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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Mat Gamel will miss the 2013 season after re-injuring his knee. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

The Milwaukee curse


There are some labels in sports an athlete wants to have. "He's a closer." "He's clutch." "He's a true competitor." Others, not so much. But there is one label that is the worst of all, and unfortunately many Milwaukee athletes have been stuck with it.

Injury-prone.

It's the worst tag an athlete can be saddled with, perhaps even more so than the dreaded "potential." At least when a player is said to have potential, greatness may still come, and inconsistencies can be explained away.

If an athlete is injury prone, it leads to a greater sense of frustration for the player, the team, and the fans. It means whatever potential there is can never be reached by not just the player, but the team as a whole. The player isn't on the field or court, throwing the team out of whack and changing the plans of the front office.

Since the turn of the century, the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks seem to have some bad luck in this regard, as both organizations have had talented players beset by injury.

"Injury prone" is such an ugly tag, I'm reticent to use it. These guys abuse their body on a daily basis, and when you're an athlete, things are going to break and tear (and it's why I can't really say an NFL player is injury prone) but over the course of a longer career, guys get saddled with it. There's nothing they can do about it, really – your body either works or it doesn't – but it's a price you pay as a professional athlete.

Mat Gamel, unfortunately, has wandered into this territory after reinjuring his surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament. Since being ranked the Brewers No. 2 prospect by Baseball America in 2009, he has missed important time in 2010 (right shoulder), 2011 (oblique) 2012 and now 2013.

Now, Gamel falls into the "what if" category. He put up spectacular minor league numbers, but when it came time to prove himself at the major league level, things went awry. Right now, the Brewers may be forced to move on and we may never know if he could've become a .300 hitter with 25 homer power.

He's the latest in a line of Brewers players to almost literally fall apart, stunting their growth and the organization's.

Mark Rogers, the No. 4 overall pick in 2004, seems to be finally healthy after missing 2006-08 with shoulder issues and 2011 with wrist injuries. But it's been almost nine years since he was drafted – the team has had to trade other young parts to acquire front of the rotation talent.

Another pitcher whose body betrayed him was Manny Parra, who missed all or parts of the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2011 seasons due to injuries or rehabilitation.

There was, of course, former All-Star Ben Sheets, who made just 72 starts over a five year period from 2005-09. When he did pitch, he was fantastic (31-21, 3.49 ERA), but his list of injuries over that time ranged from an ear infection to finger sprains to a blown elbow. His issues also led the Brewers to cut bait and acquire other pieces.

Even Rickie Weeks has been bitten by the bug, missing big chunks of 2006 (right wrist), 2009 (left wrist) and 2011 (left ankle). He's also spent time on the disabled list in 2007 (wrist tendinitis) and had October surgeries in 2005 (thumb) and 2008 (knee). Some of these injuries have stunted Weeks' progress the next year, like the first half of 2012 – so have we really seen what he can do?

The Bucks have been hit hardest by the "injury prone" athlete the last decade, mainly because of the impact one player can make on a team. Former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut really only had two full, healthy seasons – his rookie campaign in 2005-06 and 2007-08. He played most of 2009-10 before his horrific and freakish fall that led to a dislocated elbow, broken hand and sprained wrist, but prior to that he had already missed large parts of 2006-07 and 2008-09. He was also injured when the Bucks finally cut ties last year when they traded him to Golden State.

Michael Redd began breaking down following his breakout All-Star campaign in 2003-04. His legs started failing every other year until he finally blew his ACL and MCL in the 2008-09 season. He re-injured the knee the next year, effectively ending his career.

Point guard Mo Williams also became "injury prone" following his solid 2004-05 season, missing 23 games in 2005-06, 24 games in 2006-07 and 12 games in 2007-08. He was traded that offseason got healthy, and developed into an All-Star in Cleveland.

What would have been had Williams and Redd spent healthy seasons together in the back court, with Bogut roaming the middle of the paint?

A player, or a team, never goes into a season expecting injuries. You expect health, improvement from the young players, and a veteran to at least perform to his averages. A general manager builds a bench, anticipating that at some point in a long season some player will hit the disabled list or need a few days off to nurse an ailment, but you can't expect worse.

Yet, with certain guys, it's always in the back of your head. They think about it, too. It's a tough place to exist it, and an impossible label to shake.

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