Alex Avila was likely going to be out of the lineup during Monday's game against the Chicago White Sox even before colliding with Prince Fielder on Sunday afternoon, but Jim Leyland revealed that Avila started to experience headaches "immediately" on Monday afternoon after taking batting practice. Per a decision made by the team's training staff, Avila was completely unavailable for yesterday's game.
"I got word just prior to the game that Alex was a total scratch for today," Leyland said. "He took batting practice -- he actually swung pretty good -- but he got a headache and didn't feel very well at all. He got a headache right away."
If I am in charge of the Tigers, I take it a step further: shut him down for 2012. At this point -- being down three games in a divisional race with 16 remaining -- Avila's sub-par production in 2012 won't make a difference between making the postseason or finishing in second place. And this assumes that Avila would be 100 percent even after he is done experiencing headaches and other concussion-like symptoms. Factor in his age, injury history, and value to the team beyond 2012, and there is little reason to let him play another game this season.
We have heard all about the measures that sports leagues have taken to reduce the number of concussions during games, including the MLB's institution of a seven-game disabled list for players who were concussed or experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Had Avila's injury occurred earlier in the year, it's probably a safe bet that the Tigers would have exercised this option. At this point, an announced roster move would be largely unnecessary, though conveniently transparent.
Concussions and other brain injuries are extremely complicated. Symptoms often come and go with little warning, but often also linger for much longer than injuries to other areas of the body. They may also come on when a person exerts themselves, as seemed to be the case with Avila yesterday. While this is a good sign compared to him experiencing non-activity-related headaches -- such as if he were sitting on his couch and suddenly got a headache -- it's still not a good sign overall.
Justin Morneau only played 69 games in 2011 after suffering a concussion and to this day doesn't seem like the same player he used to be. Many athletes across multiple sports who have suffered head injuries during their playing careers suffer from a reduced quality of life after retirement. The odds of permanent brain damage increase with multiple head injuries, and those who have recently suffered such an injury are at a greater risk of re-injury. Simply put, playing Avila in the next few weeks puts his brain at risk for further, and possibly permanent, damage.
I sincerely hope that I am blowing this situation out of proportion and that Avila's headaches were a one-day occurrence. However, even if his symptoms are completely gone today, putting him on the field -- especially at his position -- puts him at risk for possibly irreversible damage. I hope that the Tigers make the smart and safe move, and end Avila's season before another injury ends it for him.