Major league baseball is hurting. The season is almost two-thirds over but already more players have disabling injuries than at anytine since Abner Doubleday's day.
As of yesterday, 50 layers -- 7.8 percent of all major leaguers -- were on the 15 - or 60-days disabled lists. Bodies have been falling in both leagues at a faster rate than did Skylab.
Division races almost surely will be decided by which teams can field the healthiest nine. If the rate of injuries continues, a new league award may have to be established for most vaulable team physican.
Here are some interesting facts to note:
Through July 30, 131 players had appeared at one time or another on a disabled list as compared with 113 during the entire 1978 season. That means about 21 percent of the 350 players on the 26 rosters have been disabled in 1979.
As many as 55 players have been on the disable lists simultaneously as compared with a high of 40 in 1978.
Only the Chicago Cubs, Montreal, San Diego and Minnesota have no disabled list entires.
Of the 50 currently disabled, 30 are pitchers. This represents about 13 percent of all major league pitchers.
This last statistic is alarming. Jim Palmer, Frank Tanana, Chuck Rainey, Doug Rau, Wayne Garland, Pat Zachry and Mark Fidrych lead the notable hurlers.
Houston and the New York Mets have three pitchers apiece on disabled lists. Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, California, the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit and Oakland each have two.
The Baltimore Oriole team physician, Leonard Wallenstein, said he thinks a peppier baseball this season has largely contributed to the pitchers' injuries.
"It is my opinion that the increased liveliness o the baseball makes it easier for batters to hit more home runs. That in turn puts extra pressure on pitchers to exert more energy to throw more sliders, changeups and curve balls, all of which are very unnatural motions creating extra strain on the elbow and shoulder joints."
Dr. Wallenstein may have hit upon a legitimate theory. Major league batters have 320 more home runs this season that at the same time last year, 2,195, to 1,875.
Robert Kerlan, California team physician, said the astonishing number of injuries is so perplexing that he and the other Angel team physician, 1louis Yocum, don't even like to keep count of the players coming into their office.
Dr. Yocum said all the Angel injuries have been legitimate and not the fault of poor conditioning.
"I have a feeling people are starting to look at us (doctors) as having a large role to play in the prevention and treatment of so many injuries," Kerlan said.
He perhaps has reason to feel a bit paranoid. California fans might want to blame someone for losing Tanana, Rod Carew, Rick Miller and Chris Knapp to disabling injuries in a four-week span.
"To top that off, Nolan Ryan popped his elbow in a Yankee game last week and nobody knows why," Kerlan said.
The 1977 and 1978 world champion New York Yankees have been mired in third and fourth place of the American League East, largely because of injuries to seven key players: Rich Gossage, Ed Figueroa, Jim Beattie, Reggie Jackson, Mickey Rivers, Don Gullet and Juan Beniquez.
But Gossage's torn thumb ligaments, result of a clubhouse skirmish with then-teammate Cliff Johnson cannot be chalked up to the dangers of throwing too many curves.
Neither can injuries to four Philadelphia Phillie pitchers. Steve Carlton sipped in the San Diego clubhouse and hurt his knee. Randy Lerch was attacked near his home by youths. Larry Christensen took a serious spill from his bicycle in preseason. Tug McGraw fell in the outfield shagging batting practice flies, spraining his elbow.
After adding Dick Ruthven, Warren Brusstar, Jim Wright and Doug Bird to the Phillie pitching casualty list this season, the National League East champions' pitchers have lost at least 105 days service.
But by no means have injuries confined themselves to pitchers.
Cincinatti's George Foster pulled an adductor muscle (near the groin) in his right thigh in a game against Pittsburgh. "The Astro Turf creates a lot of jarring and there's only so much the muscles will absorb, so they have to be in the best condition possible," Foster said.
The All-Star outfielder is on the 15-day disabled list.He reports he is taking whirlpool treatment and feeling fine.