Yankees, Anthony Rizzo explain handling of his head injury, why ‘no one missed this’: Exclusive


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NEW YORK — When Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. collided with Anthony Rizzo at first base on May 28, the Yankees immediately pulled him out of the game. Rizzo appeared woozy, so he underwent a concussion test.

From that moment until the Yankees placed Rizzo on the injured list Thursday with post-concussion syndrome, the first baseman declined from one of the best hitters in the league to statistically the worst. But the team believed it followed the proper protocols, and Rizzo believes he and the team acted appropriately. Concussions are sometimes difficult to diagnose and the symptoms are not always apparent.

Rizzo said his concussion test was around 10 to 20 minutes long, and he was evaluated by answering a series of questions ranging from the basics of how he felt, whether he could recall what happened on the field, whether he could recite the months of the year in reverse order and whether he could recall words the training staff said minutes later, among other things. The training staff also checks to see if the player’s movements are irregular by examining their eyes and making them follow a finger that’s held in front of the player’s face.

“For us as baseball players, the difference between hitting a 100 mph fastball and not is tenths of a second,” Rizzo told The Athletic. “If you’re off by tenths of a second, that affects what you can do.”

Rizzo passed Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol, which involves collaboration between the Players Association and MLB’s medical director to ensure the process is being followed as it’s laid out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. After passing the concussion test, Rizzo flew to Seattle with the Yankees but did not play in any of the three games against the Mariners. Rizzo said the Yankees wanted him to sit out that series in Seattle as a precautionary measure because his neck was sore from the collision, but he did not have any concussion-like symptoms, such as headaches, light-headedness or nausea. With an off day between the Seattle series and the next series at Dodger Stadium, Rizzo missed a total of four days before resuming play on June 2.

“Ultimately, we’re dealing with a player that didn’t have any complaints,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

When he returned, Rizzo did not notice anything amiss. His performance deteriorated post-collision, but no one — not him, the training staff, the coaching staff or the front office — thought it was due to the collision because he reported no symptoms.

Rizzo first alerted the team’s training staff of the fogginess he was experiencing during last weekend’s series in Baltimore. He said that fogginess would usually present itself in the mornings when he’d feel extra tired, but that it wasn’t alarming to him because of how much of a grind the season can be. The main thing Rizzo stressed was how much he felt his pitch recognition was off. He would swing at pitches thinking they were in one spot when they were actually in a different location.

The Yankees told him in Baltimore that they would have him undergo neurological tests when they were back in New York on a predetermined day off (this past Wednesday). Yankees manager Aaron Boone told The Athletic he had no reservations about keeping Rizzo in the lineup Sunday, Monday and Tuesday even after he reported fogginess because Rizzo wanted to continue playing, the medical staff signed off on it, and because he still exhibited no troubling signs. The neurological testing was simply to rule out any physical problem.

Testing showed Rizzo’s reaction time was slower than what is considered normal. Even though he was never diagnosed with a concussion, Rizzo said the neurological experts suggested that because there was an associated trauma with the collision, it’s plausible that there was a likely concussion and he was exhibiting cascading effects. Even though it took more than two months from the initial impact to come to this conclusion, neither Rizzo nor the Yankees believe anyone is at fault for how this was handled.

“I would just say that these things are not easy to try to put this in a fair and understandable light,” Cashman said. “When people get diagnosed with whatever in a general catchall, it’s based on information that is measurable provided by the patient. Doctors get involved with diagnostic testing that’s clearly seen and measured as well as feedback from patients and they come up with a diagnosis. I believe that that process was in place on May 28, 29, 30, and it’s the same process that exists today. I think the medical team reacted appropriately then and they’re reacting properly now to the information.”

“I don’t think anyone missed it, honestly,” Rizzo said. “We did the test. I passed the concussion test. I sat out for four days, played, felt fine and didn’t feel anything. Even talking to the neurologists, they said with concussions, sometimes it’s the after-effects. Maybe the brain wasn’t fully healed. As far as registering as a concussion, there were no signs of that. The way they handled it — the Yankees — I loved the way they handled it. They trusted me. I trusted them. We went on and played. Just talking with them and having dialogue, it’s not like an ankle injury where you feel the ankle injury all of the time. This is a brain injury. I’ve played this game for 17 professional seasons. The grind of the season wears on you always. Do you ever get tired throughout the year? Yes. Do you ever get fogginess throughout the year? Yes.”

While Rizzo’s performance deteriorated over the past two-plus months — his 44 wRC+, .172 batting average, .225 slugging and .496 OPS since May 28 all rank dead last out of 168 qualified hitters — the Yankees did not step in and order testing until last weekend because the first baseman said he was physically OK.

“No one missed this,” Rizzo said. “Yes, it was missed. You had two months of me looking like I had no idea what I was doing but I was competing with the best I have. The training staff didn’t miss this. I don’t think I missed this. We combined and said let’s make sure we can see if something happened. I don’t know. I’m happy I got tested because honestly this can really change the way baseball does their protocols. I’m not saying they need to change. I’ve had some guys reach out and say, ‘I feel these symptoms, too. I had this happen before and I felt like I lost it.’ When you hear that from other guys, it’s like all right, maybe there’s something to this.”

The length of time between the initial collision and the diagnosis earlier this week has led to confusion and criticism of why it took the organization so long to shelf Rizzo, especially due to the severity of post-concussion syndrome, for which he’ll now be monitored on a week-to-week basis. An MLB spokesman said they have been in communication with the Yankees in the interest of providing support and resources. The league is not investigating how the Yankees have handled Rizzo’s situation, and the team believes it handled everything properly.

“I think we’re pretty transparent,” Cashman said. “There’s no Hidden Ball Trick. If there was a Hidden Ball Trick, we would’ve called it something different, I guess. If we play the keep away game, we know it’s going to bring a lot of questions but everything we try to put out as accurately as we can.”

Asked if there’s anything he would’ve changed, Boone said, “No. I think we always, always err on the side of protecting players and making sure they’re getting the best possible diagnosis, treatments, while understanding guys play with stuff all of the time.”

The Athletic will have a full Q&A with Rizzo on Sunday. 

(Top photo of Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Boone: New York Yankees / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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