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December 22, 2011

The Lineup Card

10 Weirdest Baseball Injuries

by Baseball Prospectus

1) Steve Sparks
Mickey Rivers once said, “My goals are to hit .300, score 100 runs, and stay injury-prone.” “Injury-prone” does not mean “self-inflicted,” which is what happened in the case of knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who might have made the Brewers a year earlier than he ultimately did had he not become overly excited by a motivational seminar set up by the Brewers during spring training in 1994. “They were bending iron bars and ripping phone books in half,” Sparks told Sports Illustrated. He and some teammates decided to try the latter themselves on copies of the Phoenix Yellow Pages. Sparks’s left shoulder gave out before the phone book did, dislocating. He came off the disabled list quickly enough to make 27 starts for Triple-A New Orleans, but he didn’t win a job, obviously, and coincidentally or not, the Brewers did not deign to recall him at any point during the season. Sparks would finally make his major-league debut the following April, at age 29. —Steven Goldman

2) José Guillén
José Guillén showed up to the Royals' spring training camp in 2009 with a "slight irritation" in his toe. The toe still bothered him a couple days later, so Guillén saw a doctor, who told him that they might need to perform surgery on his ingrown toenail. The doctor wanted Guillén to wait a night to see if the toe got any better. Guillén, apparently terrified of surgery, couldn't wait any longer. He decided to buy tweezers from a local pharmacy and pull the nail out of his big toe himself: "I reached in there and poked around until I got the end of it. Then I counted one, two, three, and just pulled... oh my god. It came out, but tears were running down my cheeks." Sounds like your run-of-the-mill medical procedure.

The at-home surgery only cost Guillén a few days of conditioning—which he probably needed—but he wasn't quite done with the weird injuries in 2009.  In July, Guillén jogged in from the field after the top of the second inning and started to prepare for his first at-bat. While bending over to put on a shin guard, Guillén felt sharp pain and a pop in his knee. He had partially torn his lateral collateral (that's a mouthful) ligament. Guillén, to the chagrin of Royals' fans, came back for three at-bats in early September. He, appropriately, struck out twice and weakly grounded out to the shortstop the third time. The Royals shut down Guillén for the rest of the season and sent him packing nine months later. — Clark Goble

3) Adam Eaton
In 2001, Padres right-hander Adam Eaton missed a start due to a self-inflicted stab wound resulting from an attempt to open a package. Often, this sort of story is used to cover up something even more embarrassing, but in Eaton's case, we have documented video evidence, and the most embarrassing part is his voice.

As Eaton said at the time, “I bought one of those double DVD packages that are sealed in hard plastic. I was trying to open it with the knife when it slipped and jabbed me in the stomach.” Bonus points for being treated at a place called Sharp Hospital. Get it? Because knives are sharp. —Geoff Young

4
) Glenallen Hill
Glenallen Hill wasn't afraid of 95 mph fastballs during his 12-year major league career, but a little eight-legged critter nearly scared him to death in 1990. Then in his second season in the bigs, Hill's arachnophobia struck during a nightmare, sending him sleepwalking straight out of bed, into a glass table, and down a staircase en route to the 15-day disabled list with cuts and bruises. One of my earliest ballpark memories is fans at Candlestick Park humming the "Spiderman" theme song every time he came to bat. —Daniel Rathman

5) John Smoltz
There are a lot of injuries make me sit back and chuckle, but this one by John Smoltz takes the cake.  Generally, everyone likes to look good. I mean, who doesn’t? You know what they say, “dress for success” and all. Well, Smoltz needed to make sure his clothes were absolutely perfect one day back during spring training of 1990. Apparently, an area needed extra attention because it just wasn’t right. Smoltz did what naturally comes next; he ironed his shirt. The only issue was that he was still wearing it and scalded his chest as a result.

According to Joe Strauss, the Braves beat writer at the time, Smoltz ended up with 5 different one inch long red streaks below the Polo emblem. Smoltz was also quoted in the article saying, “I couldn’t believe it. I’ve done it five or six times before and never had that happen.” Smoltz has since denied it multiple times—hey, that’s what I would do—but regardless, it definitely has to be one of the funniest and most bizarre injuries I have ever seen. —Corey Dawkins

6) Milton Bradley
If your first thought upon hearing someone mention “Milton Bradley” is not Battleship, Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Connect Four, your mind probably jumps between the multiple incidents of the troubled baseball player’s career. His rap sheet of problems on the field and off could serve as the basis for a future Lineup Card unto itself, but that’s neither here nor there. In terms of finding a quirky injury, I don’t think any of the other contributions encapsulate the personality of the player better than Bradley tearing his ACL while going after an umpire. On September 23, 2007, Bradley’s Padres were battling the Colorado Rockies on the field and in the standings, leading them by 2.5 games in the NL wild card race. In the fifth inning with the Padres trailing by four, Bradley took a called strike three in typical Milton Bradley fashion—by refusing to leave the batter’s box and staring down the home plate umpire. With the Padres down 7-2 in the eighth inning and Bradley on first following a single, he began arguing with umpire Mike Winters. As the conversation became more heated, Padres manager Bud Black ran out of the dugout to keep Bradley from bumping the umpire (or worse). Black and Bradley became tangled up and as Bradley hit the ground, he tore his ACL.

Without Bradley, who put up a 1.004 OPS in 2007 after being traded to San Diego, the Padres would blow their lead over the surging Rockies and lose that amazing one-game playoff. Perhaps with Bradley in the lineup during the final week and a half of the season, the Padres find a way to win one more game and keep Colorado’s Cinderella story from occurring. Then again, maybe he finds a way to get himself suspended and miss those games anyway. Either way, Milton Bradley’s injury helped contribute to the Padres spending their October playing Yahtzee instead of more baseball. —Sam Tydings

7) Felix Pie
During spring training of 2008, Felix Pie suffered from one of the most cringe-inducing injuries in my time following baseball: testicular torsion. In layman's terms, that's a twisted testicle. Clinically speaking, according to Clinically Oriented Anatomy (Sixth Edition) by Keith L. Moore PhD, the condition consists of "yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh." No, really, that's what it says.

After careful research, I discovered that I didn't really want to know how it happened and neither do you, although according to the Chicago Tribune, the injury is "not uncommon." This is quite frankly the least reassuring thing I have ever read.

According to that same Tribune article, Pie originally had the problem reduced "manually" which, according to several doctors I didn't speak to, there's absolutely no way I'm finding out what that means. Just typing it makes me want to curl up in a ball and never ever leave. But that failed to alleviate the problem, so they went ahead and did corrective surgery. Again: this is not uncommon. Presumably the procedure was performed under heavy anesthetic, which frankly is what I wish I'd done to myself before writing this. —Colin Wyers

8) Kendry Morales
Act like you have been there before.

We all hear that particular critique from some curmudgeon that does not care for how today's athletes celebrate significant on-field achievements. When a player hits a home run, they can stand and admire it as Albert Pujols tends to do, or they can try to touch second base before the ball clears the wall as Adam Rosales does. 

Kendrys Morales had this decision to make on May 29th, 2010 after becoming just the tenth player in American League history to hit a walk-off grand slam as he deposited a 95-mph stinkerball from Brandon League into the rocky centerfield backdrop at Angels Stadium. 

He knew he had gotten enough of it out of the box but did not stay to admire it, instead choosing to go into a rather brisk home run trot as the crowd went into hysteria and his teammates came pouring out of the dugout to meet their heroic comrade at home plate. Morales was so excited about how the game ended he did what many players before him have done and chose to make an emphatic leap into the air and come down on home plate with authority in jubilation. Unfortunately, his lower left leg did not approve of the move and fractured upon impact, causing him to writhe on the ground in agony.

Rather than be carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates for winning the game, Morales was carted off the field on a golf cart with his left leg in an aircast. That was the last time Angels fans have seen Morales on the playing field, and it
may be the last time they see him in an Angels uniforms given the addition of Pujols, the emergence of Mark Trumbo, and Bobby Abreu remaining under a hefty contract for one more season as the fulltime DH. —Jason Collette

9) Matt Anderson
With the first overall pick of the 1997 amateur draft, the Detroit Tigers went for the “can’t miss electricity” of Rice closer, Matt Anderson. After a prolonged contract negotiation, Anderson would eventually sign a deal with a $2.5 million dollar bonus and would be ready for the 1998 season. He posted an ERA under 0.70 in the minors to start the season and soon earned a debut call-up with the Tigers in Detroit at famed Tiger Stadium. The stadium was full of anticipation as rumors had swirled that the top prospect was in town, but it wasn’t until 30 minutes prior to game time that he emerged from the third base dugout, bound for the in-ground bullpen down the leftfield line. The young righty would not disappoint, going 5–1 with a 3.27 ERA in 42 games, striking out 44 batters in 44 innings pitched. At age 21, Anderson had already validated the Tigers’ decision to draft him number-one overall. Unfortunately, in pitching for the Tigers of the late 1990s and early 2000s with a veteran closer in Todd Jones, Matt “Wild Thing” Anderson (yes, they actually played the song as he ran from the ‘pen to the mound each and every time) would never see his career potential reached.

In 2001, he would save a career high 22 games for the Tigers and finish a total of 41 games—also a career high. Wild Thing came to Spring Training in 2002 as the fulltime closer with Jones having been traded the previous season, and what happened next is the type of thing that you wouldn’t believe if you didn’t live in the city of Detroit or elsewhere in the state of Michigan. In May of 2002, the Detroit Red Wings—also owned by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch—were poised for a Stanley Cup run, and Matt Anderson was their sacrifice to the Hockey Gods.  Anderson's career took a tragic and unforgettable turn that day when he participated in an octopus-throwing contest. The fan who threw an octopus the furthest won Detroit Red Wings playoff tickets. If you’ve ever been to Comerica Park in May, you know that it can be far from tropical; in fact, it could be as it was and still be miserably cold.

Anderson tore a muscle in his right armpit throwing his demonstration octopus (although neither he nor the Tigers would ever confirm that as the source of the injury).  The undeniable fact is that he was healthy enough for the pre-game event but by game time was headed to the hospital for testing and was on the DL by the fifth inning. Anderson would throw in only 12 games for the Tigers in 2002 and another 23 in 2003 before his Tigers career was over. His legendary 100-mph fastball, which topped out at 103-mph, was gone for good; when he came back from the injury, he struggled to reach 90-mph. That, coupled with an average knuckle-curve, was not enough to sustain his career. By the end of the 2005 season with the Colorado Rockies, Matt “Wild Thing” Anderson had thrown his last pitch in the major leagues, but he will forever live on in baseball lore as the only player in history to suffer a career ending injury by octopus. —Adam Tower

10) Joel Zumaya
Zumaya arrived on the major league scene throwing triple-digit heat and helping the Tigers reach the postseason as a rookie, but he missed time during the postseason due to wrist and forearm inflammation. When the Tigers' training staff assessed his injury, they noted that it was more consistent with the problems a guitar player would deal with, rather than a pitcher. As it turns out, his problems were caused by playing the PlayStation 2 "Guitar Hero" video game. Fortunately, after a break from rocking out, he returned in time to pitch in the World Series.

Zumaya would miss most of 2007 due to a ruptured tendon in his middle finger that required surgery, but that was garden variety as far as his woes went. That November, he suffered a separated shoulder and needed surgery after a heavy box fell on top of him as he was attempting to salvage items from the attic of his parents' house as wildfires approached their California home. He has since suffered stress fractures in the same shoulder and had a variety of elbow problems that have cost him time on the DL in each of the past four seasons and necessitated three more surgeries. He hasn't even reached 40 innings in a single season since his rookie year. —Jay Jaffe

29 comments have been left for this article.

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