Seth Mnookin, author of "Feeding the Monster" and "Hard News" and a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine, chatted with Boston.com readers about the Red Sox, sports injuries, and Phish. Seth_Mnookin: Hey, folks -- it's Seth Mnookin. Hopefully there are lots of questions -- about the piece this Sunday, the Sox, Feeding the Monster, my eating habits, whatever. So let's get this going...
Seth_Mnookin: Some technical difficulties here, folks -- hang on about 30 seconds or so and we'll be rolling.
hurtin_puppy: Hey Seth, curious if you can see any athletes who wrecked their careers by playing through pain? Any good examples of this happening?
Seth_Mnookin: A lot of the stories I heard along these lines were of young guys -- college kids who hadn't yet made it into professional sports. There are more examples of people (like McHale) who never fully recovered from an injury that was the result of playing through pain. And, of course, Marty Barrett sued the Sox b/c he said he was told to play through pain and that it basically ended his career.
petey: What was the biggest revelation you had writing 'Feeding the Monster'?
Seth_Mnookin: That's a tough question, and it's one I get asked a lot...so you'd think I'd have figured out a good answer by now. One thing I hadn't realized -- and I know this isn't the most exciting response -- is the hours involved in working for a pro baseball team, not just among the front office or baseball ops, but literally every single person. Those guys (and gals) are there 12 hours a day, virtually every day.
Seth_Mnookin: Another thing I felt on a much more visceral level was the level of insanity that surrounds the Sox. Since I grew up in the area I obviously knew how intense the city's connection is to the team, but until I was on the inside I had no real idea of just how intense it was.
harry: hey seth, read the article yesterday. How did the old school athletes play through pain and have such long careers?
Seth_Mnookin: I don't think they did -- it's just that we only hear about the ones that did because the others were out of the game quickly. Take someone like Koufax -- his career was over at age 30. Look at the number of players in baseball playing into their 40s and compare it to what the average career in years past. We just hear a lot about the guys who did play through injuries...
Chuck: Who has the better rotation, the Yankees or the Red Sox, and who will go further towards the end of the season?
Seth_Mnookin: Right now, the Sox definitely do, and they have a much stronger bullpen, which is just as, if not more, important. I think Mike Mussina is right when he says Clemens is going to be a 2nd or 3rd starter -- if you look at his stats when he was last in the AL and extrapolate forward, it's hard to see him pitching the way he did in the NL. But -- as the Yankees are learning right now and as the Sox learned last August -- so much depends on injuries.
maverick: When one's identity and existence is based solely on being an athlete, then feeding the monster is easy. What worries more are the parents who feed this identity more than the development of the individual as a person. These people aren't born they are slowly molded to this type of thinking. Even with the improvements in athletic training and medical support, the mentality is the threat. Where do you draw the line between pain and injury?
Seth_Mnookin: All of the doctors I spoke with stressed that you need to be much more cautious when dealing with teenagers (or younger) than when dealing with adults: their bodies haven't fully developed, which not only puts them at a greater risk for injury but means there's more danger that an injury does lasting harm. Professional athletes have a wide array of resources at their disposal. High school students (and their parents and coaches) should err on the side of caution and treat pain as if it could be an injury until they're sure it's not.
SethLuvsPhish: Seth - Are you still a big Phish Phan?
Seth_Mnookin: I still have a sentimental attachment to the band. But I haven't really listened to them in years.
crunch: Where do you stand on pitch counts -- are they invaluable to a hurler's longevity? Or an artificial standard that weakens a guy's stamina?
Seth_Mnookin: I think there's a decent amount of evidence to support pitch counts being a legitimate tool to help protect against injuries. Again, I'd point to someone like Koufax as a pitcher who likely could have benefited from being dealt with more conservatively. There's also evidence that some pitchers see a big dropoff in effectiveness after, say, pitch 105. (Pedro's splits were very stark in this regard.) And finally, I think comparing what today's pitchers face with what pitchers of pitchers from previous eras faced can be tricky: hitters are much better, the mound is lower, ballparks are smaller...all things that add up. And high leverage, high stress pitches have a lot more impact than do low impact ones...
barry_clemens: What's your take on the steroid issue in baseball?
Seth_Mnookin: I think it's a much bigger problem (or issue, depending on your perspective) than people think. My opinion is a huge number of players are using or have used. The MLB testing program is a farce, and it's a farce that's largely perpetuated by the players union, which is like the inverse of the NFL players union: way too strong for its own good.
roger_bonds: how good will Roger Clemens be?
Seth_Mnookin: it's hard to judge. I don't think he'll be a savior: over the last several years, he's basically been a 6 inning, 95 pitch guy. That's not gonna be good for the Yankees bullpen, which Torre rides harder than...well, let's leave it at that.
Seth_Mnookin: Five minutes left, folks...
D_Wayne_Johnson: Seth... there is an article that Mike Reiss linked to on Andy Katzenmoyer who had back to back neck injuries and was told by his surgeon, if you take a hit on this specific location of your spine, you might spend the rest of your life in a wheel chair. Amazingly, he still decided to come back but quit two days into the next training camp when he felt a sting in his neck after making a tackle.
Seth_Mnookin: I don't know the article specifically, but I do know of players -- usually in football -- who are told of the (oftentimes terrifying) risks of returning to the field and the players deciding they want to suit up. That, in my opinion, shouldn't be allowed to happen. And it's the result of the inane non-guaranteed contract system in place. Football, arguably the sport that poses the most risks to its players, offers the least protection and the most incentive to try and mask your injuries.
Seth_Mnookin: Alright folks, that's all the time we've got. It's been great. And for those of you who want more, go to www.sethmnookin.com and check out the blog, which covers lots and lots of ground. Oh, and buy Feeding the Monster. The Sox are killing right now -- what better time to read about the best team in RS history.
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