By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator
Every season, more than 100 Major League Baseball (MLB) players are placed on the disabled list (DL) for injuries such as sprained ankles and torn ACLs. This past week, when the San Francisco Giants placed first baseman and outfielder Aubrey Huff on the 15-day disabled list, it wasn’t for a physical injury—it was to cope with an anxiety disorder.
“My goal is to get back on the field as soon as possible. To do that, I have to focus completely on getting well,” Huff said in a statement. “I know I’m in a public job, and I’ve been one of the more open guys. But sometimes you have to pull back and work on things in private. This is one of those times.”
Huff also indicated that he had received an “outpouring of support” from fans, media and the Giants organization. “I’m especially grateful for the texts and calls from my teammates, who are like my brothers and have let me know they’re here for me,” he wrote.
Struggling at the plate and on the field, Huff is also currently going through a divorce. The buildup of stressful events may have played a role in leading the MLB player to seek treatment for his anxiety.
Huff is not the only player in recent years to land on the disabled list for mental illness. Zach Grienke, at the time a pitcher with the Kansas City Royals, was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder in 2006. Three years later he would go on to win the Cy Young Award. In 2009, Cincinnati Reds first baseman and future National League MVP, Joey Votto, experienced depression and anxiety. That same year, Detroit pitcher Dontrelle Willis (anxiety), Oakland pitcher Justin Duchscherer (depression), St. Louis shortstop Khalil Greene (social anxiety disorder) and Arizona pitcher Scott Schoeneweis (depression) also all spent time on DL.
In his just-released memoir, New York Mets’ pitcher R.A. Dickey revealed his contemplations of suicide, after the shame of having an affair and being the subject of sexual abuse as a child became unbearable.
Manager Bruce Bochy of the Giants told the San Francisco Chronicle that mental health issues are not uncommon in baseball, just more public now.
“These players, they deal with pressures of life, whether it's home, personal or on the ball field,” he said. “I’m sure it was there when we played. Guys probably weren't as comfortable about it and weren't as likely to talk about it openly.”
However, one player from a previous era who did share his experience with mental illness was Jimmy Piersall, a major-league outfielder in the 1950s and 60s. In his autobiography, Fear Strikes Out: The Jim Piersall Sotry, he documented his battle with bipolar disorder.
With more players stepping forward and acknowledging their struggles with mental illness, the stigma of living with mental illness will begin to subside. Having public figures such as MLB players disclose their experiences with mental illness can help encourage individuals who look up to them do the same.
Although it does not appear Huff will be back in action in the immediate future—the San Jose Mercury News reported Bruce Bochy talked with Huff on the phone this past Saturday, and said he does not expect him back for “a while”—one can only hope that his time away serves as a calm repose that will allow him to return with a renewed vigor.