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Thursday, January 17, 2013
Busting the WBC injury myth

No Bryce Harper. No Mike Trout. No Justin Verlander. No Clayton Kershaw.

No World Baseball Classic for them this year. So here's my question:

What are they afraid of?

We all know the answer, right? They're afraid of getting hurt, screwing up their season before it starts, letting down their team and ticking off the folks who run their respective teams.

Hey, sure they are. But here's another question:

Have they checked the facts?

MLB has done extensive research about the WBC and the impact it's had on the health of players who took part in it. And you know what that research determined?

That the health risks of participating are more myth than reality.

Here are the facts:

• Players who didn't play in the WBC in 2009 were nearly twice as likely to spend time on the disabled list that April as players who played -- 17.8 percent of non-WBC participants versus 9.5 percent of those who did participate. Only 11 of the 115 players on a WBC roster made a trip to the DL.

• There were 73 players on the disabled list when the 2009 season opened. Only two of them were players who were involved in the WBC. Just one (Rick VandenHurk, of Team Netherlands) was a pitcher. The other (Ichiro Suzuki) wasn't actually "injured." He was out with an ulcer.

• In only two of the past eight seasons has baseball started the season with less than 9 percent of active players on the disabled list. It happened to be the two years in which the WBC took place during spring training -- 2006 and 2009. Here's the year-by-year rundown:

2005: 9.5 pct.
2006: 8.1
2007: 11.7
2008: 12.4
2009: 8.5
2010: 9.9
2011: 11.4
2012: 12.5

Now I'm not saying this tournament is perfect. I'd still like to see the finals, and possibly the semifinals, played right after the All-Star Game, when the eyes of every baseball fan on earth would be trained on this event, with no distractions.

And I'm not saying the WBC is risk-free. I know all about Daisuke Matsuzaka's issues following the '09 WBC. I know all about Edinson Volquez's Tommy John surgery and Jake Peavy's ankle problems.

But here's what I think that data above reminds us: Baseball players will get hurt. No matter what they do. No matter where they play.

Of the 10 highest-paid pitchers in baseball last year, half of them spent time on the DL -- in a non-WBC year. Eight of those pitchers have visited the DL at some point in the past two seasons -- neither of them WBC years.

So what are these guys afraid of? The facts say it all. They're afraid of a myth. And they're missing out on a chance to be part of something great.

Unfortunately, it's not just their loss. It's all of our loss, because we're missing out on the chance to see the best possible baseball theater.