Justin Morneau has another concussion. Those words are devastating. Diving for a ball at first base last Wednesday, Morneau suffered a strained neck and began to suffer the symptoms that, by now, he knows so well. Headache, dizziness, vertigo, and more. Morneau has a long and sad history with brain injuries, a risk the Rockies knew about and certainly considered when they signed him as a free agent before the 2014 season. They assumed that risk, and were rewarded with more than a year of strong production from the former MVP. It's awful, now, that we're back here again.
In addition to catcher on his local nine, Morneau played goalie for his hockey teams growing up in Canada. There's no way to confirm this, but it's suspected that he suffered many small, undiagnosed head injuries over those years, leaving him vulnerable to further traumatic brain injuries.
In 2010, in the midst of what might have been his finest season (he was hitting .345/.437/.618 at the halfway point), Morneau was accidentally kneed in the helmet as he slid into second base. It didn't seem like a particularly hard hit, and yet its effects were dramatic. For the next year, Morneau struggled with the symptoms and to get his career on track. He reported, at one point, vertigo so severe that he was unable to hold his infant daughters for fear of dropping them.
He clawed his way back to effectiveness, signed his deal with the Rockies, and broke through again finally last year by winning the National League batting title and posting a 126 OPS+. In 2015, he was hitting a respectable (once you account for Coors Field) .290/.317/.450.
Now, his only focus has to be on getting better. Not for the Rockies and not for the fans, but for himself and for his family. We may never see Justin Morneau play baseball again, and that would be ok. The true dangers of brain injury have become devastatingly clear over the last two years, and I would expect the Rockies at this point to work with Morneau to make sure that he is safe and symptom free in his personal life before there is any talk of rejoining the team.
After all, they have Wilin Rosario, who can ably man the position in Morneau's absence and, at 14-23, the Rockies aren't going anywhere this year anyway. They got the reward for their faith in Morneau, and now they need to accept what is essentially an extra tax for doing business with a player who has a history of head injuries.
Going forward, this is a tax that every team who wants to sign a player with a concussion history is going to have to contend with. No matter how careful a player is, or how a club works to protect him, there is still a significant chance that he could be instantly gone for months or years or forever because of the long-term dangers associated with TBIs. I don't say this out of cruelty, or out of some belief that players with a concussion history somehow don't deserve the money or aren't tough enough. It's just reality. There is a cost to the risk of playing baseball in a minefield.
Next year, the Rockies will decline their half of the $9 million option that they have with Morneau. They will pay him $750,000 and cut him loose, and that will be fine. Maybe they will re-sign him to a minor league deal. Maybe he will move on. Maybe, God willing, he will recover and be a productive player again.
That cannot be anyone's priority right now, however. Morenau has made almost $100 million for his career, and I'm sure he and his family will be fine in the long run. Now, though, this is about a person and making sure that he will be able to play with his children and isn't permanently disabled.