Remember, players have problems, too

BY Ken Rosenthal • May 17, 2011

Sometimes, we just don't have a clue.

Sometimes, professional athletes face personal issues so difficult, they cannot possibly be in the right frame of mind to perform.

I'm not saying that Red Sox right-hander John Lackey has an 8.01 ERA simply because his wife, Krista, might be confronting a new challenge in her fight against breast cancer.

I'm not saying that Yankees designated hitter Jorge Posada is hitting .165 because his son, Jorge Luis, 11, reportedly will undergo his eighth surgery June 8 for craniosynostosis, a condition that affects the normal growth of the brain and skull.

Athletes hardly ever make excuses. Lackey and Posada both are fierce, emotional competitors, warriors who give body and soul to their respective teams.

But sometimes, we forget — they're also human beings.

It doesn't matter that Lackey is in the second year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, or that Posada is in the final year of a four-year, $52.4 million deal.

Money alone cannot cure a loved one.

Yes, many of us go to work under the weight of similar problems. But we all know it isn't easy. And few of us work in a profession as public as Major League Baseball.

Lackey told in mid-February that Krista had undergone treatment for breast cancer throughout the offseason. At the time, he said, she was "doing really good."

It is not known whether Krista had a setback. But last Wednesday, after a poor start against Toronto, Lackey told a group of reporters, "Everything in my life sucks right now, to be honest with you."

Lackey, 32, did not elaborate or mention Krista by name.

Then, on Friday, he met with Red Sox manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein to discuss his performance and personal situation, according to the Boston Globe. And on Monday, the Red Sox placed Lackey on the disabled list with a strained right elbow.

Something is going on with Lackey — maybe physical, maybe mental, maybe both. Major league teams provide access to top medical specialists. But nothing ensures that a player's recovery, from whatever ails him, will progress smoothly.

Posada, unlike Lackey, has yet to hint publicly of any personal troubles. But according to the New York Daily News, Posada has informed the Yankees he will need a day or so away from the team when his son undergoes surgery next month.

Only Posada knows exactly why he asked out of the Yankees' lineup about an hour before the game Saturday night.

We know Girardi had dropped Posada to ninth in the batting order; the degree to which Posada was upset by the move remains a subject of debate.

We know Posada's back stiffened after he took groundballs during batting practice, but he conceded the issue was "nothing serious."

What we don't know is how much Posada was thinking about his son.

Posada apologized to Yankees manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman on Sunday, saying he had just had "a bad day." If the Yankees were not previously aware of the new developments with Posada's son, they are now.

Again, this is not about making excuses; that's the last thing either Lackey or Posada would want. But just as it's difficult to know what happens behind closed doors in, say, a neighbor's house, it's difficult to know when professional athletes are affected by issues in their personal lives.

A general manager told me recently that two to three players on each club experience mental-health crises each season. Most, of course, are never revealed. But with Lackey and Posada, we at least have clues, if not the entire story.

Lackey is not just a pitcher, he's a husband.

Posada is not just a hitter, he's a father.

These guys aren't robots. They're human beings.

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