Conforto Needs The Mets To Learn From Concussion History
On August 16, 2009, David Wright stepped up to the plate against Matt Cain, and he would get hit on the helmet knocking him unconscious. As a result of the hit by pitch, Wright would sustain a concussion. Up until that point in the season, Wright was hitting .324/.414/.467. He would miss 15 games, and in the 29 games after he returned, he would wear a ridiculously large helmet and hit .239/.289/.367.
For years, there would be questions about whether Wright could ever be the same player after getting hit by that pitch. Some would surmise he was gun shy on inside pitches. There were other theories as well. However, what is not oft discussed is whether the Mets were sufficiently cautious in bringing him back from his concussion.
That’s not a discussion people had with respect to Ryan Church,. In real time, people thought the Mets handling of him and his concussion went well beyond negligence. In fact, they showed ignorance and stupidity.
On May 20, 2008, Church slid into second base in an attempt to break up a double play. On the slide, Yunel Escobar‘s knee hit him in the helmet with such force it rendered Church unconscious. It was his second concussion in little more than three months. After missing just one game, he would board a plane and fly with the team to Colorado. It would be a couple of weeks before he hit the disabled list.
Prior to the concussion, Church as a revelation for the Mets. Over his first 43 games, he was hitting .311/.379/.534. After the concussion, he hit .241/.313/.342. He wasn’t much better in 2009, and to add insult to injury Mets manager Jerry Manuel questioned his toughness and went so far to cite how Wright came back from his concussion.
Of course, Manuel was such a terrible manager he was never aware of how Wright struggled after his concussion.
Effectively speaking, this concussion and the Mets handling of it ended Church’s career. He was never quite the same player again, and after the 2010 season, he was out of baseball. The same was likely the case for another Mets outfielder.
On July 23, 2010, Jason Bay ran head first into a wall at Dodger Stadium, and he suffered a concussion on the play. He’d fly back with the team from Los Angeles to New York.
While we remember Bay’s tenure with the Mets as a complete disappointment, at that point in the season he was an above average hitter with a 1.5 WAR on track for a near 3.0 WAR season. Despite the concussion, Bay would actually play two more games before being shut down for the rest of the year. To be fair Bay was not the hitter the Mets expected him to be. Although, no one was in the days of the Great Wall of Flushing.
As bad as Bay was in 2010, he kept getting worse in the ensuing years. He’d retire at the age of 34 after his $66 million contract expired.
If we are being honest, we do not know what impact concussions had on any of these players. With each player, there were extenuating circumstances. We have also seen concussions are not a death sentence for anyone’s career.
For example, Wright had a great 2010 season, and he would have great years leading up to his career ending spinal stenosis. Mike Piazza was concussed by a Roger Clemens fastball on July 8, 2000. He would return five days later, and he would hit .294/.380/.518 (which was a big drop-off for him) in a season where he would led the Mets to the World Series. He would also show no ill effects going forward with a great 2001 season. Ultimately, it was the wear and tear from catching and age, not the head injury, which led to the end of Piazza’s career.
No player is alike, and we have seen seemingly recovered athletes struggle from their returns from concussions. When handled poorly, you have the potential to ruin careers. We saw that with Church, and we have seen it with athletes in other sports as well.
This is the dilemma facing the Mets right now. So far, they have done everything right with Michael Conforto. They have apparently learned from their lessons from their gross mishandling of concussions in the past. That said, there is the natural pull from the team to rush him back from this injury.
With Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, and Robinson Cano on the IL, the team desperately needs him in the lineup. That said, they need a healthy and ready to play Conforto. When that time will be is anyone’s best guess. The key here for the Mets and especially for Conforto and his career is they guess right.