At this time last year, former big league ballplayer Ryan Freel was probably hanging on by a thread. He had played in the major leagues, but had been injured many times and suffered several concussions.
We’re only just beginning to learn of the dangers of head trauma, and its role in bringing about a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalophathy (CTE). Freel lived with it after he left the game, and didn’t get the help he needed in coping with it. Drinking didn’t help, either, but the damage had been done. Baseball had ground him up and spat him out. And if he had never played for the Cubs, I doubt I would have noticed it at all.
But he did play for the Cubs, briefly, and so I noticed after he took his own life last December 28. His family will be reliving it all over again, I’m sure, and they always will every time the holidays roll around.
I wrote two pieces about Freel for ChicagosideSports, one early in 2013, and the other just a few days ago, after his CTE diagnosis had been confirmed. The decision to ban collisions at home plate probably would not have helped Freel specifically, but it’s an acknowledgement that where contact can be avoided in baseball, it should be avoided. And that’s definitely a legacy worth celebrating.