Harden, Hendry: Just say yes

Here we go again with the non-denial, kinda-sorta responses to direct questions about what’s ailing certain Cub pitchers.

In this case, it’s the shoulder tear of Rich Harden — the Cy Young-talented pitcher who could make the World Series difference for the Cubs this year if he stays strong enough into October.

GM Jim Hendry started to say Friday that the club was miffed — “miffed’s not the right word” — about the so-called alarms being sounded over Harden’s shoulder, an apparent reference to the Sun-Times report last month revealing for the first time that Harden’s shoulder problems involve a tear.

And Harden clearly doesn’t want to talk about what’s really going on in his shoulder, sidestepping direct questions today about his condition and downplaying the reported tear as no big deal.

That’s fine. He certainly has the right to respond any way he wants. And Hendry and other team officials are entitled to be as irritated as they want with media reports that disclose details in whatever piecemeal form those details are discovered.

But they have no one to blame but themselves for the extended media attention this kind of thing gets or the longer term perception that the team tries to misdirect or deceive the public about injuries.

Because that’s exactly what they keep doing. And it makes little sense.

Harden, for instance, doesn’t like talking about his health issues. But when he gets shut down for a couple weeks and has a cortisone shot and has a noticeable drop in velocity late in the season — as he did during the stretch run of a playoff season last year — the worst thing he can do is be vague and hope the media ignores him.

And when the club is complicit by talking circles around the subject — as Piniella was awkwardly forced to do during a particularly silly media session focusing on Harden last summer — then the club looks like it’s hiding something. Something unnecessary, as it turned out.

Imagine if instead of trying to make everybody believe that last summer’s shutdown was a simple, pre-ordained break with no particular flareup or pain, Harden and the team just told the truth: His shoulder started bothering him, so he had a cortisone shot, and in an effort to give him the best chance at being strong for the playoffs, they scheduled extended post-shot rest.

There would have been little or nothing left to follow in the coming days and weeks on that story for the media, and it wouldn’t have become news again until his return. Instead, it remained weird and unresolved and dragged far longer than anyone involved wanted it to.

And same with the issue of the shoulder tear. The club called it general instability in the shoulder at the end of the season. I found out during Cubs Convention that there’s an actual tear in the shoulder, and Harden confirmed it when I talked to him then.

Hendry focused Friday on the fact that the injury is nothing new. Of course, I never said it was. But it was newsworthy. Because of the way the team and player chose intentional vagueness in describing it all along.

Again, if at the end of last season, everyone is specific about the injury and the very legitimate approach to handling it that they’ve taken, all of a sudden it’s a one-day story, everything makes sense, and there’s nothing left to report until we see Harden at spring training and he tells us how the program’s going.

Can anybody tell me what the advantage is in omitting those details and being vague about these things? It’s not like the Cubs have to protect the information for the purposes of shopping Harden or for any on-the-field competitive reasons (scouts have eyes).

I’ve covered three other teams in my career, and the ones that were most up front about these kinds of things had the fewest headaches with the way the information got out. And the fans stayed well informed, without the yo-yo effect.

It’s not that tough.

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