Hands, feet, fingers, backs, arms, legs, ankles, groins and ribs. Strains, sprains, pulls, contusions, effusions, lacerations, tendinitis, synovitis and turf toe. Aikens, Blue, Brett, Concepcion, Frost, Geronimo, Gura, Jones, Leonard, Martin, May, Otis, Quirk, Splittorff, Washington, Wathan, White and Wilson. Put them all together and you have the Kansas City Royals, the hurtingest team in baseball, and probably the best.
Their team picture should be an X ray. In fact, an extra team picture had to be taken this month because so many of the players weren't around for the one shot in June. It may only be a coincidence, but their losing pitchers in a doubleheader against the Yankees last week were Black and Blue (Bud and Vida). There was a night in Toronto earlier in the season when Trainer Mickey Cobb had to take three players to the hospital for observation. "I feel like I'm working for a M*A*S*H unit," says Cobb.
The Royals finished the week one game out of first place in the American League West, with six weeks to play. Their position was remarkable considering the fact that they have had their best starting nine available for only 31 of the first 123 games. The regulars have missed a total of 121 games and the reserves 73. The pitchers have missed 34 starts. The only regular who hasn't been out of the lineup because of injury is DH Hal McRae, and he's playing with a slight groin pull.
Says Cobb, who was one of the All-Star Game trainers this year, "I like to keep busy, but I'd much rather be counting bandages. There was a time this summer when for about two weeks the players were literally lined up outside the training room to use the modalities." (The modalities aren't a doo-wop group, but rather the electrogalvanic stimulator, the ultrasound unit, the hydroculator, the Cybex muscle tester and the whirlpool.)
August 29, 1982
"I don't know how or why we are where we are," says Jamie Quirk, who's on the disabled list with a bad back. Says Willie Wilson, "It must be destiny that we're still in the race." Wilson is the leading hitter in the league with a .338 average. He missed 24 games with a pulled left hamstring early in the season.
Destiny aside, the Royals are a game out thanks to: their strong bench, the patchwork done by the front office, the patience of Manager Dick Howser, their league-leading .286 team batting average, a 44-17 record on their home Tartan Turf, 108 RBIs from McRae and—sh-boom, sh-boom—the modalities.
Last week the Royals did resemble the 4077th. Since Aug. 13 they've done without Third Baseman George Brett, who hurt his right wrist while checking his swing on a pitch by Detroit's Milt Wilcox. Since 1976 the Royals have been only 60-74 without Brett, but fortunately, Greg Pryor, his replacement, is hitting .288. Brett's injury is a form of tendinitis—a chip from the ulna is lodged in the ligament structure, causing the tendon around it to become inflamed.
The same condition may have cost Brett his shot at .400 in 1980, and he felt it again during the Royals' tour of Japan last November. "It happens after I take a funky swing," says Brett. "It usually goes away. This time it didn't." Actually, the injury dates back to his freshman year in high school when he tried to dunk a basketball after jumping off a springboard, hung himself up on the rim, then came down on his wrist. He'll almost certainly have to have an operation after the season, but until then he'll take cortisone shots and wait. As of Sunday he had yet to take batting practice.
In the 2-0, 4-3 doubleheader loss to New York on Aug. 16, the Royals were without Dan Quisenberry, whose 27 saves tie him for second in the league and whose total of 103 innings is fourth-highest on the staff. The Quiz had developed what he thought was a stomach virus. "I must have picked it up in Detroit," he said. "I think I ate a bad goat or something in Greektown. At first I thought I had getting-old disease because my back hurt. Then it moved to my stomach. I made it halfway through the national anthem before I performed a sequel to The Exorcist. Then I slept through both games on the training table."
Although he saved Thursday's 3-0 win over Chicago for Larry Gura and was credited with Saturday's 4-3 defeat of the White Sox, Quiz was still a little queasy at week's end. "The doctor put me on a very bland diet to go along with my personality," he said.
Quisenberry had to preserve Gura's 15th victory because the starter had pulled a groin muscle in the first inning and couldn't continue past the seventh. Gura, who is working toward a green belt in tae kwon do, took some ribbing from his teammates because he has complained about their sorry physical states. "Who knows?" he said. "Maybe if I wasn't in such good shape, the pull would've been a tear."
After the game Thursday night, M*A*S*H was preempted by Kansas City's version of Hill Street Blues. Howser was a passenger in a Datsun driven by Coach Rocky Colavito when it was struck by a Volkswagen as they were leaving the stadium parking lot at about 11 p.m. Colavito left the car to argue with the driver, David L. Roach. Police officer Michael Paschal, who was directing traffic, stepped between them and, according to the police report, was pushed by Colavito. When a second officer, Roy Callahan, stepped in, police say, Howser jumped on his back. The manager has told friends he didn't. More cops arrived, and one squad car was damaged when it hit another vehicle.
Howser and Colavito were handcuffed and taken to the city jail, where they were fingerprinted, photographed and released on their own recognizance. They were charged with hindering and interfering with police and ordered to appear in municipal court Sept. 14. The Royals play the Mariners that night.
On Friday Brett cheerfully popped into Howser's office and said, "Say, Skip, can I have a ride home tonight?" Howser, who had some abrasions on his forehead from the accident, and Colavito, who had some bruises, wouldn't reveal any details of their fracas. But the fans in rightfield displayed a banner that read ROCKY IV. And after Howser was given a stereo cassette player for being a guest on a radio show, he said, "This should come in handy at Leavenworth."
On Saturday Colavito was standing behind the batting cage watching his 14-year-old son Steve hit when a foul ball off Steve's bat struck Rocky on the bridge of the nose. "Poor Rocky," said Wilson. "Bad luck must have come walking up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'Hey, Rock....' "
Blue was supposed to pitch on Saturday, but he had strained his back on Thursday trying to lift a home gymnasium set. "I should've bent my knees," said Blue. Said Black, who replaced him, "I feel like a freak. I haven't been hurt yet."
The Royals' problems really began in the off-season. Mike Jones, who was supposed to be their third starter behind Gura and Dennis Leonard, dislocated the fourth and fifth vertebrae in his neck in an auto accident and was out for the season. That's why Kansas City had to trade pitchers Renie Martin and Atlee Ham-maker and a minor-leaguer to pry Blue and a minor-leaguer from San Francisco.
With 11 days to go before the season opener, Wilson pulled his left hamstring. He tried to play opening day, missed the next eight games, tried again on April 19 and ended up missing another 16 games.
The most telling blow occurred on May 21 when Leonard, who had already missed a start because of a sprained ankle, stopped a line drive by the Rangers' Buddy Bell and broke the index and middle fingers of his pitching hand. Specifically, he suffered an undisplaced fracture of the proximal inner phalangeal joint of the index finger and a "fracture dislocation" of the PIP joint of his middle finger. He had a pin in his middle finger for 10 days and some wire in it for three weeks. Full recovery took about 11 weeks, three longer than expected and Leonard missed 16 starts. On Friday he made his third start since coming off the disabled list, getting the win in a 13-5 rout of the White Sox.
On July 5 Catcher John Wathan fouled a pitch from Boston's Bruce Hurst off his left ankle. He caught the next inning, but felt he might have broken something. In fact, he had fractured the medial malleolus of the ankle. He wore a boot cast for four weeks. The Duke had a shoemaker near his Blue Springs, Mo. home build a special sneaker for his other foot to keep his pelvis level. "The sneaker made me six-foot-five," says Wathan, who's 6'2". "I was ready for the NBA." He was also ready to play in less than six weeks, a week earlier than expected.
So now Wathan, who had 26 stolen bases when he went down, can continue his chase of the alltime record for catchers, held since 1916 by Ray Schalk, who had 30. The Wathan Watch isn't quite the same as the Henderson Watch, but it has its moments. The other night a reporter asked the Duke, "John, you had two chances to steal a base tonight but didn't. Are you feeling the pressure?"
In alphabetical order, here are the other 1982 Royal injuries:
Willie Aikens suffered severe contusions to the dorsum of his right hand diving into second while being picked off and was disabled from April 13 to May 7. The hand still bothers him, which is why he has only eight home runs. His eighth, however, came with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Saturday to beat Chicago 4-3. He may finally be coming out of his batting syncope, because the night before he tripled for the first time in 1,717 regular-season at bats.
Before Saturday, Blue had missed five starts because of shoulder stiffness and pulled adductor muscles in his left leg. Brett missed five games in May when his right knee caught the lip of the turf in Toronto. Onix Concepcion sprained the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpal joint in his right thumb and missed the first 39 games. Righthander Dave Frost missed eight starts between June 13 and July 25 with a sore elbow, the result of synovitis, which, as everyone knows, is the inflammation of the synovium lining of the elbow joint. Cesar Geronimo fractured the tip of his 10th rib making a throw on June 26 and was lost for 21 games. Earlier in the season, Gura twisted his right ankle catching a spike in the turf while pivoting to begin a double play, and he missed a start.
Jerry Martin twisted his right knee making a leaping catch in Cleveland on July 28, causing an effusion that had to be drained. That cost him two games. Lee May was out for nine games with a bad knee and a pulled groin. At different times, Amos Otis has missed three, four and six games aggravating a pull in the lower abdominal muscles. "That was just one of many injuries this year I'd never seen before," says Dr. Paul Meyer, who has been a K.C. team physician since 1961, when he looked after the A's.
Paul Splittorff, who's been in the Royals' organization since its inception in 1968 and who has had a bad back almost as long, has missed two starts and came out early in two other games because of spasms in the lumbar area. U.L. Washington suffered similar spasms and missed 23 games. A pulled buttocks muscle cost him two more games, and a pulled hamstring sidelined him Sunday. Frank White was lost for seven games after A's Catcher Mike Heath spiked him on his left knee June 23. White also suffers from turf toe on his right foot and a spur on the top of the foot.
The scariest moment of all came on Aug. 4 when the Tigers' Dan Petry hit Wilson in the head with a pitch. Fortunately, the ball struck the right earflap of his helmet, cracking it but leaving Wilson with only a slightly bruised, swelled cheekbone. Petry sent a telegram of apology, and Wilson has felt no ill effects.
The irony in all this pain and suffering is that an injury is in large part responsible for McRae's great season. He twisted his left knee severely in the very first game of the Japanese tour and had to go home. Back home in Bradenton, Fla., McRae embarked on a strenuous rehabilitation program and lost 20 pounds to ease the strain on his knee. He has kept the weight off and now has a chance to become the first MVP to enter the free-agent market. He had the game-winning RBI in the Royals' 8-4 victory over the Yankees on Aug. 17, a three-run homer in the rout of Chicago Friday and two RBIs in Saturday's triumph. He's conducting one of the great salary drives in the history of the game.
As big a role as McRae has played, the Royals wouldn't be near first without extras Pryor, May, Geronimo and Concepcion, middle relievers Mike Armstrong, Bill Castro and Don Hood and two rookies, Catcher Don Slaught and Outfielder Steve Hammond. General Manager John Schuerholz picked Hammond up for $100 from the Braves' organization, which gives you some idea of how the team was patched together. Howser has refused to make excuses; he only wonders why fate has been so unkind to the Royals. "Maybe we're in too good a shape," he says. "In the old days, guys would roll off the train 15 pounds overweight and start spring training."
Of the Royals' last 32 games, 20 will be at home, which is good because they're playing .721 ball on the Tartan Turf there this year. "The turf is like a security blanket for a hitter," says White Sox Batting Coach Charley Lau, who tutored many of the Royals as their batting coach in 1971-78. "You know you won't go 0 for 10 because sooner or later a ground ball will skip through. And where else can you find a team with speed like that?" The paradox is that the artificial turf, which is so good to the Royals, exacts its physical toll. "That's got to have something to do with all our injuries," says Howser.
The Royals do have spiritual ancestors in the 1949 New York Yankees. That club had 71 injuries. Joe DiMaggio missed 65 games, and no regular made it through the season unhurt. The Yanks still won the pennant by a game over the Red Sox and beat the Dodgers in five games in the World Series.