A Game of Chance

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As a shortstop/second baseman, Drew Cumberland was going to be a savior for San Diego.  Their middle infield has been spotty for a number of years now.  The Padres would take their time with him, not rush him to the majors.  They needed Cumberland as much as Cumberland needed them.  So, he played 224 games at the minor league level between 2007 and 2010.  He went from the Arizona Rookie League to Double-A ball in San Antonio.  Along the way, he found himself playing  in the Major League All-Star Futures Game.

His numbers were there, and it looked clear that the Padres would call him up by some time in late 2011.  However, Cumberland didn’t play in 2011.  In fact, he didn’t get a chance to even finish 2010.  After a long history of concussions, Drew Cumberland began experiencing severe migraines and a lack of balance.  He was often dizzy, which of course made playing the field difficult.  He was ultimately diagnosed with bilateral vestibulopathy during the summer of 2010.  He couldn’t play the game any more. That’s what doctors told him at least.

Drew Cumberland retired from baseball in 2011 while spending the entire season on the disabled list.  It was a crushing blow for a player ranked so highly in the Padres organization.  It was a crushing blow for a player with natural skills so honed, he was often able to play and perform well while battling the dizziness and migraines.  Unlike Maybin’s up and down career path, Cumberland’s appeared to be over.  Except it wasn’t.

Late in 2011, Cumberland found doctors who thought they had a way for him to control his inner-ear condition.  If it worked, Cumberland would be able to play again.  By this point, Cumberland was working as a coach for the low-A Fort Wayne Tin Caps in the Padres organization, but he was ready for a comeback.  After implementing the treatment plan, doctors cleared Cumberland to return to baseball.  The only problem was, the Padres didn’t expect this to happen, and they did not protect Cumberland from the upcoming Rule 5.  He would be available to any team willing to keep him on their major league roster for an entire season.

The Padres were certainly happy with Cumberland’s return, and as luck would have it, he was not selected during the Rule 5 Draft.  Cumberland would report to spring training still a member of the Padres.  Unfortunately though, his time with the Padres camp would be short lived.  His return to baseball would be short lived.

After participating in the Padres mini cap, designed for the organization’s top prospects, Cumberland realized his condition wasn’t as controlled as he thought.  He was experiencing the same symptoms and problems he had in 2010.  It was too much.  He went to the Padres Vice President of Player Development, Randy Smith, and told him he was done.

The news was a sad reminder of just how hard it is to be a major league player.  Not only does someone have to have the necessary skills, they also have to avoid injury and other diagnoses that limit the player’s ability to play.  It really is a game of chance.

On one side, there are players like Cameron Maybin who rode out the ups and downs of being a top-level prospect, and earned himself a big contract.  On the other side, there is Drew Cumberland who has all the skills in the world, but medically he just can’t play.  As much as the game gives some players, it takes an equal amount away from others.  It’s truly a flip of a coin which side of the line a player ends up on.