Former major league utility man Ryan Freel committed suicide yesterday. He was 36 years old. The grisly details are available here. Freel finished his professional career as a member of the 2009 Triple-A Oklahoma City RedHawks, who were at the time still a Rangers minor league affiliate ... Texas signed him in late August, then told him that he would not have an opportunity to crack the expanded roster in September, and after two games Freel decided that he didn't want to play for Oklahoma City without any possibility of a call-up and asked for his release.
I don't know whether it's appropriate or not to bring up concussions as a possible reason why Freel made the tragic decision to take his own life, but it's going to end up out there anyway, and, frankly, the extent of Freel's head injuries shocked and saddened me:
On May 28, 2007, Freel was injured in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates when chasing a deep drive to right-center field. Freel and right fielder Norris Hopper collided, resulting in Freel's head and neck hitting Hopper and finally the warning track. He was transported by ambulance to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he was reported to be coherent with feeling in his extremities. Freel began working out on June 15, about 2 weeks after the collision. He was briefly sent to the AAA Louisville Bats for rehabilitation. Freel began getting random headaches and pains in his head, which delayed his return for another 2 weeks. On July 3, 2007, 1 month and 5 days after the accident, Freel returned to play for the Cincinnati Reds and was healthy until being placed on the 15-day DL with torn cartilage in his right knee on August 7.
He also was known for going all out. He dived into the grass, the dirt and the stands chasing after balls. He would crash into fences. He would collide with teammates. And all of the violence against his body caused him significant harm. Freel said in 2007 after a particularly brutal collision with teammate Norris Hopper that he had "probably nine or 10" concussions in his life, but he couldn't remember for certain.
I don't know what triggered Freel's terrible choice to take his own life. I don't know if he was experiencing personal problems or money problems or health problems or something else serious enough to push him over the edge. From the perspective of an outsider, though, it's hard to imagine someone with a wife and two daughters depriving them of his existence while possibly being in his right mind. I can't wrap my head around it.
If concussions are eventually proven to be the main cause behind yesterday's tragic events, then I can only hope Freel's story will serve an instructive purpose for future generations of baseball players ... and regardless of whether or not this was concussion-driven, I hope Freel's loved ones can someday find peace and closure in his untimely departure from this earth.