A seven-day disabled list for concussions wouldn’t have done Aaron Hill much good when the Toronto Blue Jays second baseman missed the final four months of 2008 with the injury.
That didn’t stop him from saying the move, and several other guidelines instituted by Major League Baseball on Tuesday, was another positive sign the sport is doing more and more to address concussions.
MLB and the players’ union announced a new set of protocols that take effect on opening day to deal with concussions, including the creation of the new seven-day disabled list that should give team doctors and the injured players more flexibility to address head injuries.
“I think it’s good they’re paying more attention to these things because they’re seeing the long-term effects concussions can have on players,” Hill said before the Blue Jays played an exhibition game against Baltimore. “Not just baseball, but all sports. So, it’s a good thing they’re looking into it.”
It’s the latest in a series of moves by professional sports leagues to address an injury that doctors, players and executives are only beginning to fully understand.
The NFL started imposing heavy fines and threatening suspensions for hits that were deemed illegal or dangerous last season. And NHL officials earlier this month recommended tighter enforcement of boarding and charging penalties in an effort to reduce concussions.
The joint statement from MLB and the union establishes mandatory baseline testing for all players and umpires and new steps for evaluating players who may have suffered the injury and for having them return to action.
The new disabled list is in addition to the 15- and 60-day DLs that already exist. Any player needing more than 14 days to recover will automatically be transferred to the 15-day disabled list.
“It really is comporting our disabled lists with the reality of management of concussions,” MLB senior vice-president of labour Dan Halem said.
Each team will also have to designate a specialist who deals with mild brain injuries to evaluate players and umpires when needed and be required send its medical reports to Dr. Gary Green, MLB’s medical director, for approval before the injured player is cleared to return to the field.
“This policy, which reflects the collective expertise of many of the foremost authorities in the field, will benefit players, umpires and clubs alike, and I am proud of the spirit of co-operation that has led us to this result,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
It’s a topic that has been on baseball’s radar for more than two years, Halem said.
With players such as Hill, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau and fellow Canadian and New York Mets outfielder Jason Bay missing huge chunks of games because of concussions in the last few seasons, baseball officials formed a committee to examine the issue this winter.
“The one thing you don’t want to do is put someone in position the day after or two days later all of a sudden by saying, ’Are you feeling OK?”’ Morneau said. “The worst thing you can do with a concussion is rush back to play. You’re diagnosed and you have a week and if it clears up like most people hope it does and they usually do, with most people it’s short-term, that’s the best-case scenario.”
The committee was chaired by Dr. Alex Valadka, MLB’s consultant on mild traumatic brain injuries and the chief of adult neurosciences and neurosurgery at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute in Austin, Texas. It included Green, head athletic trainers from the Twins, Brewers and Indians, team doctors from the Pirates, Indians and White Sox, and Tony Clark, the union’s director of player relations.
Halem said that several medical experts on the committee recommended the seven-day DL as a way to address one of the most fundamental challenges to evaluating players with concussions. He said medical research has shown that the average concussion — not the more serious ones suffered by Morneau, Bay and Hill, of course — clears within five to seven days.
“The problem that baseball had with the 15-day disabled list was that the clubs were reluctant to put a player on it for 15 days if he could be back in seven days,” Halem said. “So some players who maybe should have been on the disabled list probably weren’t.”
Committee member Rick McWane, head athletic trainer for the Twins, said one of the goals was to take the onus off the player.
“You try to take as much off the player as possible, to try to be a hero, to try to shake it off,” McWane said. “That’s just not acceptable.”
The committee met at the winter meetings in December and held numerous conference calls before finishing their proposal. It was submitted to Selig, who approved it, and then sent to the players’ union before it was put into effect.
“Player safety is a major concern of the collective bargaining parties, and these new protocols and procedures should enhance our ongoing efforts to protect the health of players and umpires,” MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner said in a statement.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi welcomed the new list, saying it will give the team and the player more options in the event of a concussion.
“I like it,” Girardi said. “Sometimes that two or three days, or four or five, where a guy can’t play really can put you in a hole when you don’t want to sit him down 15 days. So, I think it’s great.”
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon wondered if a player really could recover from a concussion in seven days and said he would love to use the shorter DL for “little tweener injuries.”
“I like the idea of the seven-day DL for that little thing that’s bothering somebody that permits you to stay at full strength and not hurt somebody else in the process,” he said.
But baseball officials are adamant that this list is for concussions only, and they are taking steps to prevent abuse of the system. McWane said the team will have to submit a report to Green with as much detail as possible, including any available video of when the injury occurred, to prove that the player does have a concussion and not, say, a pulled hamstring.
“I think it takes some getting used to because what you don’t want to have anyone do is manipulate the rule,” Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren said. “I think this winter we finally got comfortable with the fact that it is necessary and we’re not going to manipulate it. No one is going to try to manipulate it. If a guy has a concussion, he has a concussion.”