After Bryce Harper ran full-speed into the Dodger Stadium wall on Monday, he "had no idea where he was." He was nauseous all day yesterday, and couldn't play. He's expected to miss tonight's game as well. But he's totally fine, the Nationals would like to assure everyone. Just a little sore.
The Nats won't publicly say what's wrong with Harper, only that x-rays on his shoulder and knee came back negative. But it didn't take an armchair neurologist to assume the worst when Harper went down in a heap, lying completely motionless on the warning track for a few scary seconds. Denard Span, the first man on the scene, said, “it was like he was confused. I don’t think he realized he was on the ground."
Harper walked off under his own power, and later in the evening, a little too quickly, Nationals officials—and agent Scott Boras, oddly—announced that he had passed a concussion test. A "rung bell" then, or as hockey would put it, an upper body injury.
But Harper woke up yesterday feeling pretty miserable.
“I feel kind of crappy today,” Harper said. “I feel a little carsick, I guess you could say, like the feeling of that. I don’t have a concussion or anything like that, which is very pleasant to hear.”
Harper would have played through the soreness, he said, but the queasiness and disorientation were too much. Manager Davey Johnson said Harper will "probably" undergo more testing because of his nausea.
MLB's concussion protocols, enacted in 2011, are very clear. Testing is required for
evaluating players and umpires for a possible concussion, including during incidents typically associated with a high risk, such as being hit in the head a by a pitched, batted or thrown ball or by a bat; being in a collision with a player, umpire or fixed object; or any time when the head or neck of a player or an umpire is forcibly rotated;
The Nats gave Harper the imPACT cognitive test, a popular exam used across sports in the immediate wake of a brain-rattling blow. That seems to be the source of their declaration that Harper is concussion-free, but the test has been criticized for its accuracy and effectiveness.
ESPN investigated the imPACT system, and found that the majority of studies touting its benefits were conducted by the same researchers who developed imPACT, which sells its tests and training to thousands of pro, college, and high school teams. The studies by unaffiliated doctors are much less fawning. One study found that athletic trainers, even when armed with imPACT, "relied more on symptoms than on neurocognitive test scores." Another study reported that imPACT tests gave a false positive rate of "30 to 40 percent," with a comparable rate of false negatives.
As we've noted before, "having a concussion" or "not having a concussion" is a false dichotomy. You get concussed, and maybe you suffer symptoms from it. Bryce Harper was concussed, in the non-medically-loaded sense of the word, when his head banged against a wall. He's been feeling pretty miserable since. Something's not right.
So why won't the Nationals use the c-word? Ideologically, no one wants the poster boy for balls-out baseball to become the poster boy for concussions. More immediately, Washington is gearing up for a season-long dogfight for the NL East, and if Harper is diagnosed with a concussion, he'd have to go on baseball's 7-day concussion DL. To get off, he'd have to pass a battery of tests, and be approved to play by MLB's independent medical director.
Harper tweeted yesterday (as he was battling nausea, we now know) that he'll "keep playing this game hard for the rest of my life even if it kills me." Once his vision clears, he should read up on Pete Reiser, a Dodgers outfielder who could've been an all-time great if not for a habit of knocking himself out running into walls.