White Sox lead MLB -- in staying healthy
Financial security might be biggest benefit of spending least time on disabled list
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- What if there were a way to control the unpredictable?
What if it were possible to reduce the amount of cloudy days or get traffic lights to turn green when you approach the intersection?
And what would it take to acquire such power? Selling your soul to the devil comes to mind.
Perhaps the price isn't so hefty. The Chicago White Sox seem to have found a way to control variables that otherwise have been deemed bad luck, bad karma or bad timing.
Over the past nine seasons, the White Sox have used the disabled list the least of any team in baseball. Since 2002, injured White Sox players have missed 3,134 days, which seems like a hefty sum until you look at the disabled list breakdowns of other clubs.
In the American League, the next closest team to the White Sox in that span is the Minnesota Twins. The Twins have used the disabled list for 6,291 days, or exactly 3,157 more days than the White Sox.
Two questions immediately come to mind. The first is: How do they do it? The second is: What does it all mean in the long run?
Starting with the second question first, what does a healthy team actually get you? The facts are that the Red Sox have won two World Series titles in that stretch and the Rangers made the Fall Classic last season, falling just short to the San Francisco Giants. Winning can happen amid injuries.
Financial security might be the biggest benefit. Having healthy players reduces the need to add to the payroll during the season. It also reduces the need to trade prospects to fill holes now.
Sports Illustrated recently put a value on lost days to the disabled list and determined that the White Sox saved enough over the past nine years to have basically paid for the 2005 roster, which just so happened to win a World Series.
"It's imperative and vital to the success of the club," general manager Kenny Williams said of the club's training staff, as well as the strength and conditioning side. "There is just no way around it. You have to have solid medical advice."
Head trainer Herm Schneider, who is in his 33rd season with the White Sox, is well respected for his ability to get players back on the field and through the nicks and dings associated with a 162-game schedule.
Not wanting to jinx the success the team has had with injuries or make it look as if he is a self-promoter, he politely declined to comment for this story. The fact is, his work speaks volumes.
Judging by days spent on the disabled list, the White Sox have been the healthiest team in baseball from 2002 to 2010. Here's how the rest of the American League stacks up in that period.
|Team||DL stays||Days on DL|
But Schneider isn't alone when it comes to the success the White Sox have at keeping players healthy. The team's strength and conditioning director, Allen Thomas, plays a vital role in fine-tuning players' bodies so they stay out of the trainer's room in the first place. But success goes even beyond his role.
About 10 years ago, the White Sox struggled with pitchers getting injured, specifically having labrum issues. So a dynamic shift in philosophy was introduced.
"I think it goes back to Kenny and [chairman] Jerry [Reindsorf] and [assistant GM] Rick Hahn's side on scouts, identifying who has good mechanics, poor mechanics," Thomas said. "They're having to learn a lot, too. It's really a whole combination of things, but it starts with Jerry's and Kenny's crew.
"If you can identify [good early mechanics], you can eliminate a lot of things. They know what they are looking at, and they have been able to do an outstanding job with the players they are giving us."
Once the players arrive in the White Sox's system, it's up to Dale Torborg, the minor league conditioning coordinator, to make the young players familiar with the White Sox way. For some, it's an eye-opening moment.
"When we first get a guy, we talk to them, find out what they did in the past, and we get them acclimated into our system because they are going through a lot of changes at that point," said Torborg, who is a son of former major league manager Jeff Torborg as well as being a former professional wrestler who was known as "The Demon."
"In terms of being from high school and college, not only do you have new teammates to get used to, a new situation of playing every day where a lot of these college and high school kids play two or three times a week, it's a whole different ballgame for them, no pun intended. They're playing every single day through a summer, and it's long."
Although eliminating major shoulder issues such as labrum problems is a source of pride, Thomas points to leg work as a key to keeping White Sox players healthy.
We haven't had a hamstring [injury], knock on wood, in many, many years. Part of that is because we like to get them warm, keep them warm, do our training and then get them out of there. When we stretch, if you look at any other team, our stretch is 25 minutes long. And it's important.” -- Allen Thomas, White Sox's strength
and conditioning director
"We haven't had a hamstring [injury], knock on wood, in many, many years," Thomas said. "Part of that is because we like to get them warm, keep them warm, do our training and then get them out of there. When we stretch, if you look at any other team, our stretch is 25 minutes long. And it's important."
Immediately after morning stretch, White Sox players then work on their conditioning. The spring training practice of players jogging on the field during games is frowned upon by the White Sox conditioning staff.
"I don't know why, but you see guys running the warning track during games," said Thomas, a two-time All-America selection from Wingate (N.C.) University who played two years in the White Sox's minor league system. "No. 1, I think that is unprofessional, and No. 2, they've already played. In the morning they had their workout; they sat and ate lunch; they played the game; they cooled down again; and now you're going to have them run? For us, those are things we've changed."
But even the best preparation program can't prevent every injury. Jake Peavy is still on the mend from a latissimus dorsi muscle that tore away from the bone last season. But the White Sox still used the DL just seven times last season for a total of 285 days. The Yankees were second-best in the AL last season, using the DL 11 times for a total of 621 days.
Thomas isn't afraid to say that luck plays a role in keeping players healthy, as well. Sprained ankles and hit batters happen, not to mention something like the wrist injury Carlos Quentin suffered when he slammed his own bat in 2008 and might have cost himself a chance at an MVP award.
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"There is the outstretched arm diving to make a play, somebody might step on you with a cleat," Thomas said. "Those are things that we have been fortunate to not amass, and that's where [assistant trainer] Brian [Ball] and Herm do an outstanding job to jet them back on the field with moleskin, hard plastics, etc. That's why they're the best over there. I give them all the praise because they can keep you on the field."
Despite the success, the training staff diverts all the credit. Staff members applaud upper management, which is probably a good career move.
"I think that's where it starts," Thomas said. "If you get a golden opportunity to get some good players to work with, that is the initial start, and every year I always thank Kenny and Jerry for the players they give us. Also, Kenny lets them know right off the bat: 'Our program is a little different, so we want you to jump on board and show us what you can do.' There is a reason that we do it. It starts from there, for sure."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.