Rymer Liriano and the Risks of Baseball

Last night, Brewers outfielder Rymer Liriano was hit by a pitch and severely injured. Liriano reportedly suffered facial fractures, and the incident forced him to spend the night in the hospital for observation. The pitch struck the 24-year-old outfielder right under the brim of his batting helmet. “You know that the sound is different,” Jake Elmore, who was two spots below Liriano in Sunday’s lineup, told reporters. “That slap against the flesh. That’s when you know it’s not good.”
Manager Craig Counsell’s only update for reporters was that Liriano was conscious but that “It’s serious.” The only reported diagnosis as of last night was “fractures.” Hopefully this is an injury that looks worse than it was and that Liriano is able to make a quick recovery. Last year, Aroldis Chapman had to get staples across his skull on March 21st after taking a line drive off his head and was back in action by April 6th. The human body is capable of amazing things.
But at this point, Liriano’s Opening Day status and, ultimately, his battle for one of the final roster spots on the Brewers is an afterthought. Beyond the facial fractures, the native of the Dominican Republic almost certainly suffered a concussion. And with a hit sustained so close to his eye, vision problems could be a concern as well.
Every baseball player knows an accident like this — and that’s all this was, a pitch that got away from Dodgers pitcher Matt West — is possible every time they suit up. But this sharpens our focus on exactly what professional players put on the line every time they step up to the plate, whether it’s in a game that counts or in meaningless spring action, when players are warming up their arms and getting in their hacks.
For Liriano, even if he escapes any long-term medical issues from this injury, it threatens his best last chance to break camp with a major-league roster after flaming out with San Diego. Luckily, Liriano turned in 48 days of service time in 2014 and is thus eligible for Major League Baseball’s $34,000 annual pension — the cutoff is 43 days — as well as lifetime healthcare coverage. This is the kind of situation that shows why previous generations of major-league players fought so hard for their benefits. Their work is extremely dangerous, and careers can be threatened when a ball slips out of someone’s hand and careens 90-plus mph at someone’s body.
Baseball players, amazingly, are not paid for spring training. Liriano, thankfully, has the protection of the MLBPA behind him. The majority of the players in camps this year are not — they’re the players wearing the high numbers with no names on the back who announcers jokingly refer to as simply Minor League Guy. These players are already subject to unimaginably poor conditions throughout spring training. Should one of them suffer a similar injury to what Liriano did today, their careers could be over and they would be left with nothing — no support like the major leaguers have fought for and won, and not even payment for the labor he was performing when he was hurt.
Hopefully Liriano is able to make a full recovery and do so swiftly, and hopefully he is able to continue his pursuit of a major-league career. What happened Sunday night was awful. It is also part of what baseball players risk every day when they show up to the park. These risks are exactly why major leaguers fought for their union benefits, and exactly why minor leaguers deserve protections as well.
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