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October 27, 2004

Under The Knife

The 2004 Medical Staff of the Year

by Will Carroll

This is a first, in many ways.

Since the first athletic trainers started coming into baseball in the 1950's, helping develop and define a profession while building and maintaining a sport and industry, there has been no public recognition of the work they have done. The Professional Baseball Athletic Trainer Society (PBATS) has worked tirelessly to support the profession, but neither its efforts nor those of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) have been bring much notice to the tireless trainers.

Much of the blame for this lack of recognition belongs to the complex nature of their jobs, the secretive nature of the industry, and a lack of self-promoters in key positions. Admit it--when you first heard of "Under The Knife," you probably didn't think much of the idea. Who would want to read about injuries, surgeries or rehab protocols? Then again, who would think a World Series might turn on a creative suture or three?

At the end of my second year at BP, I'm proud to add something to our shelf. In recognition of the great service by trainers, therapists, physicians, and associated personnel throughout the game of baseball, we're proud to give out the first Dick Martin Award awarded to the Medical Staff of the Year. The award is named for the longtime Minnesota Twins' trainer, now retired, who did so much for his profession over his 30-year career in baseball. (And for those interested in such things, yes, there will be a trophy.)

The award is based on a number of factors, including but not limited to quantitative measures such as days lost to the DL, dollars lost to the DL, percentage of payroll lost to the DL, and year-over-year improvements and trends regarding these numbers. The UTK Advisory Board was consulted to ensure that the winning staff met the highest professional standards and that a "fluke good year" was not enough to win.

I am proud to announce that the winner of the 2004 Dick Martin Award is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Led by Ken Crenshaw, the Devil Rays staff led all of Major League Baseball with only 315 days lost to the disabled list. Crenshaw is in his second year as Head Trainer, taking over in 2002 after Jamie Reed went to Texas. The system that Reed, Crenshaw, and medical director James Andrews (yes, that Jim Andrews) put into place brought the Rays from the bottom quartile to the pinnacle in just two years.

The secret to the Devil Rays turn around was simple. The Rays made a commitment to turn their medical fortunes around, assembled the best possible team, and gave them free rein. From the successful return of Seth McClung to prevention of more pitcher arm injuries, the Rays kept the talent they had on the mound. Crenshaw's leadership in bringing core training to his baseball team also must be considered. One significant fact is also very unusual: The Rays are the first team to lead the league in DL days while playing on turf. Admittedly, data only goes back to 1998, but this is enough of a sample to give us an indication.

While much of the data used to come to this award is proprietary, I would like everyone to see this year's days lost to DL chart:

It goes without saying that team health is important. Only one of eight teams in the post-season did so losing more days to the DL than the median. (How did Boston do it? They lost only 10% of their payroll to the DL while being handicapped by a few extended DL stints. That and great hitting.) On a statistical note, there is some skew to this--late season injuries such as those suffered by the Seattle Mariners tend not to show up since the DL is not used in September. This factor may tend to depress the effect of teams that "break down" at the end of a season in these stats.

So to Ken Crenshaw, Ron Porterfield, Kevin Barr, Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Michael Reilly, Dr. Koco Eaton, and their minor league staff, congratulations. The Devil Rays medical staff has shown that excellence is possible for a much-maligned franchise. Gentlemen, your trophy is ready.

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