Cup Debate Runneth Over in MLB
Now, many of them are looking at Beltre with a different kind of disbelief.
"I can't believe a guy is playing third base without a cup," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a former All-Star shortstop. "That's ballsy. That's a dangerous place, especially third base."
Beltre was hit in the "groin" by a ground ball on Wednesday night, resulting in an injury that landed him on the disabled list. At first there was concern that he might need season-ending surgery. An examination on Friday revealed a "severely contused right testicle." Beltre will rest for a week and then slowly resume baseball activity.
News of Beltre's injury begged the question about how common it is for infielders to play without a cup.
"It's more than you think," A's infielder Bobby Crosby told FanHouse. "I know plenty of guys I've played with who don't wear them. Every time I hear that, I'm surprised."
In fact, the man who stood across the bag, er, across second base, from Crosby for years is one of them. A's second baseman Mark Ellis, a Gold Glove-caliber defender said he's never worn one.
"It's just not comfortable," Ellis said. "If I played third base, I definitely would wear one. It's just the way I like to play. Everyone is different."
The Tigers' Placido Polanco, a Gold Glove winner at second, told FanHouse's Ed Price in Detroit that he doesn't wear a cup.
"It's not comfortable," he said. "It's tough, you know, but you don't think about it till something happens."
Polanco added that "I'm really going to look into that and try to get something that fits, something that's comfortable."
Dodgers trainer Stan Conte said he understands the comfort issue. He said the design of cups has essentially been unchanged for decades. There's really no way to make them effective and comfortable, he said.
"We all joke about guys playing with their (private parts), but really they are adjusting their cup," Conte said. "It's uncomfortable. They pinch you, rub your thighs. You can get rashes."
The consensus seems to be that almost no outfielders wear cups, and all catchers wear them. In between, though, it's a matter of preference. A's trainer Steve Sayles said he believes about 75 percent of infielders wear cups. Conte said he didn't remember working with an infielder who didn't wear one, though.
"They take so many ground balls, it's almost inevitable to get hit," Conte said.
The infielders that do wear them simply shake their heads when learning of those who don't.
"I couldn't DH without a cup," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said. "It amazes me even that outfielders play without a cup. I don't think there's been a time, back to Little League, that I didn't wear a cup. I can't even go to the cage or take batting practice or soft-toss without a cup... When you go after ground balls like I do, you'd better wear a cup."
White Sox rookie third baseman Gordon Beckham said: "That's just ridiculous that (Beltre) is not wearing a cup. I guess it's more crazy to me than ridiculous."
A's infielder Nomar Garciaparra said he's always worn one, "but if I didn't, I'm definitely taking ground balls off to the side and not using proper form."
Frank White, a former All-Star second baseman with the Royals, was also in disbelief.
"I think they're nuts (for not wearing a cup)," White said in Detroit. "Especially playing the corners, it's unbelievable. That's the only protection you have as an infielder, is a cup. Sometimes your hands don't move fast enough and you need something else."
Said Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge: "I don't know how people do it. I just don't know. I don't know how you can sacrifice your body, put your body in front of something, if you knew you didn't have a cup on."
Former Orioles shortstop Mark Belanger, one of the best defensive infielders of his era, was known to go cup-less.
"Someone asked him why he doesn't wear a cup and he said 'This is my cup,' and showed his glove," Sayles said. "But you never know what's going to happen with that ball. I'd encourage them to wear one."
Third baseman may be the closest infielders to the plate on most plays, but the pitcher is even closer most of the time. Only about half the pitchers in the big leagues wear cups, according to a few estimates.
A's reliever Mike Wuertz, who said his follow-through doesn't normally leave him vulnerable, and starter Gio Gonzalez both said they go cupless.
"I hated getting rashes on the side of my thigh and it was moving around," Gonzalez said. "I just try not to get hit... Of course (the Beltre incident) makes you think twice. I've been lucky and fortunate. The gods have been on my side."
Josias Manzanillo pitched parts of 11 seasons for eight teams in the big leagues, but he'll likely be remembered for a grisly injury he suffered in 1997. Manzanillo, pitching for the Mariners at the time, took a Manny Ramirez line drive to the groin and had to have surgery to have one of his testicles removed.
A's starter Dallas Braden is one who is taking his chances.
"I just need a loose feel," he said. "It's just one of those things. I wouldn't call it a freak accident, but it has to be a high-percentage shot. If it happens, it happens. I guess you'd be asking me if I'm going to wear a helmet if I get hit in the face with a line drive."
Conte said some players tend to ignore the risk of injury because it's so rare.
"It's never a problem until it is," he said, "but then it's a big problem."