The Lasting Kendrys Morales Effect

Tempe, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales (8) during photo day at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

We all remember how Kendrys Morales injured himself after a walk-off home run. It caused the Angels to make a change from which they haven't strayed.

People can do some dumb, dangerous things when they're outrageously mad. They're too overcome by emotion to think straight, and they look for ways to let that emotion out.

The same goes for when people are outrageously happy. Again, they're too overcome by emotion to think straight, and they look for ways to let that emotion out. Most of the time, it's harmless. Some of the time, it isn't.

Kendrys Morales was written into a Major League starting lineup on Thursday for the first time since May 29, 2010. Just before I typed this, Morales batted in the bottom of the second against Danny Duffy and grounded a single up the middle. Morales has a long way to go before he's ready for meaningful game action, but he's the closest to recovering that he's been since the injury. The Angels are counting on having Morales for much of the year.

You remember what happened. Morales hit a walk-off grand slam against the Seattle Mariners and tried to jump on home plate. It wasn't a celebration that was unique to him or the Angels, and it wasn't a celebration that one figured would lead to injury, but with that much activity and with that many players and limbs around, the potential for injury was there. Morales fell to the ground and sustained a fractured tibia. It knocked him out of action for a long, long time.

And that fortunate-turned-unfortunate sequence of events changed the way the Angels celebrate these moments. Here's a walk-off hit from the 2010 season, before Morales got hurt. It's not a home run, so it's a little different, but anyway:


Here's Morales, on that fateful afternoon:


If Morales did that 100 times, probably 98 or 99 of the times he'd walk away just fine, with maybe a few bruises or scrapes. This one time, he didn't walk away at all, because he couldn't.

Immediately in response, Mike Scioscia issued new team guidelines. For moments like these, players were to stay off the dirt. We know those guidelines were issued immediately because the Angels hit another walk-off home run against the Mariners the very next day:


Much calmer, much more subdued. Angels players huddled around Howie Kendrick after he touched the plate, but there was less slapping and jumping. The average jump height was markedly reduced. A predictable reaction, with Morales' accident fresh in the players' minds. But it stuck for the long haul. A few months later:


And, more than a full year later:


In this last one, you can see the players closing in. They're all on the dirt, and once they've enveloped Mark Trumbo, they're all jumping, with a few slaps. Especially from Ervin Santana, who seems like a slapper. But they wait for Trumbo to touch the plate, and it all kind of feels like a compromise between the celebration before Morales got hurt, and the celebration after.

As Morales' accident became more and more distant, so did the memory, so behavior started to adjust. But the accident was never forgotten entirely, and with Morales now back on the field, it's not hard to imagine that the Angels might be cautious, with Morales and everybody. Walk-off home runs in 2012 could be less raucous than the Trumbo walk-off home run above.

This is the legacy of Kendrys Morales' injury. It changed the way the Angels celebrate, and it changed the way some other teams celebrate, too. Maybe you think the celebrations were getting out of hand and maybe you don't, but if they'll ever be the same, they won't be the same for a while. Kendrys Morales lying on the ground in agony is a difficult image to forget. The odds of sustaining such an injury are so low, but there's really no need to chance it at all.

From a darker perspective, Kendrys Morales' legacy is that he made baseball a little less fun. From a brighter perspective, Kendrys Morales' legacy is that he improved player safety. In any event, Kendrys Morales has a legacy, which is more than most baseball players can say.

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