I wish I had picked up on this but ESPN's Dan Patrick — the smartest man in the world of sports — gets the credit for pointing out that Marty Miller's title with the Yankees was Director of Performance Enhancement (DOPE) and that this acronym served as a bad omen. Patrick was spot on when he said that the term "performance enhancement" shouldn't be in any title of anyone having anything to do with baseball, and that the Yanks should have stayed away from any title that worked out to be the acronym, "DOPE."
The Yanks problem with injuries, as they relate to what their DOPE did or didn't do, serves as the perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with how major league baseball players prepare for their sport. From what little that has been revealed Marty Miller, now the Yanks former DOPE, tried to implement an organization-wide training program that many of the Yanks didn't participate in.
According to the New York Post, Miller had de-emphasized running and didn't include free weights, but without any other specifics, there is no way to evaluate what Miller was trying to accomplish. For instance, did Miller advise the Yanks to avoid jogging or distance running or were all kinds of running de-emphasized? If Miller had installed a sprinting program in place of the traditional distance running programs followed by many athletes, then what he was doing was a good thing. If he didn't have the guys sprinting, then that's a bad thing.
Also, a Johnny Damon quote in Thursday's Post said at some point this preseason, Miller acceded to the player's wishes and brought some weight machines into the Yankee weight room. Damon said, "We asked for a squat machine and leg extension machines, and he got them for us." This one quote alone can explain a lot of the injury problems that the Yanks have experienced, as performing squats in a machine and doing leg extensions are probably two of the worst things an athlete can do.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.
In Thursday's Newark Star-Ledger it was reported that Mike Mussina and several other Yanks had either not participated in Miller's program or supplemented the program with lifts of their own, and that several of the Yanks didn't particularly care for Miller personally.
In an April 13 article that appeared in The Lower Hudson Journal News of Westchester County, NY there was the mention that some players felt that some of Miller's exercises – calisthenics and lunges – were too difficult to perform. There was also the mention that the back injury Andy Pettitte suffered during spring training was caused by squats, an exercise recommended not by Miller but by the lefty's private strength coach.
So for all the injury sleuths out there, the evidence has been laid out for you. A new guy comes in and changes the status quo, ruffles feathers and the players start to tune him out and do their own thing. Heck, all of these guys have their own trainers anyway, so there's no way to know for sure that what Miller did was the problem, and a lot of these other guys weren't even doing what he wanted.
If Mussina wasn't working with Miller, why haven't we gotten any word about who Moose's trainer is and what his training program was all about? Has Mussina fired his guy?
The fact that there are Yankees who either weren't following Miller's program or who do their own exercises makes it tough to blame Miller for all of the Yankee injury problems. There has also been the mention that Miller's stretching regimen had something to do with the Yank injury woes, and that somehow the old strength coach's regimen of stretching with rubber bands was better. This is nonsense, as recent research has shown that traditional methods of static stretching do little, if anything, to improve performance and prevent injury, and may actually contribute to injuries.
The explanation for all of the Yankees' problems is quite simple; rich pro athletes do what they want to, whenever they want to, and with whomever they choose. Miller could have had the greatest program in the world, but if the players didn't like him and what he was trying to do they could tune him out and do what they wanted to do. For all the hubbub about phenom Phil Hughes pulling his hammy, since the rookie was in Double A ball he didn't even follow Miller's program, so Miller's pre-game stretch routine can't be blamed for a hamstring that blows out in the seventh inning.
Besides being superstitious and resistant to change, baseball players all have their own training gurus and follow different programs during the off-season. Even if Miller had a great program in place, if the players were conditioned to do their own trainer's thing, or were unwilling to participate in the new program, they couldn't/wouldn't handle the new guy's program.
The story about many players feeling that calisthenics and lunges were too difficult for them to handle gives us an idea as to the kind of low-level work that these guys must be used to doing. Frankly, if what was reported in The Lower Hudson Journal is true, a bunch of these guys should be embarrassed.
Rather than look at Miller as the sole culprit, fingers of blame should be pointed at the leg extension and squat machines and the players who use them. Athletes who train on these pieces of equipment are begging for hamstring, back and leg injuries. To assert that leg extensions and machine-based squats are preferable to lunges and other total body movements is to not understand the demands that sport places upon the body.
If Miller and his program are to blame, why have the Yanks decided to let his assistant continue to run the program?
Injuries have become a huge problem in all of baseball since the steroid era kicked off, not just with the Yankees. Until the front offices of all teams understand the role of off-season and in-season conditioning and how these programs need to be implemented, this problem will continue to grow. Perhaps the Yankee front office should get most of the blame for signing a deal with a fitness chain and hiring a person that's affiliated with the chain and a second-tier certifying organization that offers a certification in "Performance Enhancement Specialization" for anyone 18 or older who is CPR certified, rather than make the effort to find and hire a qualified and experienced strength professional.
Colleges and universities are loaded with young, eager, educated and experienced men and women who know how to design and implement training programs. Major league baseball teams would be doing themselves and their employees a favor by getting in touch with the National Strength and Conditioning Association and major universities in order to develop a pipeline through which qualified strength coaches can be directed into MLB.
The current "Tower of Babel" situation — complete with the every man for himself attitude many players have towards their training — guarantees that there will be more injury problems in the future and not less. Until baseball "gets it" with regard to training, more DOPEs will be hired and fired and blamed for the injury bug that's been busy biting baseball.