In part, shame on us. When Kris Bryant homered in Cleveland immediately after clearly hurting himself on a diving catch attempt, we were so quickly to presume he was totally fine. I think he and the Cubs thought it, too, since he was scheduled to play the next day. Only later was he scratched for a day, played through it some more, eventually getting a wrist injection and sitting down for two weeks, and then playing poorly the rest of the way. We always want to believe a guy is fine if he’s out there playing, but we should know better by now. When it comes to the Cubs and position player injuries, we see this again and again.
As it turns out, Bryant’s injuries from that play in Cleveland were substantial: ligament damage in the finger and an impact fracture in his wrist (per NBC – great wide ranging interview). The guy was moderately wrecked, and he was permitted to play through it.
I don’t know why the “Kris Bryant is soft” stuff persists after all these years, because it’s been crystal clear for a long time that isn’t the case. The guy is tough. He works hard to be out there whenever possible, and he never wants to sit down. So, in terms of toughness and trying to perform at the highest level for his teammates, I give all the credit in the world to Bryant.
But I have to tell you, this story – together with everything that has preceded it over the last six or seven years for the Cubs – mostly ticks me off.
This is now the third time we’re learning way after the fact that Bryant had a serious injury and played through it (shoulder, knee, now wrist/finger), to the degradation of his performance. On the one hand, I do respect the toughness, but on the other hand, we’ve had this conversation before about several Cubs players, including Bryant. At some point it’s on the player and the team to more successfully approach these situations – either better communication, better convincing, whatever – so that you don’t have a guy out there playing through injuries that make him perform terribly. What exactly is the virtue of playing through pain if you’re playing poorly through pain?
Just like when we talked about the shoulder and the knee, I don’t put all of this on Bryant. The Cubs have a long and tortured history the last six or seven years of letting position players play through nagging injuries (or worse) and suffering because of it. I should not have so many easy references on the top of my head – Bryant’s shoulder and knee, Ben Zobrist’s back and wrist, Jason Heyward’s wrist, Addison Russell’s knuckle, Daniel Descalso’s ankle, Javy Báez’s heel, David Bote’s toe … all injuries that easily could’ve justified time on the disabled list, all injuries that guys played (terribly) through, and all injuries that we found out more of the extent only loooooong after the guy was struggling badly.
Either the Cubs just let us know about it more often than most teams, or they actually do it more than most teams. Neither is flattering. So I see this revelation about Bryant, whose performance was abysmal last year (even worse after the injury: .212/.280/.329, 66 wRC+), and I have a hard time giving props to him or the Cubs. It did not help him to play through these injuries, clearly. And it did not help the Cubs. So why did it happen (again)?
There’s a human side to this, too, and we’ve explored it with Bryant before. Sometimes they feel like it isn’t an obvious call on whether to sit or to play, and they of course want to be out there if at all possible. I get it. I respect it. But there has to be a better, more successful way – because clearly, the Cubs’ approach has fallen short.
I don’t have a great answer. A lot of this is idiosyncratic, gray area stuff. It’s just frustrating to see really talented players struggle, and to know that it maybe could’ve been a lot better for the player and for the team if there was just more rest.
Ultimately, you just hope Bryant is completely healed at this point for what might be his final go with the Cubs. You hope other guys stay healthy, too, but if not, maybe just finally stop sending obviously compromised players out there?