The Oakland Athletics’ Medical Staff Upgrade

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Over the past five or six year the Oakland Athletics have made a considerable upgrade to their medical staff. In the years surrounding the teams four consecutive post seasons there was a rash of missed diagnosis, bad diagnosis, ill advised rehab assignments and slow action that led to more serious injury and resulted in at least one lawsuit. I must credit the inspiration of this article to a Reddit user named scorejockey and that his original post led me in the direction for my research into this article.

Mark Mulder, you remember him, spent a portion of the 2003 season on the disabled list due to a fractured femur on his landing leg that had been originally diagnosed as tendinitis. Mulder was having a 15-9 season in 2003 and the Athletics were on their way to their fourth consecutive post season (loss). Had Mulder’s problem been diagnosed earlier and treated properly, instead of with ice baths for tendinitis, he may have had a dramatic impact on the ALDS that year and, possibly, rewritten history.

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Bobby Crosby suffered a fractured rib that wasn’t diagnosed for a week, a broken ankle that wasn’t diagnosed for several days and a spinal fracture that was diagnosed by team doctors as a muscle strain. I don’t have a background in medicine and I’d venture that the majority of my readers don’t either but I think we can all agree, a fractured spine sounds a bit more serious than a muscle strain. Crosby, in 2006, told Susan Slusser, “It’s almost absurd to think you can play in the big leagues and need four different opinions before you find out what’s going on.”

Crosby went on to tell Slusser that he was cleared by Athletics doctors to play in the post season if he could tolerate the pain but was told by his doctors that any type of play would have surely benched him the following year if not ending his career entirely.

If I’d played, I could be hurt big-time. That concerns me. That concerns my agent. It concerns my family. My family was very upset. I was upset.

This poor diagnosis may have been a large factor in many strange injuries that plagued the Athletics during that time period. Rich Harden had a muscle tear from his back and then suffered a sprained elbow on his first day back from the disabled list and Eric Chavez had a string of issues through the season.

The kicker comes in 2010 when Dallas Braden sued A’s doctors for medical negligence, accusing the team of causing nerve damage in his foot following a cyst removal in 2009. According to court documents, the nerve damage caused Braden great pain and caused him to fatigue quicker than he had prior. As a result of the lawsuit, the Oakland Athletics dumped that medical staff and things since have seemed to be much better.

Sure, guys still get hurt but it appears that there is more caution taken when dealing with strange injuries like Coco’s neck last season. The real question you have to ask yourself is why did it take a lawsuit from Braden to finally convince the A’s to part ways with their medical advisers? One Reddit comment states that Frank Thomas had a clause in his contract that forbid A’s doctors from dealing with him. I couldn’t find anything to support that, not that I think it’s wrong, and there’s no way to know if that was based on Oakland’s reputation or if Thomas had a bad taste in his mouth from a bad diagnosis he received in Chicago that ultimately ended his playing time there.

If it is true that Thomas would rather pay for his own medical staff than have to work with Oakland’s, that should have been a red flag prior to the lawsuit. Couple that with the huge influx in oblique injuries and the incorrect diagnosis of some of your star players and you’d think ownership would have taken a closer look at things and reevaluated their relationship with this medical staff earlier.

There are other theories as to why the Oakland Athletics would allow their players to be diagnosed in such a careless and dangerous manner but the important thing is that, today, they seem to have upgraded their medical staff and are seeing fewer players dealing with long bouts on the DL with freak injuries that could have been prevented.

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