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The New York Yankees Fire Their Strength and Conditioning Coach

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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.

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About Sal Marinello

  • David

    I enjoyed the fact that you seem to stand up for Mr. Miller; it’s no doubt because of your background.

    It’s unfortunate that not all of the facts about this situation can be revealed. I would like to point out that Marty Miller is an ATC and CSCS, in addition to the Performance Enhancement Specialist from the so called second-tier certifying organization you mention. Perhaps you should get your facts straight before making some of your comments too.

  • sal m

    there’s no reason to pick on miller. from what little detail that’s been reported there are many reasons for the yanks’ injury problems, not the least of which is the players attitudes towards miller’s program.

    the point about the certifying organization was made in regard to the appearance that the yanks’ management seemed to be more interested in signing a business deal than finding the best person for the job.

    miller may well be certified by the NSCA and have his ATC credentials, but this hasn’t been reported.

  • http://blogcritics.org/sports/ Tuffy

    Sal, what effect did the Yankees’ marketing deal and Miller’s association with 24 Hour Fitness have on this move?

  • sal m

    tuffy:
    cashman has said the business deal played no part in his decision, but given how things played out it’s kind of hard to believe that. especially since they fired the previous strength coach and replaced him with miller.

  • The Haze

    It seems like athletes are conditioning themselves for “right now” rather than for “a career” which might tie in with society’s win at all cost attitude. Where do you think this came from? BTW – Who cares! it’s just the Yankees anyway!(LOL)

  • arlene davis

    I think you made Marty Miller your scapegoat. He is an excellent trainer with a great deal of experience not just with old ladies but star athletes, and he takes his job very seriously to deliberately not cause any injuries. If your players didn’t like him or want to listen to him than your team has really missed the boat. Good luck with this season you’ve lost quite a few fans.

  • sal m

    arlene:
    you mean the yanks made him their scapegoat, right?

    it appears that miller was hired, but got no real support from the organization as from day one players were doing there own thing.

    i also notice that johnny damon is still having cramping problems with his calves…

  • Mike Thomas

    Iam a performance specialist is Florida and I have both the performance specialist and CSCS from NSCA and each have their place in a periodized program throughout the year. Ill tell you all one thing….for sure, the so called-second tier certification you guys talk about (I wont mention the real name but we all know), is the most in detailed most, rehabilitative, and most functional type of training any athlete could do. The fact of the matter is, NO ONE, but the actual trainers themselves know what the hell is going on. None! So when you try to implement these things, no one is willing to do it. That is their own fault, b/c Ill tell you that I use the programs daily with my clients and I haved used it on myself training for baseball and it works better than any other type of training I have ever used. All better read and educate yourself of functional training b/c that is where performance is enhanced. As for Marty Miller, sound like a wonderful trainer and the Yankees are stupid for letting that guy go. Im glad they are losing!!! Go RED SOX!