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Calling a Player Injury Prone Is Inaccurate

I had been wanting to write about the topic of labeling athletes as injury-prone for quite some time. It’s a label that is bandied about willy-nilly whenever an athlete has a difficult time remaining on their field of play due to recurrent injuries and I believe that it is time to stop using the phrase that never should have been uttered in the first place.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
I was provided the opportunity to touch on this topic in regard to Twins’ center fielder Byron Buxton when Thieres Rabelo of @TwinsBrasil and the new blog Twinternationals with Mariana Guzman. Here's a link to his piece on Buxton.

Here’s what I wrote in part:

The 2020 season figures to be a big one for Byron Buxton; the speedy centerfielder is currently on track in his recovery from late season surgery that repaired a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. Buxton has had to battle a number of injuries over his young career, causing some to label him as injury-prone, however, none of his previous injuries have much in common.

Over the course of his career, Buxton has been placed on the injured list for a sprained left thumb, a migraine, a fractured left big toe, a left wrist strain, a left groin strain, a right wrist bruise, a concussion, and the aforementioned labrum tear that occurred because of a left shoulder subluxation. These are not chronic injuries that could have been prevented through strengthening of his rotator cuff muscles or by maintaining good joint flexibility. Groin and wrist strains are common amongst baseball players and many of Buxton’s other injuries were caused by acute events such as sliding into a base, crashing into a wall, or getting hit by a pitch.


(Buxton has recently resumed swinging and will likely be ready to return to game action by opening day.)

It is difficult for an athlete to shed the term once he is labeled injury-prone; the label takes a complex, multifactorial event — getting injured — and boils it down into a term that infers simplicity, and perhaps laziness or weakness of character. It is a term that serves to distance the human from the athlete.

As outlined above, Buxton has suffered a number of injuries ever since he took his first swings in the minor leagues, however, none of his injuries have any connection to the others. They are all, in essence, freak events. This is, of course, the case with many athletic injuries, but whether or not an athlete suffers multiple hamstring strains or a rash of separate injuries such as Buxton, the injury-prone label appears and attaches itself as if it were the athlete’s shadow.

A number of factors contribute to injury occurrence including muscle strength imbalance, chronic overuse, acute impacts, bad luck, and genetics. Some of these factors can be addressed through training and rehabilitation — muscle strength imbalance — however, often the most powerful ones cannot (genetics, bad luck).

It is one thing to discuss the role that an athlete’s injuries have on his/her overall ability to contribute to their team, it is another thing entirely to belittle a player due to their past injury history.

“Byron Buxton has suffered a number of injuries throughout his career, so that may impact his ability to contribute to the Twins moving forward” is a perfectly logical thought process; “The Twins shouldn’t extend Buxton because he’s injury-prone,” or “Buxton should be traded for a starting pitcher because he’s injury-prone” is reductive. This line of thought is perhaps only one standard deviation away from the thought process that the Boston Red Sox employed during their nixed trade to acquire Brusdar Graterol.

So consider this my plea to stop the use of the term injury-prone and have a more nuanced conversation when it comes to athletic injuries. The athletes are in the public eye and billions of dollars are at stake, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t human. The label injury-prone is a reductive term that can ultimately have a negative impact on their career.

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28 Comments

How many times has Buxton hit the wall and had to leave the game or miss time from migraines. If you don't like the term injury prone there are other terms that are equally descriptive and accurate. Dofus prone?

    • mhanson93, mikelink45, 3balls2strikes and 1 other like this

I don't see where the malice is, when stating plain facts.Buxton, unlike many of his colleagues has not played a full season because of injury.

Fact, which by itself should not be belittled. 

    • Steve Lein, mhanson93, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

The decision whether or not to offer a long-term contract is itself reductive, so it's not necessarily wrong to use a thought process that in the end is reductive.

    • glunn likes this

See my post about Pete Reiser in the other Buxton article.  

 

I am sorry to say that some players are more prone to injury than others - physical, playing style, or some galactic convergence - and to say that they are more likely to be injured than others is not a pejorative. Reiser is just one example of players who saw their careers reduced by injuries while other players go on for what seems like an impossible career - see Nolan Ryan's arm.  

    • 3balls2strikes and Aerodeliria like this
I agree and disagree.

There are a lot of instances of a players getting labeled as “injury prone” erroneously. It gets thrown around too often. But, I’m not sure that’s entirely true in regards to Buxton.

Within the injury prone category there are two types. There are those who are constantly injured because of some sort of chronic structural deficiency. Then, there are those who play at such a level in terms of effort that they disregard their physical health. The two categories are in no way equivalent. The former is a lost cause.

Buxton falls into the latter sub-category. If he could modify the way he played the game slightly, he would be healthy all the time.

People get it wrong when they associate him with the former. But, it’s still being “injury prone” by technicality. It’s not entirely a function of bad luck (though I would argue there is also some bad luck with Buxton). His style of play leads him to be injured more than say, the style of play of an Eddie Rosario (who gets criticized endlessly).

For the record, I don’t want Buxton to change the way he plays. The willingness to lay his body on the line every play is what makes him so great. What are you left with after cutting back the margins of his range?


You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ask guys to only go full throttle in scenarios you feel appropriate, then lambaste them when they choose not to and you don’t agree (see Eddie Rosario reference above).
    • mikelink45, puckstopper1, MN_ExPat and 2 others like this
Running into a wall going more than 20 mph in a game with the Twins having a sizeable lead is not an accident. It shows poor judgement and lack of situational awareness.
    • Steve Lein, jimbo92107, PDX Twin and 4 others like this
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TrrdFrrguson
Feb 16 2020 12:13 AM
I get your point, and nobody should berate a player for getting hurt. But at some point I feel like going 110% after every fly ball or short liner reflects a bit of highlight reel selfishness. If it's 10-2 in the 4th inning, let's pull up at the warning track or let that blooper drop.
    • mikelink45, Platoon, Eris and 1 other like this

There really is no excuse to run 20mph dead into a wall, no matter what the score is.I love his fire, but that could kill him.Why don't you see other guys do it that try just as hard? He seems to lack spatial awareness.You would think your own body wouldn't let you do it, after so many times.Its really quite odd to have it happen so many times.

 If we aren't allowed to call Buxton "injury prone", then no other athlete in any sport should be allowed to be called that.

    • Steve Lein, mikelink45 and Eris like this

A healthy Buxton is top 3 fastest player/ top 3 most valuable defender, his glove and base running make him a massive asset in themselves.Gold glove centerfielder that is a pure weapon on base.

 

Add to that he has shown progress hitting, there is a lot of power and some average/ obp to realize still.

 

He just needs to stay healthy to put it together for a season+.Some of his stuff has been freak/ random injury but some of it has to come with the reckless abandon he does play with.  

 

Injury prone isn't probably fair because of any existing condition, but his recklessness with his play style does make him more likely to get injured.He might have to lose a bit of his razor edge to not make himself more prone to injury.

 

 

 

    • Steve Lein likes this
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Doctor Gast
Feb 16 2020 05:20 AM

The spirit of a true baseball player is to play full bore that`s how Buxton plays w/ true love for the sport. His position is very important & his presence is felt every time he takes the field. Many players are very cautious, afraid of cutting there career short & they put up big #s & get into the HOF. Others play all out & get hurt & put a damper on their careers. Tony Oliva is an example, a true HOFer which injured his knee going all out (he was not injury prone). Wish Buxton a long & glorious career as a Twin.

 I also think that there`s a danger in labeling a player injury prone as it in a way places a curse on a player

Ballplayers that play full speed 100% of the time are often called "gritty", and they "hustle" and the "play the game the right way". Buxton plays full speed 100% of the time and he's seen in a much different light - by some Twins fans, no less. Troubling.

 

I think we all know what we have in Buxton at this point. An elite defender in the outfield and a streaky hitter who might hit .258, 20 HR, and steal 30-40 bases if he played a full season. I'd argue that as Buxton gets older and slower, he might become a more effective player. Once his speed starts to dip he'll start playing those balls off the wall, thus saving himself injuries he's have suffered in the past.

 

We can't change Byron Buxton. He's "Johnny Hustle" out there and he's always going to be that way. Sit back and just enjoy watching the guy do what he does while he's in a Twins uniform.

    • terrydactyls1947 and MN_ExPat like this

Like Darius, I agree and disagree.

 

I reject the straw-man concept that was built that we can only call a guy “injury-prone” if he happens to injure himself in the same way or in just his arm / leg all the time.  Instead, the fact that he had had so many freak injuries instead proves the point....he’s prone to injury.  It doesn’t have to a naughty word!  Buxton needs to figure out how to stay on the freaking field 140+ times a year or his career will devolve into a “what if” like Mauer or Morneau or Koskie....regardless of how we might think of his play when healthy.

 

On the other hand, we can’t be overly harsh on the guy because he plays at such a high level when healthy.  You can’t just give up on him.  Buxton is a singular talent; his ceiling is virtually limitless and therefore pinning an ambiguous term onto him is misleading.  THIS is why people are frustrated with him getting hurt - the guy is amazing!

 

At the end of the day, Buxton has all of the control here.  He will either succeed or fail depending on how well he plays when healthy and how seriously he takes the notion of staying healthy.  At some point he needs to own the fact that he seems to attract injuries, for whatever reason, learn whatever lessons there might be to learn, and control the stuff he can control.

    • Steve Lein, mikelink45, Eris and 1 other like this

I see no problem calling Buxton injury prone, it is what it is. How can you deny that he has been hurt numerous times and not available to play? A player is of no value to his team if he is not on the field participating. Seems pretty simple to me. 

    • Steve Lein, mikelink45, 3balls2strikes and 1 other like this
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Nine of twelve
Feb 16 2020 12:57 PM

 

I get your point, and nobody should berate a player for getting hurt. But at some point I feel like going 110% after every fly ball or short liner reflects a bit of highlight reel selfishness. If it's 10-2 in the 4th inning, let's pull up at the warning track or let that blooper drop.

Highlight reel selfishness? Really? I simply don't think that's the case with Buxton. In his case I think he is only now learning when and when not to attempt plays that put his physical well-being at risk.

    • bighat likes this
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Nine of twelve
Feb 16 2020 01:10 PM

 

Within the injury prone category there are two types. There are those who are constantly injured because of some sort of chronic structural deficiency. Then, there are those who play at such a level in terms of effort that they disregard their physical health. The two categories are in no way equivalent. The former is a lost cause.

This is a good point, but there is also a category that does not deserve the injury-prone label: those who have bad luck. Take for example Buxton's toe injury. Fouling a ball in exactly that spot is one of those things that will happen from time to time that can not be predicted or prevented. And there will be a small percentage of players who will suffer more than one injury due to no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

    • MN_ExPat likes this
Maybe someone should show Buxton Darin Erstads career as outfielder.
There are a number of ways of being injury prone. Some players don’t take care of their bodies, carry too much weight, and end up with repeating injuries linked with that condition. Others have bodies that injure easily. Lots of muscle pulls and soft tissue problems. Some endure the same injuries over and over. An obvious weak spot in their body. Still others play with a style that invites injuries. I think that Buxton appears to fit best in the last category. Fortunately, it is probably the most “fixable” of the injury prone situations. Experience may teach him when to back off and when to go for it. Maybe not. If not, he will eventually end up with the recurring Injuries such as concussions or shoulder injuries. I seem to recall Paul Molitor being injury prone early on in his career. He ended up as a heathy reliable performer, playing into his 40’s and performing at a high level, albeit as a DH.
My hope is that Buxton figures it out. When healthy, he is one of the most exciting and valuable players in the game.
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3balls2strikes
Feb 16 2020 10:51 PM

Ok, no more calling Buxton "injury prone." From now on he must be referred to as "prone to injury." 

    • jjswol and Aerodeliria like this

It is not Buxton himself that is "injury prone." Rather, it is his reckless playing style that makes injuries more likely.

 

Substitute any player on the team, then do the same things: Crash into walls, dive for balls all the time, slide head first, etc. There is nobody on this team or any other team that would come away unscathed from the crazy stuff Buxton does on the field. 

 

Now, most guys would do all those crazy things at a much lower velocity, and that is one key factor. But even at lower velocities, a player will get hurt doing what Buxton does. You can try to train him to roll out of some of those collisions, like an NFL wide receiver. 

 

Can Buxton wear a football helmet and pads in the outfield?

    • Steve Lein likes this
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Aerodeliria
Feb 17 2020 03:56 AM

See Jacob Ellsbury for further reference.

 

2019: $21.14 million
2020: $21.14 million
2021: $21 million club option ($5 million buyout)

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Aerodeliria
Feb 17 2020 03:58 AM

 

I agree and disagree.

There are a lot of instances of a players getting labeled as “injury prone” erroneously. It gets thrown around too often. But, I’m not sure that’s entirely true in regards to Buxton.

Within the injury prone category there are two types. There are those who are constantly injured because of some sort of chronic structural deficiency. Then, there are those who play at such a level in terms of effort that they disregard their physical health. The two categories are in no way equivalent. The former is a lost cause.

Buxton falls into the latter sub-category. If he could modify the way he played the game slightly, he would be healthy all the time.

People get it wrong when they associate him with the former. But, it’s still being “injury prone” by technicality. It’s not entirely a function of bad luck (though I would argue there is also some bad luck with Buxton). His style of play leads him to be injured more than say, the style of play of an Eddie Rosario (who gets criticized endlessly).

For the record, I don’t want Buxton to change the way he plays. The willingness to lay his body on the line every play is what makes him so great. What are you left with after cutting back the margins of his range?


You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ask guys to only go full throttle in scenarios you feel appropriate, then lambaste them when they choose not to and you don’t agree (see Eddie Rosario reference above).

Maybe, but the latter can become the former...

I love watching Buxton play the game; playing center field, running the bases, it's all a joy to watch. But you can't deny that he has a hard time staying off the IL. Injury prone sounding too negative? Let's call him Healthily Challenged.

 

A healthy Buxton is top 3 fastest player/ top 3 most valuable defender, his glove and base running make him a massive asset in themselves.Gold glove centerfielder that is a pure weapon on base.

 

 

That sounds almost like Vince Coleman (without stealing 100+ bases, in 3 seasons and 65+ in 6).

How "massive asset" was he?And he was much more of a weapon on base.

The best he ever did in the MVP race was 11th, btw.Not.That.Massive.

"However, none of his injuries have any connection to the others. They are all, in essence, freak events."

 

Disagree with the above 100%.

 

Buxton is the best outfielder on the planet when healthy, but because of those skills (speed, fearlessness) he puts himself into the situations to get himself injured. He has literally hurt himself multiple times by running into walls. This is an event that has been repeatable with him, so sorry, it's not a freak thing. 

 

There have been multiple plays I can recall where my response was "Byron, you had no business even trying to make that play." The one that sticks out to me is he got burned on a liner to center, no chance to make the catch, but instead of holding up and playing it off the wall, he kept going back and slammed into it at full speed after the ball bounced off it and away from him.... He didn't hurt himself bad on that one I don't think, but he literally rammed himself into the wall for no reason. He needs to reign that in some to stay on the field.

 

 

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jorgenswest
Feb 17 2020 09:23 AM

That sounds almost like Vince Coleman (without stealing 100+ bases, in 3 seasons and 65+ in 6).
How "massive asset" was he?And he was much more of a weapon on base.
The best he ever did in the MVP race was 11th, btw.Not.That.Massive.


Vince Coleman was a poor fielder in LF with a weak arm and bad routes. Vince Coleman his 28 career home runs. He was a one tool player. I don’t see any comparison.
    • Nine of twelve likes this