz, the former star pitcher for the Braves and later the Red Sox and Cardinals, maintains that the story that began in the 1990s about him injuring himself by ironing his shirt -- uh, while wearing it -- is a flat-out fabrication without a wrinkle of truth.
Then there's the curious case of Jeff Kent, then the Giants' second baseman and able member of a powerful duo with Barry Bonds, whose story from 2002 had a couple of different truths to it. Having arrived at Spring Training camp one day with a broken left wrist, Kent explained he slipped while washing his truck. Soon, reports emerged of someone looking an awful lot like Kent riding a motorcycle that looked a lot like Kent's popping a wheelie on a city street and wiping out.
Another motorcycle incident that went bad: Outfielder Ron Gant suffered a fractured leg in a dirt-bike accident in 1995 -- just one week after signing a $5.5 million deal with the Braves, then the largest one-year contract in history; the Braves released him three weeks later. On four wheels, Carlos Perez broke his nose when he wrecked his car -- while trying to pass the Expos team bus.
Among other notable injuries gone weird:
The Tigers' Brandon Inge strained an oblique in 2008 adjusting his 3-year-old's pillow. "It was the stupidest, freakiest thing," he said. "I wish I could come up with something different."
Marty Cordova suffered a sunburned face after falling asleep on a tanning bed and had to sit out a game with the Orioles in 2003.
Glenallen Hill's arachnophobia got the best of him once when he was playing for the Blue Jays. Having a nightmare that spiders were crawling on him, Hill leaped out of bed, crashed through a glass table and down the stairs.
While with the Astros, Moises Alou suffered torn knee ligaments falling off a treadmill. During his rehab in 1999, he re-injured the knee trying to avoid hitting his son while on a bicycle.
Steve Sparks, inspired by a motivational speaker who came to the Brewers' Spring Training camp, tried to tear a phone book in half and dislocated his shoulder.
Kevin Mitchell, enigmatic off the field as he was on it, suffered injuries such as strained muscles from vomiting and a burned mouth from a microwave doughnut.
Pitcher Greg A. Harris injured his arm flicking sunflower seeds in the Rangers' bullpen.
And there is a list of sleeping injuries, from longtime pitcher Terry Mulholland suffering a scratched cornea from a hotel pillow to third baseman Chris Brown once missing a game with the Padres because he "slept on his eye funny."
But wacky injuries can befall the best of them -- even Hall of Famers.
Wade Boggs strained his back while putting on cowboy boots, George Brett broke a toe running to watch something on TV, and Rickey Henderson suffered frostbite -- in August! -- when he fell asleep with an ice pack on his foot. Tony Gwynn slammed his finger in the door of his car while going to the bank, and you can add Goose Gossage to the list of players who fell victim to the ill-executed sneeze.
Also on the road to Cooperstown, Cal Ripken Jr. broke his nose while posing for an All-Star team photo, inadvertently smacked by a teammate who was slipping; Paul Molitor dislocated a finger sticking it in another player's glove; and, perhaps topping them all, Nolan Ryan was bitten by a coyote pup -- one of two orphans he had saved during a drive in the country.
Injuries that occur on a player's free time, like Greinke's, generally have been of the less-athletic variety. After all, the standard player contract prohibits players from engaging in certain activities -- although Brewers GM Doug Melvin said Greinke's informal court work didn't reach the threshold of violating his contract. Aaron Boone wasn't so fortunate in 2004, when the Yankees unconditionally released him after he'd suffered a torn knee ligament in a pickup hoops game. Then they went out and traded for Alex Rodriguez to play third base.
The following winter, Lance Berkman tore up his knee while playing in a flag-football game at a church function prior to the 2005 season. But he came back strong and helped Houston reach its first World Series.
One manager whose team hopes to stand in the way of Greinke and the Brewers trying to repeat that sort of storyline knows that some of these injuries happen because, well, the boys of summer will be boys.
"I got hurt and almost ended my career playing basketball," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Most of us are frustrated something-elses. I can't say anything about him. There was a time when I was out there, too."
All things considered, maybe a little pickup basketball and flag football aren't so bad, after all.
But, please, make sure to sneeze with care and let someone else open up the new DVD.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. Mark Sheldon contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.