Painfully true stories of injury cover-ups
Originally Published: August 19, 2009By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com
Mark Goldman/Icon SMIBrett Myers changed his original story, saying he hurt his left eye stumbling out of his wife's car.
In his attempts to explain away a recent injury, Phillies pitcher Brett Myers made a discovery that the likes of Pete Rose, John Edwards, financier Bernie Madoff and "Runaway Bride" Jennifer Wilbanks already knew.Sometimes the cover-up can be as damaging as the crime. Myers, on a rehab assignment with Philadelphia's Class A farm team in Clearwater, Fla., missed a start Saturday after suffering an injury to his left eye. He told the club that he hurt himself playing catch with his little boy, then 'fessed up and said he tripped and fell while exiting his wife's Cadillac Escalade after a night of dinner and a couple of beers. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro released a statement calling the accident "unfortunate," and Myers told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he changed course because the first account made him feel "like an idiot." As history shows, it's better to be up-front from the outset in disclosing an injury. In January 2004, Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone blew out his knee playing pickup basketball and scored points in the court of public opinion for being forthcoming enough to risk having his contract voided. A few months later, amid reports that he hurt himself while roughhousing, Padres pitcher David Wells quickly set the record straight: He said he severed a tendon in his wrist while tripping over a bar stool in his kitchen, and the incident was portrayed as just another case of "Boomer being Boomer." Through the years, Tony Gwynn, Pokey Reese, Adrian Beltre and John Smiley all told their employers that they'd hurt themselves slamming hands in car doors. Although the explanation lacked originality, it seemed plausible enough that nobody bothered to pursue the matter. But when an injury story comes with lots of hemming, hawing, reversals and pesky eyewitnesses, it tends to prolong the suffering. In this week's installment of Starting 9, we look back at nine injury tales under which the landscape kept shifting, and the embarrassment alone was enough to tax a ballplayer's pain threshold.
Jeff Kent's motorcycle accidentThe mother of all fabrications. Kent, fresh off his third straight All-Star appearance in San Francisco, fractured his wrist early in spring training in 2002. He told the Giants that he slipped and fell while washing his Chevy pickup at a self-service car wash in Scottsdale, Ariz. That was good enough for everybody until two eyewitnesses called 911 and said a man fitting Kent's description hurt himself playing daredevil on Hayden Road near the Giants' minor league complex. "He was popping a wheelie and just wiped out," said Leo Vera, a local tile salesman. "He was doing probably about 45 mph and totally lost it. The bike threw sparks all around." Kent responded vaguely when confronted with the police report. General manager Brian Sabean was furious, and the Giants put Kent in his place by making him begin the season on the disabled list against his will. Kent proceeded to take out his frustration on the baseball. He returned to hit 37 homers, drive in 108 runs and finish sixth in the National League MVP race before leaving for Houston as a free agent the following winter.
Clint Barmes' venison adventureFirst, Barmes said he broke his collarbone when he tripped and fell on some stairs while carrying a bag of groceries. Then he amended the story to reveal that he was carrying a package of deer meat given him by teammate Todd Helton. On the third go-round, Barmes inserted the part about how he'd spent a June day in 2005 riding all-terrain vehicles with Helton and Brad Hawpe at Helton's ranch outside Denver. All parties involved claimed Barmes' injury was not ATV related. Barmes also said he kept the details private because he didn't want to drag Helton into the fray. Regardless, the injury forced Barmes to miss three months when he was an early NL Rookie of the Year contender. And it placed him in the upper echelon of food-related injuries -- right up there with Bret Barberie's rubbing habanero chili juice in his eyes while inserting contact lenses and Kevin Mitchell's needing a root canal from a chocolate doughnut that he left in a microwave too long.
Joe Beimel's night on the townBeimel, a bullpen mainstay for the Dodgers' 2006 NL wild-card team, decided to drop into a Manhattan bar and watch the Eagles and Packers on "Monday Night Football" two nights before the opener of the National League Division Series with the Mets. Bad call. Sometime around 2:30 a.m., Beimel cut his left hand while dropping a beer bottle, and the blood wouldn't stop flowing. Upon returning to the team hotel, he initially told a Dodgers trainer that he had injured himself while drinking beer in his room. The ruse didn't last long. After an anonymous witness recounted the incident to the Los Angeles Times, Beimel publicly confessed. He apologized to his teammates, but manager Grady Little and pitcher Brett Tomko both took him to task over his lack of judgment. "Our disappointment is unlimited," Little told reporters. With Beimel unable to pitch, Little was forced to use starter Brad Penny out of the bullpen in Game 1. Beimel was a convenient scapegoat for fans when the Dodgers went down meekly against New York in three games. "I'm sorry to everyone for doing something that was really, really stupid," Beimel told Times columnist Bill Plaschke in an interview a month later.
Carl Pavano's car accidentPavano was always forthcoming in telling the Yankees about the shoulder, elbow, buttocks and back injuries that dogged him in his four seasons with the club. But when he broke two ribs in a car accident in August 2006 and kept it hidden from the team for almost two weeks, management was livid. "Of course I'm angry," said general manager Brian Cashman. "I've got an army of people here that we provide to put our players in the best position possible to succeed, and I don't want anybody to sabotage that by holding back. And clearly here, for a period of time, that took place." Pavano's Porsche spun out of control on a rainy night in West Palm Beach, Fla., and slammed into a sanitation truck at a stop sign. The Porsche incurred $30,000 worth of damage, the Solid Waste Authority truck was dinged for $20,000, and some people had a good laugh at Pavano's expense. The New York Post ran the headline "Crash Dummy," and Daily News columnist Mike Lupica referred to the pitcher as "NASCAR Carl Pavano."
Paul Quantrill's memorable Canadian winterQuantrill was the designated workhorse of the Toronto bullpen in 1998, with 80 innings pitched in 82 appearances. The following winter, he fractured his right leg while tobogganing with his son in the backyard of his Ontario home. At least, that was the initial version; three days after the accident, Quantrill told everyone that he had suffered the injury while snowmobiling. A remorseful Quantrill appeared at a hospital press conference with his wife and told reporters that he lied because he was afraid of being perceived as reckless -- not because he feared the Blue Jays might void his contract. "Maybe I made the wrong decision here, but it was a scary time and in some ways embarrassing," Quantrill said. "We panicked." According to reports, Quantrill faced a $90 fine after being charged by the Ontario Provincial Police with failing to report a collision. After having a steel rod inserted in his thigh, Quantrill returned to pitch the following June. He fared better than Jays manager Tim Johnson, who was fired in spring training that year for lying about his military service in Vietnam.
Dan Miceli, Bash BrotherFlorida reliever Dan Miceli arrived in spring training in 2000 with five stitches in his right hand, a cut on his elbow and a whopper of a story. Miceli told Marlins officials and the media that he suffered the injury in a fight with four "hippie rednecks" outside a bar in Orlando. Miceli said one of the men had been "hitting on" his wife, and pulled a knife and slashed him during the subsequent dispute. Not exactly. According to the local police, Miceli suffered the injuries during a family dispute. A police report said that Miceli and his brother, Richard, got into an argument at the kitchen table and were exchanging punches when their mother intervened. Richard Miceli was charged with battery domestic abuse, and Dan quickly came clean and apologized to his teammates. He said he fabricated the story to protect his family. "It's not like I'm out there killing people, smoking drugs or raping women or anything like that," Dan Miceli told Florida Today. "I didn't commit a crime. I just tried to do something right."
Kazuhiro Sasaki's personal baggageWhen Montreal pitcher Dennis Martinez strained a muscle in his side trying to lift a suitcase in 1993, Richard Griffin, then the team's media relations director, referred to the malady as "Samsonitis." Martinez was lucky enough to miss one start. Kazuhiro Sasaki, in contrast, missed 68 days after allegedly breaking two ribs carrying a suitcase up a flight of stairs in June 2003. Seattle was 42-19 when Sasaki went down, but the injury did a number on the bullpen, and the Mariners went 51-50 the rest of the way. Sasaki, who had lost some zip off his fastball and was in danger of losing save opportunities to Eddie Guardado and Shigetoshi Hasegawa in Seattle, forfeited the $8.5 million left on his contract to return to Japan and pitch for the Yokohama BayStars in 2004. In hindsight, nobody ever bought the suitcase story. Robert Whiting, a baseball author with strong ties to Japan, later said that sources told him Sasaki hurt himself while drinking and practicing pro-wrestling style maneuvers with some friends.
Cole Hamels' sliced fingerMajor league ballplayers struggle with excessive packaging just like everybody else. Padres pitcher Adam Eaton once missed a start after stabbing himself in the stomach while trying to open a package of DVDs. In August 2006, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels tried using a pair of pliers to open a plastic bag filled with new kitchen utensils. When that tactic failed, Hamels opted for a Swiss Army knife, and his ham-handedness resulted in an inch-long gash on his left index finger. Hamels tried to seal the wound with super glue, but lost the feel for his changeup and was shelled for nine runs in an 11-2 loss to the Cubs. Several days later, Hamels shared his story with the team's beat reporters. "That's the lesson my parents have been teaching me: Don't ever cut with a knife up," Hamels said. "Everybody knows that. You learn that in Boy Scouts."
Jesus Colome and his "problem"Sometimes teams can elicit the biggest guffaws by trying to convey information in the most delicate manner possible. After placing Colome on the disabled list with a "soft tissue injury in a lower right extremity" in June 2007, the Washington Nationals delved into greater detail and revealed that Colome was suffering from an infection in his right buttocks. In his efforts to be sensitive to Colome's plight, general manager Jim Bowden made a comment that rocketed Colome past Dave Rozema, Marquis Grissom and other noted buttocks injury sufferers into the pantheon of backside immortality, alongside Hall of Famer George Brett, who had a hemorrhoid problem during the 1980 World Series. "It's a serious situation," Bowden told MLB.com after Colome was admitted to the hospital. "We pray for his buttocks and his family. I never had a player who had this problem before. It was a large buttocks problem."
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