At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Baseball Trades Get Physical

– Medical Exams Now Key to Closing Deals –

While the rest of Red Sox Nation celebrates and analyzes Theo Epstein’s return to his General Manager’s desk – is there really that much more to be said about it? – I’m struck by the prominent role physical examinations suddenly seem to have taken in team’s ability to finalize trades. Nearly every statement announcing a deal today includes the phrase “contingent upon passing a physical,” and while such a contingency makes the same kind of sense a home inspection does when buying a house, I don’t recall it being any sort of an issue in years past.

I mention this, of course, because of this morning’s reports that Guillermo Mota may have failed his physical with the Cleveland Indians, and thus may require the Tribe and the Sox to revisit their pending six-player swap (Mota, Marte, and Shoppach for Crisp, Riske, and Bard).

In the “old” days, a player might well report to his new team with an (intentionally or otherwise) undisclosed ailment, in which case the two teams would snarl at each other for a while and then negotiate additional compensation, usually in the form of a replacement player or cold, hard, cash. (This was believed to be part of the reason for the Red Sox/Pirates dos-si-dos in 2003, when Brandon Lyon went from Boston to Pittsburgh and back again.) For most of baseball history, it appeared that acquiring clubs had as much of a responsibility to be aware of possible injuries as their trading partners did to play it straight – and if something got lost in translation, well, then, shame on them.

I’m not saying that this is how it should have been, but the current emphasis on physical exams does eliminate one aspect of back-room gamesmanship that once gave baseball a certain mystique. (Anyone who’s ever read Bill Veeck’s Veeck as in Wreck will know precisely what I mean.) And in some small way, maybe this is a shame, and just further evidence of the inevitable corporatization of the game.

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