Sanders won't rush back

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Reggie Sanders will not be rushed. He understands his importance to the Cincinnati Reds, but also the value of standing upright.

"I was talking to Jeff Brantley," the Reds' rehabilitating right fielder said Tuesday, "and he said, 'You're just going to have to baby it.' A back is nothing to play with."

Sanders will not be playing with his back or without it for at least the next three weeks. What has been diagnosed as an annular tear of the disk between the L-4 and L-5 vertebrae has placed the Cincinnati slugger on the disabled list and casts additional doubt on this shaky Reds' season.

Just when you thought matters couldn't get much worse than Hector Carrasco, the heart of the lineup has gotten all achy-breaky. Ron Gant has relocated to St. Louis, and Sanders, the Reds' ranking power source, will not be up to swinging a bat again for a minimum of two more weeks.

As a result, the Cincinnati outfield is presently populated by has-beens and haven't-beens, by Vince Coleman and Eric Anthony and Chad Mottola. The club's power needs are so acute that Barry Larkin, the brilliant shortstop, is developing a dangerous uppercut trying to compensate for Sanders' absence.

Sanders sees this, and it makes him wince. But so does the sporadic pain from his spinal column. His competitive instinct tells him to hurry back so that he might be of help to his struggling team. His intellect says to hold out until he is fully healed, so that there are no relapses.

"It's been tough," he said. "I want to be out there just as quick as I can, but I know that's not the smartest way to do it. I'm just trying to do what I've got to do to get back in the lineup instead of worrying that I'm not in the lineup."

Sanders returned to Cincinnati from his doctor's appointment in Los Angeles on a red-eye flight Tuesday morning. Tuesday afternoon, he reported to NovaCare Outpatient Rehabilitation in Mount Auburn to plan his comeback. (No trendy health club, NovaCare. Among the periodicals in the waiting area was Biomechanics, "The Magazine of Lower Extremity Movement.")

Whatever his shortcomings as a big-league ballplayer, Reggie Sanders makes a near-perfect patient. He listens to his doctors. He follows their instructions implicitly. He does not pout about his problems. He promises to bring candy for the staff at the clinic.

"It's a part of baseball," he said, referring to the risk of injury. "It could have been worse. If your finger's hurt, it could have been cut off. If I continued to play, it could have been worse than what it is now."

Among the qualities that enables Reggie Sanders to succeed at the major-league level is his ability to put personal crises in perspective. Even last October, throughout his horrific playoff performance, he could not have been any more level-headed had he been groomed by a marine barber.

Sanders credits some of this serenity to Oprah Winfrey and Montel Williams, whose talk show philosophy he condenses to, "Never let the situation get you."

Paul O'Neill was the most mercurial of ballplayers, a thrower of helmets, a kicker of dirt. The man who inherited his place in right field at Riverfront Stadium stands at the opposite pole of baseball behavior. Reggie Sanders is so quiet, so reserved, and so completely in charge of his emotions that he might have sprung straight from a spy novel.

"Everything is an experience and you have to learn from it and move on," he said. "It may be tough at that time, but you can't let it take a toll on you. Over a long period of time, things balance out. I really believe that."

When Dr. Robert Watkins examined the X-rays Monday, he told Sanders there was still a 10 percent chance his torn disk would require surgery. He prescribed two weeks of limited physical activity - floor exercises, mainly - and no practice cuts.

Sanders said he would hold one of his Louisville Sluggers while he watched the Reds on television, but he vowed that he would not swing it. He will not hurry back to aggravate his injury.

"I know my body," he said, "and I know what Reggie Sanders has to do physically and how to go out on the field mentally to be at his best. I know I can't be in the lineup now, so why gripe about it?"

Published April 24, 1996.