In macho sports culture, it is considered an attribute if you’re willing to play through an injury, even one that debilitates you enough to hamper your performance. If a player sits out a game with an illness or light soreness, he is lambasted on sports talk radio for being wimpy and effeminate. Teammates, themselves ascribed to macho sports culture, grow weary of players who take games off with minor ailments and wear their own injuries as badges of honor.
What players, and the culture at large, never seem to learn — after reaggravating an injury, making a current injury worse, or creating a new injury due to overcompensation — is that it never pays to play through pain. Kirk Gibson moments are incredibly rare and never worth the otherwise poor performance caused by the injury.
Chase Utley, though, is smart. You have probably gathered this with the precision with which he steals bases, the way he positions himself at second base to have more opportunities to make plays, and his prowess at the plate. It has been unfortunate that we haven’t been able to see him play as much over the last four years due to his knee problems (patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia). Now 34 years old, the potential Hall of Famer will likely miss some more time, now with a midsection injury. Via Matt Gelb:
Chase Utley swung for the first time in batting practice Tuesday and it did not feel right. He took a second hack, then another, and one more. That is when he went to Charlie Manuel and told him his right side hurt.
Utley consulted with teammates, past and present, who suffered similar injuries. Their advice was consistent.
“The main thing they said was, ‘Don’t rush back,’ ” Utley said. “That’s when you can make it worse and prolong the time you’re out.”
“I think it was a smart thing to do,” Utley said of informing Manuel. “You want to be careful with these things because they could linger and get worse if you try to play through it. I think we caught it early enough, but it’s hard to know until we have some imaging on it.”
From 2005-09, Chase Utley averaged a 135 adjusted OPS. Since 2010, when injuries started affecting him, his adjusted OPS has only been 116. Add in a midsection injury and you have to wonder just how productive he could have been in all facets had he not alerted his manager to the issue. Instead, Utley will likely recuperate while his vacant spot is assumed by Freddy Galvis, one of the few bright spots thus far in 2013. With his usual great defense, Galvis has also thrived offensively — an unexpected bonus from a player who slugged .321 in the Minors.
Hopefully, Utley’s judgment is seen and respected by other players across the league and the hard shell that is macho sports culture starts to erode. And players will stop foolishly putting their health on the line in a selfish attempt to be seen as manly and tough by their peers.