The worries over the bout of vertigo suffered by Detroit Tigers’ outfielder Austin Meadows have been growing for days since his placement on the Injured List.
It appears to be a very unsteady situation now, with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch publicly stating “we’re very concerned over what’s going on with Austin.”
This quote borders on ominous. It certainly would seem to indicate there is no imminent return slated for Austin Meadows once he’s eligible to come off the IL.
Let’s put our cards on the table. What you’re reading is not being written by a medical professional. I have no particular level of insight beyond some historical perspective and WebMD Internet research on what problems might lay ahead as Meadows battles to return.
The Grounding of a Hero
The first person immediately popping to mind when the initial talk of Meadows’ vertigo was American astronaut and acclaimed test-pilot Alan Shepard. The first American in space in 1961 on the Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket, Shepard’s hero status seemingly had him ticketed for practically any ride into space he wanted.
However, over time Shepard had been suffering from dizziness and tinnitus which was becoming more difficult to hide. Eventually he stumbled while leaving a speaking engagement and NASA found out about his issue. This grounded the astronaut for the rest of the 1960’s.
Shepard was reported to be so desperate to fix his vertigo, eventually diagnosed as a case of Meniere’s Disease, he would try any remedies discussed with him. He stayed on at NASA in an administrative role but pined to return to space.
Eventually fellow astronaut Tom Stafford heard about a doctor in California named William House who was having success with Meniere’s treatment. Shepard went to see him, House recommended an experimental surgery, and it yielded a successful result.
Shepard finally returned to space in 1971 aboard Apollo 14. It’s wonderful he had a successful result in the end. However, it took nearly a decade for the medical science of his era to find a solution. Frankly, that’s a lifetime in baseball.
The Sad Story of Nick Esasky
Nick Esasky was on top of the world. He had just smashed 30 homers for the 1989 Boston Red Sox while driving in 108 runs, and sported a sexy slash line of .277/.355/.500. It was the best season of his career, after several solid but unspectacular years with the Cincinnati Reds.
Esasky parlayed his good season in Boston into a then princely contract for 3-years and $5.6 million with his hometown Atlanta Braves. The club, the community, and Esasky were all excited to put his power bat into the middle of the Braves lineup.
Then late in Spring Training in 1990 he started feeling dizzy. He felt lost both at the plate and in the field. After nine games that year with the Braves he was put on the disabled list after hitting six singles and committing five errors.
It would be the last time he’d play in the majors.
Esasky kept waiting for the dizziness to disappear. He kept working out at the Braves facility even after they signed Sid Bream to replace him. Faint rumors that “Esasky is feeling better” would pop up, only to fade away quickly.
Esasky would travel to nearly all the well known medical centers around the country to search for a cure. It never truly came to save his career.
The career that was looking to be peaking was, in essence, washed away in an instant in one Spring day. It can happen that quickly.
Austin Meadows and the Road Forward
Other athletes like David Duval, Nick Senzel, and Lou Piniella also had bouts of vertigo with varying degrees of success and recovery.
It’s important to note the rough experiences of Shepard and Esasky aren’t what Meadows is being sentenced to. But they are possible outcomes observers must at least force themselves to consider.
Austin Meadows might find his issue will clear up naturally. Those examples are easily found for people of all walks of life. The thing about that, of course, is the common person battling vertigo isn’t attempting to return to smash a 98-mph heater. Meadows has to likely have a higher degree of recovery than some folks who work at Target.
It would seem the longer Meadows lingers on the sidelines the more concerns will grow that an inner-ear imbalance is every bit as serious as a torn labrum or a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
It’s truly amazing to read about how imprecise modern medicine can be when it comes to vertigo. Meadows could be fine tomorrow. He could be out for months. He could be finished.
We don’t know. This isn’t an ACL surgery where a club can predict a return in 12-months. It’s the fear of the unknown right now.
The trade to acquire Meadows was met with positive acclaim from early every quarter. He’s a talented hitter who looked to be extremely important to the Tigers as they look to battle back from the depths they’ve reached in recent seasons.
The coming weeks will be critical in determining if those hopes are flickering after a shockingly short period of time in Detroit.