Tuesday, February 21, 2006

We've come a long way, baby

A young Greg Maddux had piched many innings in winter ball and was in the midst of his breakout season with the Chicago Cubs in the late 1980's when he developed tendonitus in his throwing shoulder. After a physicisn's consultation, Cub trainer John Fierro started Maddux on light dumbbell exercises, most of which are still utilized today. Cub's manager Don Zimmer came into the training room and witnessed Maddux using the 2 pound weights and put a halt to it. Fierro was told that if Maddux ever had a weight in his hand again, it would cost him his job.
The delightful cromugeon of a dinosaur Zimmer endured, but thankfully the thinking hasn't. Major League Baseball is our oldest professional sport, but it tragically lagged behind in sports medicine. Much of its training philosophy was mired in the muck of 100 years of doing things the same old way. Weights were once considered evil, with baseball needing to be played by an athlete with long, flexible muscles. Lifting weights simply shortened muscles and created too much bulk for a player to be successful.
To be sure, the recognition of sports medicine is a relatively new thing as compared to the existence of the organized sports it thrives in. Some of its specialized careers-most notably those of a certified athletic trainer and a strength and conditioning coach aren't nearly as old as the sport. Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC) came on the scene after World War II and Strength and Conditioning Coaches (CSCS) even more recently. Both are supported by effective and highly respected organizations with cerifictaion requirements that are both comprehensive and rigorous. As college football along with major league baseball being the biggest shows at the time of their inceptions, these are the settings these professionals found themselves in. The ATCs long before the CSCS. But the acceptance of what they do and the expertise they possess has only been recently accepted in baseball.
Scenes this spring have been of Randy Johnson's skateboard for balance, certainly a product of his many back exercises. And in Mets camp its the tests which specifically test for lower bady strength. My, my things have changed. Such things were once scoffed upon.
I've often wondered if baseball had given better support and respect to these dedicated and highly trained and educated professionals early, made their positions less tenuous, and given them the respect and influence they deserved what might have been. As they were the only group with the knowledge of its danger and ramifications, the steroid juggernaut might well have been halted when it started to creep in during the 1990's.


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