It’s like crying during Million Dollar Baby— everybody does it; we just don’t talk about it. For some reason, every athlete likes to play basketball. Even 350-pound weight-lifter (and later WWE star) Mark Henry was famous for being able to dunk a basketball. And I’ll never forget the words of Bob Costas describing pitcher David Wells, who’s not exactly a physical specimen: “This guy is quite an athlete. You should see him move on the basketball court!” Amazingly, Costas was not being sarcastic.
Therefore it’s no surprise that newly acquired Milwaukee Brewers ace Zack Greinke hurt himself in a pick-up basketball game. He admitted that he’d been playing for a long time and people kept telling him he was going to get hurt, and it finally “caught up to him.”
There is, however, one disturbing part of the story: the way that Greinke got hurt. I was expecting to see something unavoidable like a sprained ankle or a jammed finger. Instead what do I see? Greinke suffered a hairline fracture in one of his ribs going for a rebound during a basketball game! Going for a rebound!?!?!?!?! What are we doing? As my good friend Sow said when he heard the news, “Know your role, Zack.”
I pitched at Yale University and my fellow pitchers and I occasionally made our way to the basketball courts for some pick-up games. Of course our head coach strictly forbade us from playing, so we had to be absolutely sure that nobody got injured. I was a lowly relief pitcher, but my best friends were our #1 and #2 pitchers and our starting catcher (I keep good company), so we developed a set of unwritten rules that would greatly limit our chances of injury.
In four years we only saw one injury, and that was to our senior first-baseman who somehow managed to tear his ACL while casually dribbling past halfcourt (needless to say, steroid accusations quickly followed). He haplessly explained to our coach that he had slipped on some ice while “conditioning on his own,” but nobody was buying it.
With that, here are the simple rules that any baseball player must follow if he decides to delight himself in a game of hoops.
- Never, under any circumstances, play even one minute with a non-baseball player. This one is even more important than “don’t fall in love at the Jersey Shore,” and we all know the horrors of breaking that rule. When you’re playing with regular students (or “herbs”, as we called them at Yale), frat boys, or locals, they don’t understand that you’re trying not to get hurt. They will see it as their chance to score on or defend someone more athletic and won’t stop until you’re on the floor writhing in pain. So, no matter how many times they say, “come on man, we only need two more to run full court,” you must resist.
- No offensive rebounding. This is the one that got Greinke in trouble. There is nothing more dangerous than two players crashing into each other in mid-air, so why take the risk? I know it’s frustrating when you or a teammate misses a shot and you want to get the ball back, but fight the urge. You’ll actually find that taking a your turn-my turn approach is quite fair, and it’s nice to jump up for a rebound knowing that you’re not going to get undercut, knocked to the ground, or land on someone’s foot. *Even I have succumbed to competitiveness and broken this rule. I was playing one-on-one with a fellow pitcher, Alec, as we did pretty much every day. I began to fall farther and farther behind and suddenly I found myself going for offensive rebounds. Despite being called out by Alec, I continued to hit the boards hard…and I still lost. To this day it’s my darkest moment.
- When someone goes in for a layup or dunk, let him score. One of the more thrilling parts of playing this version of basketball, for me at least, was seeing if I could still dunk. When I saw the lane clear, I would go full speed and try to throw one down. I think I even made one once. But I only did that because I knew that some freak wasn’t going to come out of nowhere, try to stop me, and end up breaking my rib. It’s only two points…not worth it…let it go.
- Always switch screens. After reading the rest of these rules, does “fight through the pick” sound like something we’d be interested in? Switching makes everybody happy and usually results in some funny matchup where a 6’7″ pitcher is guarding a 5’8″ second baseman. Hilarity ensues.
- Never “play one more” after your last game. How many times has it happened? You tell everyone that it will be your last game, but you lose. Suddenly you’re going up to everyone saying, “let’s go, one more, run it back, this will be the last one.” This is always, always, always a terrible idea. If you do play that extra game, not only is everyone tired but everyone is usually so over it that they’re not playing hard. That is when injuries occur. One guy’s playing hard because he wants to go out with a win while everyone else is loafing. Recipe for disaster.
As you can see, had Zack Greinke followed these simple rules, he wouldn’t be on the DL today. Obviously he was either guilty of going for an offensive rebound or allowing an opponent to go for one. Either way it’s his fault.
Zack, the next time you want a game give me a call. I think you’ll find our style of play quite appealing and I guarantee you’ll leave with all your ribs intact.