I don’t believe that there is a conspiracy. I do not think that the Cubs are actively covering up injuries so that they aren’t revealed until after all the season tickets are renewed and the single game tickets are sold. A conspiracy indicates a concerted and well planned out effort between multiple parties to commit and cover up a subversive act. This line of thinking give the Cubs and Tribune Company far too much credit.
First, let’s look at this management team’s record with injuries:
Mark Prior comes up sore in spring camp. The Cubs say it’s an Achilles problem, and he’ll be ready in mid-April. Turns out he also has an elbow problem, and he doesn’t pitch until June.
Kerry Wood comes out of a game with a sore triceps. Cubs announce it’s precautionary, and he’ll miss one start. He doesn’t pitch for 2 months.
Todd Hollandsworth fouls a ball off his shin in June. The Cubs insist he is day-to-day. He doesn’t play another game in 2004, yet remains on the roster for several weeks, forcing the Cubs to play short handed during that time.
Larry Rothschild says that Prior isn’t pitching against hitters in spring training, because he can better evaluate him in simulated games. There’s nothing to worry about. Prior begins the season on the DL and misses one start.
Kerry Wood goes on the disabled list with a shoulder problem in May. He returns at the end of June and makes 5 more starts. The Cubs then announce that he will need offseason surgery on his shoulder labrum,but continue to use him out of the bullpen despite being out of the Wild Card race in August. The Cubs say that moving the surgery back will not keep Wood from being ready for the start of the 2006 season.
Despite reassurances from the team that Wood would be ready for opening day, Kerry is behind schedule in rehabbing from shoulder surgery and is set back further when he is forced to have knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Mark Prior reports to camp and is brought along much more slowly than the other pitchers, which the Cubs claim is due to his past spring training problems. Rumors about Prior’s health begin to circulate after his Cactus League debut is pushed back, but the Cubs insist everything is fine, right up until March 14th, when it is announced that Mark will be seeing Doctor Yocum, to have his shoulder examined after he reported pain following a long toss session.
Now let’s take a closer look at the way the Prior’s latest injury situation has been handled. After his slow start, rumors began appearing in late January that Prior had a shoulder problem. As the talk became louder, the Cubs answer was to site a late December respiratory infection as the reason for Prior’s lack of progress. Evidently, this was the type of respiratory infection that only prevents one from pitching off a mound, as Prior was:
“…doing all the other drills — fielding, sliding, hitting. He can play catch. He just hasn’t thrown off a mound”.
When Will Carroll at Baseball Prospectus reported that Prior was having shoulder problems a few days later, the Tribune acknowledged the rumor by having Paul Sullivan deny it, while simultaneously taking a veiled shot (10th paragraph)at Carroll in the paper.
This isn’t a well formulated conspiracy, it’s the sort of dog-ate-my homework crap we’ve been getting from the Cubs for the last several years. The question here isn’t “how can we trust the word of Cubs management on injuries?”. What we as fans should be asking is:
“How can a front office that routinely botches injury situations like this be trusted to run a baseball team?”