Curtis Granderson’s Bad Luck

New York Yankees left fielder Curtis Granderson’s latest problem: He shows off his arm cast in the dugout after he broke his pinky yesterday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. This was the second time this season Granderson suffered a broken bone from a pitched ball. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This may not have happened if Curtis Granderson had gone to elementary school in the 1950s and absorbed his “Duck and cover” lessons. In those days, and into the 1960s, teachers instructed their students to duck under their desks and put their arms over their heads to protect themselves from the USSR’s nuclear attack.

It is certainly debateable how helpful that would have been when the rockets red glare filled the school’s windows, but if Granderson had been a tiny bit more nimble he may not have gotten hit by a pitch twice in one season to break bones and spend most of 2013 on the disabled list.

First it was a broken arm and now it is a broken pinkie finger. It’s surprising that the New York Yankee outfielder’s broken bones have not caused an on-field riot or two since that’s the way it is in big-league ball in the 2000s. It is always presumed that a pitcher hit a hitter on purpose.

In prior decades getting hit by a pitch was seen as more part of the game, not automatic reason for a brawl. Not that there haven’t been some terrible injuries resulting from batters being struck by pitched balls. The most egregious circumstance, of course, was Yankee hurler Carl Mays nailing Cleveland infielder Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch that did kill him.

In 1955, the great Minnie Minoso–who was a magnet for pitched balls–was hit in the head with a pitch from Bob Grim and hospitalized.

Some batters crowded the plate and refused to back down to fireballing pitchers. Some considered sacrificing their body for the team part of what they brought to the lineup. Some batters irritated pitchers on purpose, just about daring them to throw at them.

Hughie Jennings is the all-time record-holder for being hit by pitched balls with 287. An infielder with a lifetime .312 average ending in 1918 and more prominent later as a Hall of Fame manager, Jennings was of the sort that tried to get on a pitcher’s nerves and pretty much expected to get thrown at.

Craig Biggio, much more recently a star with the Houston Astros, is second on the list with 285 times being hit. Among others in the top 10 are Minoso, Frank Robinson, the Orioles and Reds slugger who played the game as if daring a pitcher to throw him something appealing to hit, and Ron Hunt, the human pin-cushion for the New York Mets.

But if there was an art to taking pitches as a method of getting a free base, part of that artistic endeavor was walking away just with a black-and-blue mark, not exile onto the disabled list. It is one thing to court injury, another altogether to get injured, which no one tries to do.

The Mays-Chapman case represents the only fatality during a Major League game and the worst beaning of all time. The Jack Hamilton pitch that clobbered Tony Conigliaro of the Red Sox in 1967 is one of the worst such incidents, virtually ruining the young Boston star player’s career.

In 2000, Roger Clemens knocked Mike Piazza unconscious with a fastball to the head that gave him a concussion.

Hall of Fame catcher Mickey Cochrane‘s career was ended in 1937 when he took a pitch to the head, one of the worst consequences of any beaning.

Pete Reiser, Don Zimmer and Dickie Thon are among those who were struck by fastballs in the head or full-on in the face who suffered terribly from their on-field injury and had their careers affected long-term.

There is little doubt that Granderson is frustrated. The three-time All-Star was originally sidelined in spring training and had played in just eight games this season when he was hit by a second pitch a few days ago and is now expected to miss another eight to 10 weeks of play. Initially, Granderson incurred a broken right arm and missed about three months of competition. Now it’s a broken bone in his left hand.

Going out with injuries from being hit by a pitch twice in a season just doesn’t happen. But Granderson is fortunate that the injuries he has suffered are easily fixable and won’t impair his long-term health. It may be irritating to break a finger, but it’s a lot worse to cope with a head injury.

Topics: Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

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