Arm injuries are the most common ailments in baseball, but most don't happen like this: Steve Foster's pitching appearance on "The Tonight Show" ended with a trip to the disabled list after he injured his shoulder throwing at milk bottles. While pitching for the Rangers, Greg Harris had to skip a couple of starts due to elbow inflammation. After spending a good portion of a game flicking sunflower seeds at a friend in the stands, Harris' elbow became swollen (and you thought sunflower seeds were healthy!) And how about knuckleballer Charlie Hough? He once broke his pinky finger while shaking hands.
Sammy Sosa's home run stroke was nothing to sneeze at; he was, however, sidelined with a bad back after a particularly violent sneeze doubled him over. Or would you prefer Wade Boggs' back injury that occurred while he was attempting to slip on some cowboy boots and fell backward? Rickey Henderson once suffered frostbite after falling asleep with an ice pack on his back.
These aren't the everyday problems that trainers and team doctors usually deal with, but they are hardly unusual in the world of emergency medicine. Dr. Richard Wolfe, chief of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, says no one is immune to weird injuries. He's seen them on athletes and non-athletes alike.
"We treat over 50,000 patients a year in our Emergency Room. There's not much that can surprise me now," Wolfe says. "While the majority of cases are fairly routine, life throws you at least one curveball every day. But that's what we're trained for."
ER docs are the utility players in the medical field -- trained in everything from plastic surgery (to suture a finger cut in the kitchen) to spotting the signs of a severe infection, to setting a bone broken from a pickup basketball game.
"I once treated a cabbie who stopped a bullet with his teeth," says Wolfe. "He was being held up at gun point, and as the robber pulled the trigger the cabbie turned his head. The bullet hit his metal dentures and that prevented much greater damage. "
Pitcher Brian Anderson's cab story pales in comparison. All he did was injure a nerve in his elbow on the ride from the team hotel to the ballpark. How do you explain that one?
And what about Clarence "Climax" Blethen, a pitcher for the Red Sox in the 1920s? His dentures proved hazardous to his health. Blethen felt he looked meaner and could intimidate hitters if he removed his false teeth, but he forgot to remove them from his back pocket one afternoon and while sliding into second the tactic came back to bite him, literally.
For sure, freak injuries can take a bite out of anyone's routine. Hurler David Cone missed a start when he was bitten by his mother-in-law's Jack Russell Terrier. Nolan Ryan once had a confrontation with a wily coyote that forced him out of the rotation.
Hall of Famer George Brett broke his toe while running. Not on the basepaths, but rather from the kitchen into the den to catch a baseball game on TV. And then there was the leg injury that forced Vince Coleman out of the 1985 playoffs. When it began to rain before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers, the grounds crew at Busch Stadium activated the automatic tarp system. Coleman got caught up in the roller, bruising his foot and injuring his knee.
Of course, Coleman was a bit of a wrecking crew himself. Later in his career, while with the Mets, he was swinging a golf club in the clubhouse and nearly put a hole in one of his teammates, striking Dwight Gooden in the head. Gooden missed a start. Coleman was asked to refrain from swinging anything other than a bat.
"A lot of the injuries we see are preventable, but whether the cause is bizarre or ordinary," Wolfe said, "the fact is accidents do happen."
And while it may be true that most occur close to home -- or first, or second -- they don't necessarily have anything to do with the game.