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Friday, March 9, 2012
Ten greatest spring injuries of all time


You didn't have to be a descendant of Carl Sagan to detect we had a full moon shining on spring training this week. Consider this:

Rays ace David Price had to leave a game with a neck spasm -- because he was toweling off between innings, got the towel caught on the hair on the back of his head and spun his neck around like he was auditioning for a remake of "The Exorcist."

"We might need more fabric softener in the towels," manager Joe Maddon told Tampa Bay Times dugout-linens aficionado Marc Topkin.

Then there was Yankees setup king David Robertson, who sprained his foot -- while carrying boxes down the stairs -- and had to deny that his wife was chasing him down the stairs at the time.

Hey, it's always a thrill to welcome mishaps like these into the Spring Injury Hall of Fame. And since I've been compiling these calamities for close to 20 years now, it's time to put them in perspective -- by presenting the 10 Greatest Spring Training Injuries of All Time, according to a distinguished committee comprised of, well, me.

10th prize: Carlos Baerga cut his finger in 2003 -- when he went to hand money to his cousin to pay for gas at a gas station, and got the car door slammed on his hand. Just one more reason to pay at the pump.

9th prize: Rich Harden strained his shoulder in 2004 -- trying to turn off his alarm clock. Turned out that, for once, this was one Rich Harden injury that was nothing to be, ahem, alarmed about.

8th prize: Mo Vaughn missed a game in 2000 -- after a piece of leaky ceiling dropped into his eye. "We're meeting that curse head-on," said manager Mike Scioscia. "We're not going to let a little drywall stop us."

7th prize: Cardinals pitcher Cliff Politte (1998) missed a start when he stepped on a pair of pliers he was using to tighten his spikes. Just one more reminder that it's always good to avoid a little tightness in the spring.

6th prize: Rays pitcher Bryan Rekar burned two fingers in 2004 -- on his lawn mower. That's an injury that ought to be impossible in spring training, except in the case of the only team in baseball that was training (at the time) in its hometown. "Usually," said manager Larry Rothschild, "you'd be in a hotel, and you wouldn't have to mow the carpet."

5th prize: You'd think it would at least be safe to travel TO spring training. But it didn't work out that way for Blue Jays pitcher Huck Flener in 1997. He was flying to Florida when a briefcase flew out of the overhead rack, drilled him in the shoulder and chipped his collarbone. Guess he should have driven.

4th prize: Padres reliever Jay Witasick missed a week and a half of spring training in 2003 after straining his elbow -- while throwing out a trash bag. It still ranks as the worst, um, waste pitch of his career.

3rd prize: Talk about having a rough day at the office. On the same day in 2004, Marlins pitcher Bryce Florie pulled a rib-cage muscle while throwing, then had a bad dream in the middle of the night that caused him to jump out of bed and slam into the glass on his sliding door. He wound up in the emergency room and had to have 15 stitches to stop a cut in his chin. "I need to drive back home and start all over again," he told the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer.

2nd prize: Phillies pitcher Amaury Telemaco was just minding his own business in 2000, working out on a back field behind the late, great Jack Russell Stadium when teammate Rico Brogna smoked a BP home run that flew over the right-field wall -- and drilled him on the arm. I bet he's still wondering how THAT happened. "Tons of people cross by that same spot every day," he told me at the time. "They come. They go. They never get hit. I used to be with the Cubs, and Sammy [Sosa] hits all those bombs on Waveland Avenue. Everyone there is OK. So why me?"

And the greatest spring training injury of all time is … Brewers knuckleballer Steve Sparks will never live down this 1994 classic. After the team brought in a group of motivational speakers whose routine included ripping up phone books to demonstrate mind-over-matter techniques, Sparks decided to try the same trick -- and dislocated his left shoulder. Not only was this one of the freakiest injuries ever, trainer John Adam told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Haudricourt, but it was also one of the most annoying -- "because I had to look up a number later."

If you have a favorite spring injury I missed, please tweet it at me, at @jaysonst. Can't wait to peruse them all. Won't hurt a bit!