Brain injuries to terrible things. Part of what makes concussions in particular so dangerous is that there do not have to be any external symptoms. Maybe there's a bump or a visible wound, but often times there isn't. You fall or you get hit or something hits you, and the brain bounces around inside the skull.
Sometimes concussions are easily surmountable. Sometimes they aren't. We don't have to review the terrible history of concussions in the NFL, and this community doesn't need to be reminded of the effect concussions have had on Justin Morneau. Suffice it to say we all know that concussions can have dangerous long term effects on personality, speech and cognitive abilities.
Since his concussion in August of 2013, Joe Mauer's numbers have fallen off a cliff. That month he took a couple of hard blows from foul tips off his face mask in a single game. Until that day he was a .323/.405/.468 career hitter, and was having an even better 2013 season. He was hitting .324/.404/.476 at the time; just another fantastic Joe Mauer campaign. He was on pace to play 149 games and rack up 46 doubles. Typically superb.
In the two years since, Mauer has hit .270/.348/.376. Part of that has always been justifiable simply because of how players age. But after an interview in the Pioneer Press today, Mauer has finally revealed that the concussion has played a part in his performance. Granted, it's something that most of us have suspected, but it's never been something the team or the player have admitted.
Bright sunshine sometimes triggered blurred vision that Mauer links to the concussion with which he was diagnosed in August 2013 ... "There are so many different symptoms. For me it was lighting, I couldn’t really pick up the ball. It was blurry at times."
So how has Mauer performed in day games over the last few years?
Mauer's performance in day games in 2015 certainly bears this out. His day game splits in 2014 are actually better than his season line, so it's feasible that the issue compounded and became worse last year.
This bit is disconcerting as well.
Besides sunglasses [which he will wear between innings], Mauer will cup one eye at a time in the dugout between defensive innings to reduce strain.
It doesn't matter how you look at it, that's just not good. We shouldn't be surprised if Mauer's off days come during day games this season.
There are a couple of other things to note in Murphy's article. Mauer will wear sunglasses when he bats during day games to help track the ball. He's reportedly been symptom-free for the last three months, which is largely attributed to his workouts with personal strength coach Roger Erickson. He also wasn't very up front with the Twins with how much his vision was still affecting him.
That last point is particularly distressing, even if it's understandable. Fan backlash against Mauer has been salty over the last two years, and taking additional chunks of time off wouldn't have helped his reputation with those fans. Mauer, however, put it up to professional expectations. "Athletes are wired a certain way where you play through anything," he told Murphy.
Injuries have always been a double-edged sword in professional sports. Players are encouraged to play through pain. Players who don't are seen to be "injury prone" and are ridiculed, particularly when a hefty salary is involved. There is the threat of losing one's job to the replacement, and the desire to endure the campaign with teammates. It's disappointing that Mauer put playing before his health and long-term viability, but in his mind there probably wasn't a good option.
As valuable and gratifying as it would be to see Mauer return to form, his health has to be priority number one going forward. Can sunglasses really help Joe get his eyes back? Will covering one eye at a time in the dugout between innings keep him fresh? It feels gimmicky, but it sounds like things are going well so far. Here's hoping Erickson's training continues to pay benefits and that Mauer can start the year in a better position than he has for a long time.