Let me stipulate that some jobs are truly and unavoidably thankless. They are suicide missions. They are jobs where you will be noticed if and only if your employer falls short of its objective as it seems to concern you—even if you personally are blameless. Armored car driver, White House ethics lawyer, that kind of thing. I cop to precisely zero knowledge about whether head athletic trainer for a famously snakebitten baseball club is or isn’t such an appointment.
One man who might have an opinion, Ray Ramirez, was officially separated today from his longtime gig as the New York Mets’ head trainer. He’d been a survivor, all things considered. He’d held the job since fall 2004 and served under three managers and two general managers amidst ceaseless griping about the team’s perpetual injury problem. Until recently, speculation had been that Ramirez would retain his job despite an organizational purge that claimed manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen.
Athletes get hurt; that comes with the territory. But it sure seemed like the Mets got hurt more, and more cruelly, than most. Each member of the team’s vaunted young rotation has suffered at least one season-ending injury in the last two seasons. The exception is Noah Syndergaard, who earlier this year refused an MRI, pitched through pain, tore a muscle, and wound up missing five months. Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz all enter the offseason with their big-league futures in serious doubt. Yoenis Cespedes, the team’s best hitter, missed half of the 2017 season with presumably manageable leg injuries, and David Wright missed the entire season after injury setbacks in spring training.
And as with the Syndergaard affair, the team’s initial diagnoses and treatment approaches tended to misfire. In 2015, what turned out to be Wright’s degenerative spinal condition was first identified as a mere hamstring strain. In 2009, with bone chips in his elbow, reliever J.J. Putz received a cortisone shot instead of surgery. He tore his UCL. In 2008, outfielder Ryan Church was held off the disabled list—and flown on a road trip to high-altitude Colorado—after sustaining his second concussion of the season.
During the Ramirez era, Johan Santana turned from an innings-eater to cautionary tale, and Moises Alou, always injury-prone, managed the astounding feat of playing in just 102 games between 2007 and 2008. Every big-ticket acquisition other than Curtis Granderson wound up missing extended time at one point or another. (To be sure, this group consists primarily of older players, and as such may very well be more prone to injury than the entire population of baseball players.) Overall, in 2017, the payroll-challenged Mets ranked second in baseball in total salary lost to the disabled list, according to Spotrac. And from the start of the 2010 season through mid-2017, according to FiveThirtyEight, the team ranked eighth overall in potential player contributions lost to the disabled list.
All the while, Ramirez made a terrific scapegoat. So much was going wrong with the Mets. But there was no direct and effective way to bemoan the post-Bernie Madoff parsimony of the team’s owners or the Sandy Alderson regime’s struggles in the draft. The M.D.’s from the Hospital for Special Surgery don’t sit in the dugout. And even in New York only a certain subset of fans is willing to boo the home team. Ramirez, though, was present, every third night jogging onto the field to wrestle with some fresh hell, something that could happen seemingly only to the Mets.
How culpable, personally, was he? (Who knew? Who cared?) For better or worse, the question now becomes his successor’s to answer. As for Ramirez? As Mets injury nomenclature would have it: His tenure with the team is day-to-day with a calf strain.