Since winning the 1985 World Series, the Kansas City Royals haven’t exactly lined their trophy case with postseason awards.
But, with an assist from the University of Kansas Hospital, the Major League Baseball team recently collected some hardware that could bode well for a 2012 club stocked with young talent.
At the league’s Winter Meetings, held in Dallas a few weeks before Christmas, the Royals earned recognition as the healthiest team in baseball in winning the 2011 Dick Martin Award. Though far from an official league citation, the honor came after the Royals inaugural year with KU Hospital as its official health care provider.
The partnership with KU “played a huge part in our success,” said the team’s head athletic trainer, Nick Kenney. “They gave us the knowledge to make good, quality decisions.”
Though Kenney said a number of individuals contributed to the club’s success in the training room, he said Dr. Vincent Key may have been the MVP of the KU staff. An orthopedic surgeon whose expertise includes shoulder and knee reconstruction, Key serves as head orthopedist for the Royals.
“He is in the trenches with me – day in and day out,” Kenney said. “We talk multiple times during the course of a day, and we’re always talking about what we need to do and about how we handle situations for our athletes.”
Established in 2004 by Will Carroll, a contributing writer to Sports Illustrated, the Dick Martin Award honors a former trainer with the Minnesota Twins. It recognizes the behind-the-scenes contributions a medical staff can make to on-field success.
The Dick Martin Award takes into account how much money each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams lost to injuries over the course of a season. The calculation adds up the number of days players spent on the disabled list, and then uses a proprietary formula to compute an overall figure that calculates each player’s “true” value beyond just his salary. It also takes into account the historical performance of teams based on that metric.
The Royals came out on top in 2011 by losing about $10.3 million less to injuries than the median loss across all teams. That represented an improvement of about 40 percent from the previous year, according to the award organizers, who also highlighted the Royals’ “incredible accomplishment” of reducing time lost to injury by more than 650 days since Kenney joined the club in 2010.
Kenney agreed with Dr. Bruce Toby, chair of orthopedics and sports medicine at KU Hospital, that the array of services available at KU contributed to the success of the partnership.
Even if an injury didn’t relate to orthopedics, Toby said, “I could get on the phone, and I could get the necessary tests and the appropriate doctor to see that patient that night, and that is how we were able to put things together.”
Throughout its history, the Dick Martin Award has proven to be a harbinger of league success. In the announcement about the Royals’ win, Carroll and two of his colleagues noted that teams in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Tampa, Fla., emerged as perennial contenders after winning the award with a crop of budding stars.
Kenney said there was something to the argument, advanced by the writers, that quality medical and training personnel provide a sense of security for young ballplayers.
He tries to establish a trust with players, whether they are rookies or veterans.
“If they don’t trust you,” he said, “they will not tell you what is going on.”
Kenney said that’s how a nagging injury, which the medical staff could nip in the bud if informed promptly, turns into something more serious that results in missed playing time.
Despite their medical success, Royals had another disappointing season last year. Their 71-91 record left them 24 games out of first place. But maybe this year, the Royals will be the latest Dick Martin Award honoree to convert good health into wins.
“I just feel like we are on the rise,” Kenney said. “We have good young players. I feel like we have good staff to take care of them, and you know, hopefully it will all come together at the right time, because that’s how championships are won.”