The surprising truth about MLB injuries 

March, 11, 2010

Five years ago, I spoke with Frank Coonelly, then MLB's chief labor counsel, about the Redbook, the annual injury analysis that baseball used to order from its insurance broker. I tried to talk to Coonelly, anyway. I asked Coonelly about Redbook data showing a steep rise in pitcher injuries. "Back in the day," he replied, "everyone in starting rotations pitched 300 innings a year. Today, pitchers are used in a way where some would claim they are babied."

Wondering what players might think of that, I asked whether MLB shared its injury data with the MLBPA. It did not, Coonelly said: "We care about the players as individuals. The people over at the union aren't getting hurt by playing baseball."

I asked what MLB spent on the Redbook. "None of your business," Coonelly said.

I asked what it spent overall on risk management. "I don't know," he answered.

I asked what evidence baseball had compiled on the relationship between innings pitched, pitch counts and player health, given that executives had known for years that injuries had been piling up. "No such studies exist," Coonelly replied.

Coonelly is now president of the Pittsburgh Pirates; I sincerely wish their pitching prospects good luck. As brusque as he was, though, Coonelly was no match for Gene Orza, the No. 2 man at the players union, whom I talked with shortly afterward about the rise in injuries. "It's not amazing to me," he snapped. "I think baseball is comfortable knowing what the reasons are."

Peter Keating

ESPN Senior Writer
Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. His column, The Numbers, appears in every issue.