Concussion Discussion: Are O’s Giving MLB a Headache?

May 23, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

I made the accusation last week, in the aftermath of the Orioles disappointing loss to the Yankees in 15 innings, that Buck Showalter and the O’s appeared to have paid the price in that game for trying to get too “cute” with their roster and slow playing their moves. Five days and a flurry of roster moves later they’ve done little to dispel that notion.

In addition to the path that the O’s seem to be wearing out between the big club and Triple A, they’ve also leaned heavily on their DL this week, putting players on the 60-day, 15-day and even the new 7-day DL. As it relates to Roberts and his 7-day DL stint, that may be the O’s “cutest” move of the season. From the outside looking in, one could certainly begin to opine that the O’s, in placing Roberts on the “concussion related” DL,  may be trying to put one over on their fans, advance scouts, MLB or all of the above.


As fans it seems that most of us have grown perceptive of the fact (real or imagined) that Brian Roberts has been, throughout his tenure in Baltimore, a favorite of owner Peter Angelos. The list of alleged trades involving Roberts and vetoed by Angelos could have restocked the O’s farm system 3 times over it would seem. After locking Roberts up to a long-term extension instead of parlaying his talents to a contender, the second baseman’s back issues have been a sensitive spot for fans and likely management alike.


Considering that in deflecting credit for the O’s turnaround last season, Showalter routinely sang the praises of Roberts and that  his return in coincidence with Buck’s arrival was a far bigger catalyst for the O’s success. It might seem then, either encouraging or suspicious that the back problems that have hampered Roberts for the last couple of seasons suddenly relocated to his neck in spring training and have now worked their way up to Roberts’ head. Maybe he’ll soon be able to purge the pain from his head and be done with it forever. It seems though only a matter of semantics as neck soreness and head pain could be synonymous with or symptoms of a chronically bad back.


That Roberts and the O’s have cast this as a concussion, thereby allowing him to come back in 7 days time (actually 5 days by the time they made the decision) is a new luxury afforded to teams and their players based on growing awareness of and sensitivity to concussions and their aftereffects. In Roberts case though, since there was nothing memorable about the incident that caused it – his head never hit the ground, he stayed in the game without incident, went on to steal 2 bases in the game and made contact in 3 of the 4 plate appearances that followed – to call it a concussion and not just a headache is at least suspicious.


Given the growing concern over concussions and their very real impact on players, coupled with the general absence of strong and credible efforts in their diagnoses, Major League Baseball has done the right thing in trying to protect players from these types of injuries. If the O’s, or any other team, are looking to exploit the vague definition of a concussion or concussion symptoms, it’s both shameful and sadly predictable. It would also be an angle that teams would be unlikely to be called out for unless the evidence was indisputable, as proving such things would be tough on MLB from both a medical and political standpoint.


Sooner or later MLB may just have to concede a fact that most of us will deal with in some way or another in our own lives; that in trying to do the right thing for those who deserve it, we often open the doors for manipulators and benders of the rules to enter for their own benefit. Once they realize that, maybe MLB will just allow every team one 7-day DL spot.


At the very least they should mandate that any player placed on the “concussion related” DL has to wear the “Gazoo helmet” going forward. Sadly, that would be a much bigger deterrent than it should be I’d bet.