In my links post today, I referred to Austin Kearns as a player with "old player's skills" when he came up. A reader reminded me of the shoulder injury Kearns suffered early in 2003, his second season in the majors.
KearnsIndeed, when he suffered the injury in a home-plate collision with Atlanta pitcher Ray King, Kearns was hitting .308 with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs in 44 games. He initially tried to play through the injury before finally undergoing season-ending rotator cuff surgery in August.
The next season he got off to a slow start, hitting .137 on April 26, when a pitch from Pittsburgh's Ryan Vogelsong broke his left forearm. He actually returned after three weeks from that injury, but then injured his thumb and had another surgery.
In 2005, still just 25 years old, a slumping Kearns was sent down to Triple-A. He'd return to the majors but the following July -- hitting a decent .274/.351/.492 with 16 home runs in 87 games -- he was included in an odd trade that sent him to the Nationals. He did play 150 games that year and 161 in 2007, but away from Cincinnati his power numbers sagged and 2008 he had surgery for bone chips in his elbow and then suffered a stress fracture in his foot.
That's a long list. It's obviously possible that minus the injuries Kearns would have been a big star - -certainly his 2002 rookie season and hot start to 2003 indicated as such. Unfortunately, health is a skill just as important as hitting, speed and power, and Kearns' body just couldn't withstand the wear and tear of baseball. He's still just 31 years and he's grinded through a lot of surgeries and comebacks. Does he have another in one him?