Kansas City Royals fans and management are cringing this morning. In a Pool D contest at the World Baseball Classic in Jalisco, Mexico yesterday, Royals catcher Salvador Perez left with an apparent knee injury. He was playing for his native Venezuela. To add insult to injury it was as a result of a home plate collision with his backup in Kansas City, Drew Butera who was trying to score the tying run for Team Italy. Perez was guarding home plate while Butera was trying to score. Venezuela won the game 11-10 in ten innings. The Detroit Tigers are also licking their wounds from this game and that play. Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez strained his groin while acting as the cutoff man on the play.
Perez will sit out the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and return to the Royals training camp in Arizona. Initial examination has shown that the knee injury isn’t that serious.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez playing for Team Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic.
This incident made me think back to other situations where professional athletes have been injured while playing in international competitions.
The National Hockey League is leaning towards not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea for this exact reason. The owners feel that to close down in the middle of the season to let high-priced players play full tilt for their country has become too much of a risk.
At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 both of New York’s hockey teams took a hit. The Islanders got a huge scare when all-star center John Tavares, while playing for Team Canada was checked hard into the boards in a game against Latvia. Tavares had suffered a torn MCL and a torn meniscus. He was out for the remainder of the Isles 2013-14 season.
Islanders all-star center John Tavares is helped off the ice while playing for team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello also returned home injured. He suffered a broken hand while playing for Team Norway. Other injuries in Sochi included Florida Panthers forwards Aleksandr Barkov (playing for Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (playing for Slovakia). Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg aggravated a back injury while playing for Team Sweden.
Prior to this year’s season, the NHL and the International Hockey Federation teamed up to stage the World Cup of Hockey. This tournament is similar to the World Baseball Classic and claimed two of the NHL’s young stars.
Florida Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad left the tournament following what turned out to be a concussion. He was playing for Team North America. Panthers ownership pulled him from the competition. Ekblad was able to open the NHL season for Florida.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins also had to hold their breath. Goaltender Matt Murray suffered a thumb injury while also playing for team North America.
So the question remains, are owners and management going to continue to support sending their stars to these tournaments? Like I’ve said before, I’m all for shuffling the deck and watching professional athletes play for their country. However, this latest chapter that claimed three players on one play makes me wonder what the answer is.
I am not a fan of preseason tournaments like the WBC and the World Cup of Hockey since the players shouldn’t be playing full tilt yet. I am a fan of international competition when players are in top shape. The Olympics have featured NHL and KHL players since 1998 in mid-season form but the rash of injuries in 2014 speaks for itself. The NBA has sent players to the Olympics since 1992 right after the end of its playoffs. There haven’t been any major injuries in Olympic basketball competition, however the NBA stars have shied away from the Olympic at times to not risk injury. Lebron James and Stephan Curry are prime examples, both sat out this past summer’s games in Rio.
So the question remains and the debate will continue without an answer. International competition is great, but at what cost?