Let’s start off by getting the obvious out of the way — I’m a huge fan of Freddie Freeman. It’s already been noted that he’s been with the Braves through the ups, downs, and ups again and it’s clear that he loves this franchise like he’s a fan and we’ve shared that love of the Braves with him. It’s clear now by his actions that he’s willing to do just about anything to get out there on the field and represent the Braves and while his intent is admirable and his determination is otherworldly, the lengths that he went to in order to simply get out there on the field should have been very concerning — and it may have ended up being detrimental to the team.
It appears that we reached that point during the 2019 season, which is when Freddie Freeman went to absolutely absurd lengths in order to get out there on the field. According to an article from Jeff Schultz of The Athletic (which I highly suggest you subscribe to), Freddie was having to resort to all types of medication just to get out there on the field on a regular basis at the tail end of last season. From the article:
He took a cortisone injection, then a couple of painkiller shots. He started taking two painkillers (20 milligrams of an undisclosed drug) from head trainer George Poulis just minutes before each game.
“If I wasn’t taking the really hard pain pills, I was taking as many extra strength Tylenols as I could,” he said.
He wouldn’t take the painkillers too close to game time because “It would make my vision go kind of blurry.”
He goes on to talk about how this ended up cascading into other issues, like having to alter his swing since his elbow was so messed up going down the home stretch of the regular season and during the postseason. Schultz notes that he only had a .625 OPS and zero homers during the final 21 games of the season. His production throughout the entire month of September was definitely below what we should normally expect from Freddie Freeman — his wRC+ for September was a paltry 95 (he finished the season with 138 wRC+), his wOBA for the month was .321 (far below his .387 wOBA for the season), and his ISO for that time period was only .125. I don’t even have to tell you what he did during the playoffs, since I’m sure that his performance (or lack thereof) has been burned into your brains ever since this past October. The numbers back up that Freddie Freeman was not just playing hurt — he was basically in a state of presenteeism by the time October rolled around and probably should have just sat down instead of doing something crazy like hitting third in the lineup during a heated postseason series.
I caught a little flack for complaining a bit about Freddie Freeman coming back freakishly early from a wrist injury back in 2017, especially after he made the infamous comment that he felt like he was swinging a “wet newspaper.” Eric had the same feeling as I did and he just plainly said that the Braves should rest him “whether he likes it or not.” Here’s what Eric had to say back then:
Freddie Freeman is a great baseball player and I am a mediocre baseball writer, but he is not a medical doctor nor am I for that matter. However, the decision to play a player who has a clear health issue that is getting worse even without an MRI or CT that says “this is getting worse” should not be in the hands of that player. The Braves’ medical team and the front office need to make the hard decision to rest Freddie and get him healthy going into 2018.
So with that in mind, it’s 2020 and now we’re hearing stories about Freddie Freeman reportedly feeling the need to sprint to the trainer’s room to get some pills from George Poulis because he wasn’t feeling right before the game and needed something to keep him from falling apart right then and there. Freeman was having to deal with a lack of sleep and what had to have been an astonishing level of stress as well and while I’m no expert, that can’t be ideal for an athlete playing a game at the world’s highest level.
It’s one thing to play through pain — nobody is going to be 100 percent healthy all the way through a 162-game season and into the playoffs. It’s another thing to not only play through the state that Freddie Freeman was in, but to also play through that while the training staff is basically enabling it by giving him those medications. My feeling right now is just the same as it was back then — if Freddie Freeman was in such a state where he felt the need to do what he was doing and the training staff was letting him do it, then it’s less on Freddie and more on the training staff and maybe even the organization as a whole.
I’m roping the organization into this because there was one thing that stood out in Schultz’s article that really had me concerned — Freddie’s contract is going to expire soon and Schultz stated that the Braves should remember and consider what he had to do in order to play during 2019. I’d like to hope that Freddie Freeman has already done enough for the franchise both on the field as a club cornerstone and off the field as a representative of the team that keeping him around for the foreseeable should be a no-brainer. I’d like to believe that he wouldn’t have to feel the need to go to such extreme levels in order to prove his dedication to the Braves and the game of baseball as a whole and that the Braves wouldn’t have to make his upcoming negotiations any more complicated than they have to be.
However, you all know just as well as I do that baseball is a business and sometimes sacrifices and borderline-dangerous risks like the ones Freddie Freeman took in 2019 could end up being forgotten if the business who’s making decisions and cutting checks decides that it’s not worth keeping you around for their business any longer. It’s especially true in this current era of baseball, where anybody can get traded and/or shipped out of town at any point. There are a lot of factors that should go into these things that we’ll probably talk about at some point down the road, but no player should feel the need to drag themselves through all hell with the idea that the team could consider this once it’s time to talk turkey as far as contracts are concerned.
With that being said, this still comes down to Freddie Freeman being cognizant enough of his own health to realize when enough is enough and it’s time to shut it down and it also comes down to the trainers to use their expertise to see when there’s a difference between a player simply playing hurt and a player going to great lengths. I’d imagine that some fans read the article from yesterday and probably figured that what Freddie did was unquestionably admirable and they figured that this was just another example of Freddie’s toughness and that we’re all worrying too much about a choice that he made for himself. Again, while I admire his determination, this situation is just a bit too difficult for me to feel comfortable with as a fan of him and the team in general.
While I appreciate Freddie and everything that he’s done while in a Braves uniform, I don’t ever want to read another story like this about him again. I’d love to see him keep on playing for as long as possible and also being healthy down the road as well. If that means seeing him actually sit out a few games for rest purposes or actually doing a stint on the Injured List when he’s injured (instead of having to wait until the following offseason to find out that he’s got all sorts of debris floating around in his elbow), then so be it. It may have worked in the short term but we saw where it got him and the Braves by the end of 2019. Hopefully this will be behind him and we can look forward to an actual healthy season in 2020 from Freddie Freeman — instead of one that he has to medicate himself through in order to finish it.