Going inside Jorge’s head

The Right-Handed Nick Swisher
Yanks tab Colon to start Grapefruit League opener

Former NFL defensive back Dave Duerson’s suicide last week sent shockwaves through the NFL. As part of his continually excellent coverage of head injuries in football, Alan Schwarz reported that Duerson wants his brain donated to research and shot himself in the chest so that his damaged brain would still be intact. Duerson is just another in a long line of aging football players to suffer from or fear the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and people in the sport are beginning to listen.

Baseball doesn’t receive nearly the same attention for its brain injuries simply because they are far less common. In fact, when high-profile players suffer concussions, it garners far more attention than any NFL injury, and over the past few years, we’ve seen Mike Matheny and Corey Koskie retire because of head injuries. We’ve seen Jason Bay and Ryan Church felled by concussions. We see Justin Morneau still not at 100 percent eight months after he got knocked out.

Closer to home, the Yankees are dealing with their own star who has dealt with head injuries. One of the driving motivations behind Jorge Posada‘s switch to designated hitter this season is his and the team’s fear for his long-term safety. In an excellent piece in the Bergen Record this past weekend, Bob Klapisch examined Jorge’s health. The relevant parts:

As the sports world’s awareness of concussions grows, the Yankees’ medical staff is keeping closer tabs on Posada. Scouts say his reaction time, particularly on defense, has slowed in the last two to three seasons, although that may be due, in part, to his advancing age. But Posada was almost knocked out by a foul tip in a Sept. 7 game against the Orioles, returning to the dugout feeling disoriented and dizzy.

“I remember telling [former pitching coach] Dave Eiland, ‘Something’s wrong with me, I just don’t feel right,’” Posada said. “I felt like I was about to throw up, I was dizzy, everything felt weird. The next day I was still having headaches. It was scary, I have to admit.”

Although a CAT scan revealed no bleeding in the brain, the Yankees nevertheless had Posada undergo a comprehensive memory test. The computerized program, called ImPACT, was designed at the University of Pittsburgh concussion center. It runs for 15-18 minutes, measuring attention, memory, processing speed and reaction time…

Posada said the test results were “not good” after the September incident. In fact, his results were subpar in two of the three tests he took in 2010. Does this mean Posada is at risk for brain damage? No one knows for sure, but the data is troubling.

Posada is well aware of the recent studies conducted on football players and knows he has a lot to live for after his playing days are over. “I have to think about my kids. I want to enjoy growing old,” he said. “I don’t want to be sick…It’s something I’m starting to worry about, it’s something we have to keep an eye on. At my age, there’s reason for concern, especially since we know so much more about concussions. It used to be, you just shake it off, and keep going. But there’s more to it than that.”

Right now, the long-term effects of concussions in baseball are still relatively unknown, and the former players Klapisch speaks to — Joe Girardi, Butch Wynegar — seem to downplay the impact getting knocked in the face had on them. But the Yankees are right to be cautious with Jorge. Staying healthy after his career is over is far, far more important than eking out another costly season behind the plate. Knowing when to scale back isn’t a trait many baseball players have, and Jorge’s family should thank him for it.

The Right-Handed Nick Swisher
Yanks tab Colon to start Grapefruit League opener
  • bakekrukow412

    Yikes. Concussions are not something to fool around with. Look what happened to Chris Benoit. I hate to see players try and grind out injuries, only to have it come back and haunt them later in life.

    • bills

      I think players don’t have to grind it out anymore just change the equipment. The NFL has the Revo and Schutt Air XP helmets with concussion reducing technology. Why can’t MLB come up with new helmets and catcher masks to reduce concussions?

      • Thomas

        Well, there are the new batting helmets, but they are huge. Thus, the players don’t want to wear them because they look funny. Also, I suspect the hockey-style catcher masks are better than the original baseball catcher mask, but many catchers don’t wear them anymore (they were popular for a few years).

        You can create better helmets and equipment, but they are worthless if the players don’t use them.

        • A.D.

          Hockey style mask is suppose to be worse against classic front impact, but has the extra side protection (though just 1 study)


        • S

          those are the outdated models (the one cervelli was wearing) but look at the helmets that many of the other teams are wearing (they look like the giant helmet cervelli wore but are the same size as a normal baseball helmet)

  • CS Yankee

    Here to Jorge batting .280 with 15 bombs and having one last parade before he calls it quits.

    Note: This all must happen in 2011 though as we need DH for some extreme power guys in 2012.

    • bakekrukow412

      Does his name rhyme with Shmalbert Jupols?

    • Monteroisdinero

      I have loved Jorge but an everyday DH on our team needs better power #’s than 15 bombs-this year. Hopefully he’ll hit more. Hate to be held hostage to that 13M contract but a healthy Jorge will have to stink it up big time to be benched in favor of other options.

      • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

        What if he he hits .275/.365/.460 with 15 HR’s? That’s plenty of power.

        • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

          And, to put that in context, the best offensive team in baseball last year got .256/.338/.440 out of the DH position.

          • Monteroisdinero

            Well-he did swipe a few bases last year so we know he can leg out a few doubles and triples in the gap.


            • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

              I will never understand your irrational hatred for Jorge Posada. He’s been a Hall of Fame candidate and has been above average for years. You’ll miss him when he’s gone.

              • Monteroisdinero

                I don’t hate him. I said “I have loved him” as a Yankee. I am not optimistic for 2011 and it is not irrational since he will be 40 and had been injured quite a bit. he is being paid $13M and I don’t think he is worth it. That’s what last year’s 27 year old NL MVP is getting paid this year.

                Just not as sentimental as some I guess. I was making a sarcastic comment about Jorge’s SB’s last year.

                I will stick with Montero putting up better #’s over an entire 2011 season than Jorge. He probably won’t get that chance however. I won’t miss Jorge in 2012.

                • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

                  We know you think Montero will put up Pujols numbers this year, but what do you think Jorge will do?

                  • Monteroisdinero

                    I think 15 HR’s is about right. Don’t think he’ll hit .280 and don’ think he will ops above last year although if he is close to it I will be happy. The last time Jorge was in the last year of a contract he had arguably his career year. Maybe Sadoisdinero!

                • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

                  he is being paid $13M and I don’t think he is worth it. That’s what last year’s 27 year old NL MVP is getting paid this year.

                  You’re comparing apples to… idefk iPods or something. That deal is covering Votto’s arb years, Posada was a FA. Votto’s also on the Reds and Posada the Yankees. If Votto keeps up his 2010 production through 2013, when his free agency hits he’s gonna be making a shitton more than just what he’s making now, and a lot more than Posada.

                  When Dustin Pedroia won the MVP, he was making just $457,000. By that measure all contracts are pretty much horrible, but it’s a totally different scale.

            • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

              Figured you’d avoid the question.

              And we know you want Montero filling the role, yet you talk about speed and legging out XBH’s? Poor argument there.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        Hate to be held hostage to that 13M contract

        Exaggerate moar plz. For the Yankees that’s quite fine, considering he’s still a quite productive player.

  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    Quite frankly, this stuff is all quite scary. Reading that article made me feel pretty unsettled, not to mention what’s going on with Morneau of late. I’m really glad to see Jorge is taking care of himself, and the team’s taking care of him too.

    Good article, thanks.

    • brockdc

      Agreed, very scary. Malcolm Gladwell did a great piece on the long-term effects of cumulative brain trauma in The New Yorker from Oct. 19 of ’09 (“Offensive Play”), ultimately comparing the moral state of the sport of football to dog fighting. It’s not such a huge leap if you read the essay.

      Great piece, Ben. I wasn’t aware of any of this regarding Jorge.

  • cranky

    The matter of concussions should, absolutely, be taken very seriously.
    Some of the most recent research on amiotrophic lateral sclerosis–ALS, or, more commonly, Lou Gehrig’s Disease–suggests VERY strongly that it is the result of multiple concussions which can cause the build up of a toxic protein in the brain stem.
    Several former NFL players are currently suffering from ALS. We don’t have any way of explaining such a high percentage of the illness in that population.
    There may be other causes. There may be several different illnesses, caused by different things, which are associated with similar symptoms. But the research pointing to a possible link between multiple concussions and ALS cannot (yet) be dismissed.
    Gehrig had, apparently, suffered numerous concussions. There may be other explanations for the kinds of problems Posada and Morneau have been experiencing. And, certainly, neither of them has yet to show signs of the kind of neuromuscular deterioration associated with ALS. But this is an issue that is, deserving of more attention in all sports, at all levels.

  • squishy jello person

    This is terrifying, when you think of how Posada’s probably far from the only one who would test poorly. I would imagine that Posada’s long career and the repeated hits to the head put him at greater risk than most other baseball players, but it has to be terrifying if you are a catcher and you know that this might occur

  • vin

    Interesting post. I hadn’t thought about the move to DH as being a gift from the Yanks. Definitely makes sense.

    • Tom Swift

      The Yankees take care of their own. This is just another example.

  • nsalem

    Jorge is a great person who has been a joy to Yankee fans on and off the field. He has much to look forward to in his career after baseball.
    He appeared to be walking around in a daze a good part of last year. For the sake of his health I wish he would it call quits now. I don’t know medicine, but would imagine that all the hits he is taken must have some sort of aggregate effect. Maybe the next one he takes will be the one that does the real damage. If he decides to play another year I hope it is exclusively as a DH and maybe as an emergency first basemen. The thought of him behind the plate again would be really unnerving. His inability to catch pitched balls last year was bad for the Yankees and more importantly a danger to himself. After all he has done for our community there is no one more deserving of another 40 or 50 years of life which I pray he lives in good health and wealth.

  • Chris

    Jorge’s batting line after that Sept 7 game: .149/.286/.234/.520

    And he wasn’t a whole lot better in the playoffs: .267/.313/.333/.646

  • http://ablogforarod.blogspot.com/ The Captain

    Excellent post, Ben, and excellent point to bring up.

    Concussions for catchers in baseball are almost never mentioned or looked at. But when you consider how much of a beating these guys takes with collisions at the plate, getting hit with bat swings, and taking foul tips off the mask/helmet/etc. it would be interesting to see what kind of effect that takes on a guy like Jorge, who has been catching for so many years.

    Thinking about all the potential brain-rattling hits Jorge has taken not including the 9/7 one, the move to DH makes that much more sense this year, and maybe would have made more sense a few seasons ago.

    • camilo Gerardo

      but we all love his bat at catcher soo much more than as DH. But, props to NYY for protecting his health

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        If he can even just duplicate his 2010 numbers, he’d be an above average DH. I’d love his bat at DH. I think you’re underestimating how little hitting most designated hitters actually do.

        • http://ablogforarod.blogspot.com/ The Captain


          I could care less where his bat “is” as long as he’s producing. And logic would dictate that Jorge should at least duplicate, if not improve upon, his 2010 numbers without the rigors of catching every day straining his old body.

          Bottom line is, I want Jorge’s bat wherever it can put up the best production, and it’s obvious at this stage of his career that that spot is DH.

  • Mike Myers

    This makes you really wonder about the catchers that have had much longer careers. Jorge didnt catch until much later in life than most players.

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      I was going to bring up the same thing–how much better off has he been by not taking those shots during a young, developmental stage?

  • Jimmy McNulty

    I hope he calls it a career after a big year in 2011. Passes the torch to Montero and Martin, he’s a Hall of Famer in my book. I don’t want an ugly situation like we went through with Bernie.

    • http://ablogforarod.blogspot.com/ The Captain

      Fact. And from a baseball standpoint we don’t want the Yanks overpaying just to keep him in pinstripes if he decides he wants to play another year.

  • cano is the bro

    lets go inside the mind of a Jorge Posada…