Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Harden, Hendry: Just say yes

| 8 Comments | No TrackBacks


Here we go again with the non-denial, kinda-sorta responses to direct questions about what's ailing certain Cub pitchers.

In this case, it's the shoulder tear of Rich Harden -- the Cy Young-talented pitcher who could make the World Series difference for the Cubs this year if he stays strong enough into October.

GM Jim Hendry started to say Friday that the club was miffed -- ``miffed's not the right word'' -- about the so-called alarms being sounded over Harden's shoulder, an apparent reference to the Sun-Times report last month revealing for the first time that Harden's shoulder problems involve a tear.

And Harden clearly doesn't want to talk about what's really going on in his shoulder, sidestepping direct questions today about his condition and downplaying the reported tear as no big deal.

That's fine. He certainly has the right to respond any way he wants. And Hendry and other team officials are entitled to be as irritated as they want with media reports that disclose details in whatever piecemeal form those details are discovered.

But they have no one to blame but themselves for the extended media attention this kind of thing gets or the longer term perception that the team tries to misdirect or deceive the public about injuries.

Because that's exactly what they keep doing. And it makes little sense.

Harden, for instance, doesn't like talking about his health issues. But when he gets shut down for a couple weeks and has a cortisone shot and has a noticeable drop in velocity late in the season -- as he did during the stretch run of a playoff season last year -- the worst thing he can do is be vague and hope the media ignores him.

And when the club is complicit by talking circles around the subject -- as Piniella was awkwardly forced to do during a particularly silly media session focusing on Harden last summer -- then the club looks like it's hiding something. Something unnecessary, as it turned out.

Imagine if instead of trying to make everybody believe that last summer's shutdown was a simple, pre-ordained break with no particular flareup or pain, Harden and the team just told the truth: His shoulder started bothering him, so he had a cortisone shot, and in an effort to give him the best chance at being strong for the playoffs, they scheduled extended post-shot rest.

There would have been little or nothing left to follow in the coming days and weeks on that story for the media, and it wouldn't have become news again until his return. Instead, it remained weird and unresolved and dragged far longer than anyone involved wanted it to.

And same with the issue of the shoulder tear. The club called it general instability in the shoulder at the end of the season. I found out during Cubs Convention that there's an actual tear in the shoulder, and Harden confirmed it when I talked to him then.

Hendry focused Friday on the fact that the injury is nothing new. Of course, I never said it was. But it was newsworthy. Because of the way the team and player chose intentional vagueness in describing it all along.

Again, if at the end of last season, everyone is specific about the injury and the very legitimate approach to handling it that they've taken, all of a sudden it's a one-day story, everything makes sense, and there's nothing left to report until we see Harden at spring training and he tells us how the program's going.

Can anybody tell me what the advantage is in omitting those details and being vague about these things? It's not like the Cubs have to protect the information for the purposes of shopping Harden or for any on-the-field competitive reasons (scouts have eyes).

I've covered three other teams in my career, and the ones that were most up front about these kinds of things had the fewest headaches with the way the information got out. And the fans stayed well informed, without the yo-yo effect.

It's not that tough.


No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/19987

8 Comments

How about a competitive advantage regarding trades? If teams know that Harden's arm is actually going to fall off, they're going to be more inclined to increase their demands. Regardless of the Cubs' concerns about saying too much, do you think criticizing them for the way that they handle this information is going to make your job uncovering the truth any easier?

Speaking as a baseball fan, it's definitely frustrating when we can't get answers, so I can only imagine what it's like for reporters who feel that they aren't being allowed to do their job.

The A's were always the same way with Harden (though Beane is quite practiced at keeping injuries hush and shopping injured players), and Harden gets tired of being asked more about his injuries than his game, so he goes along.

It was always a read-between-the-lines game with the releases about Harden's health. At least I feel like Harden is maturing now, and sacrificing his pride and short-term results for long-term benefits (i.e., knowing when he needs to skip a start to keep him in a whole season) which will be beneficial for the Cubs.

I understand the reasons for skepticism, but the Harden situation does not seem to me to apply. Maybe I'm missing something, but we always knew Harden's arm and shoulder were iffy. That's why he was saved quite a few times last year when he could have continued pitching. Things have not changed all that much this year. He will be watched closely and given rests, probably more than other starters. What's new? He obviously has great stuff and should not be put at risk if avoidable.

The "competitive advantage" idea doesn't wash....teams cannot "pull a fast one" as easily as in the past, especially the Cubs. And that's because this silly practice of Hendry's dates all the way back to the Wood/Pryor era and all of baseball is aware of it. Rather, I see it as a lack of repect for the media and for Cub fans in general, another example of poor judgment on the part of Jim Hendry that actually has nothing to do with his trades, signings, and poor talent evaluation, which is a whole 'nother matter.

Jim Hendry gets "miffed" over any perceived negative comment or questioning of his signings/trades. I would think his skin would have thickened by now.

Why the omitted detail and vague explanations? In a word, HIPPA.

Everyone's medical condition is private, even athletes.

I'm guessing they think it'll hurt ticket sales if they admit a player is hurt. :)

(That's a joke, obviously. There actually IS no reason to be vague and try to hide information, really - especially when it all comes out eventually and they look silly when it does. Unless they enjoy looking silly.)

"Why the omitted detail and vague explanations? In a word, HIPPA.

Everyone's medical condition is private, even athletes."

Amazing that some clubs deliberately go against federal law, then.

Including the entire NFL.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Gordon Wittenmyer published on February 14, 2009 11:18 AM.

Will Heilman deal end Peavy talks? was the previous entry in this blog.

Lou's dance card punched is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.