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Next Team Up

This "next man up" might not be so much hooey after all. At least not yet.

But what's Tony La Russa, Rick Hahn, and the minions in the dugout supposed to say about the staggering injuries that this year's edition of the White Sox have endured? We heard the mantra once again last Wednesday when second baseman Nick Madrigal suffered a proximal tear of his right hamstring trying to beat out a slow grounder to third base. The Sox wound up losing the game 6-2 to Toronto, the team's only loss of the week. Madrigal had been on a roll recently, raising his batting average to .305 while 16 of his 61 hits have gone for extra bases. In the previous nine games, Nick was slashing a rousing .353/.389/.948 with a home run and six RBIs. Clearly his loss would hurt.

But not so fast. The team hasn't been beaten since Nick went down. Danny Mendick and Leury García will be the replacements for the foreseeable future, and beginning with Thursday's 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays prior to the weekend's three-game sweep of the Tigers in Detroit, that duo has combined for five hits, four walks, three RBIs, a two-base hit, and an on-base percentage of .529. Mendick also made a superb play on Friday, cradling a hard ground ball behind second base for the final out in the bottom of the tenth inning, preserving a 5-4 Sox win.

Consider that the Sox now possess a 41-24 record and a 5½-game division lead over Cleveland. All without Eloy Jiménez who very well might have been into double digits in home runs at this point. Since centerfielder Luis Robert went to the sidelines on May 2 with a torn hip flexor, the team is 26-12. Michael Kopech tweaked a hammie on May 26, yet the fellas are 13-4 awaiting his return to the pitching staff.

The wins have piled up right along with the injuries.

At the present time, Billy Hamilton, Jace Fry and Jimmy Cordero have joined the aforementioned quartet on the sidelines. Fan favorite Hamilton won't be back before June 25 while he nurses a sore oblique; reliever Fry could return this week, while Cordero has had surgery and is done for the season.

The most recent "next man" is outfielder Brian Goodwin, a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Nationals, who has bounced around since then. His best season was 2019 with the Angels when he hit .262 with 17 homers. The Pirates released Goodwin in early May, and Hahn signed him the next day, stationing him at Triple-A Charlotte.

Goodwin took Madrigal's spot on the active roster, and La Russa put him in the lineup on Saturday. "Next Man" Goodwin doubled in a run in his first at-bat and then smacked a three-run homer next time up. Recording the games on one's DVR is recommended these days in order to verify what's happening. Otherwise you can be excused for not believing the reports.

While some big names have been idled, as far as numbers are concerned, the White Sox have gotten off rather easily in terms of injuries so far this season. A perusal of the Injured Lists (IL) of the 40-man rosters of all 30 clubs discloses that 247 players were on the sidelines as of last Saturday. Remember, folks, this is not the NFL where violence is required. Shorn tendons and broken bones are expected at Soldier Field and other venues. Rosters are decimated by mid-season. The subject here focuses on the serene activity of baseball, a non-contact endeavor played on the green pastures of America.

The Oakland A's have just four players on their IL, the fewest of any team. Perhaps not surprisingly, the A's are atop the AL West.

However, that theory is quickly disproven because the Giants' IL contains 13 players, and they, too, are leading their division.

Tampa Bay will invade The Grate the next three days, sporting the American League's best record of 42-24. The Rays have nine players on the IL, of which eight are pitchers. The antidote is that the Rays stockpile pitchers like we accumulated hand sanitizer these past months. They trade Blake Snell to San Diego - where he hasn't been very good - because they know Tyler Glasnow is ready to be an ace. He'll face Lance Lynn in the match-up this evening at The Grate.

Ten teams have at least 10 players of their 40-man roster on the IL. Torn rotator cuffs, pulled hamstrings and obliques, tightness of lower backs and calves are as common as doubles, triples, and homers. The game's best player, Mike Trout, has a strained calf which reports say will sideline him for six to eight weeks. Taking a page from the White Sox, the Angels were four games under .500 when Trout was injured. Since then they've gone 15-10.

Some of us older folks recall the attention that consecutive game streaks attracted. The number 2,130 was synonymous with Lou Gehrig until Cal Ripken played in 2,632 games without a break. Locally the Cubs' Billy Williams played in 1,117 consecutive games between 1963-70, the sixth longest streak in history. Ernie Banks ranks 15th with 717 between 1956-61, and Sox second baseman Nellie Fox never missed one game between 1951 and 1962, which is 11th on the all-time list, a total of 798 games.

Not being a physical therapist, I have to assume these guys had anatomies that included hamstrings and obliques. They all played hard. They stretched singles into doubles. They went into the hole to nab hard hit shots and ran into the gaps to catch flyballs. Why didn't they get hurt as often as today's players?

Of the top 20 consecutive game streaks, only Miguel Tejada's 1,152 - No. 5 all-time - occurred this century from, 2000 to 2007. Kansas City's Whit Merrifeld presently has the longest streak, but it is only 275 games. Because of injuries and scheduled days off, consecutive game streaks have gone the way of complete games and guys who can steal 100 bases.

So why are hordes of players hurting themselves? Players today usually train year-round. Stretching is an integral part of pre-game preparation. Weight training and work in the gym are staples of the game. Nutrition is part of the training regimen.

At this time, no one has the answers for keeping players off the IL. A guy like Luis Robert is a physical specimen: long, slender, muscular, possessor of great reflexes and speed. Maybe his body, as sculpted as it is, simply isn't strong enough to endure what his brain tells it to do.

But Madrigal? He's just a little guy, not noted for strength or exceptional speed. His injury sounds devastating. Apparently the hamstring is composed of four muscles all connected to the bone where the top of his leg meets his buttocks. Simply running to first base, the tendons connecting those muscles gave way. Surgery to re-attach the hamstring may be indicated. If so, he's done until 2022.

Years ago baseball players were instructed not to lift weights. The thinking was that building muscle mass meant less flexibility. Muscle-bound guys couldn't swing or throw freely. Players like Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, while strong, were long and lanky. They never pumped iron. And they rarely got hurt.

Babe Ruth was notorious for his sloppy habits. He was a glutton and a drinker, and he had a paunch. Like other players, he would report to spring training overweight and out of shape. And he arguably was the greatest ever while rarely missing a game because of injury.

The rash of injuries will be a hot topic this off-season. Keeping your best players on the field will dictate how a ballclub will finish. That is, unless the next man up turns out to be as good or better than the guy who hobbles off the field.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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