Professional baseball already has a reputation for testosterone filled machismo. Just think of Babe Ruth slugging one out of the park, lighting a cigar and casually sauntering to home plate. But over the last few years it seems like that cup of manliness doth overfloweth: full-on beards have become the new normal in the MLB. Just take Boston Red Sox’s first baseman Mike Napoli for instance – who recently shocked many a baseball fan when he shaved his flowing face mane. But like his beard was a symbol of the Sox’s pursuit for glory at the World Series, his shaving it off may be indicative of his recent diagnosis of sleep apnea and his commitment to getting treatment.
When the Red Sox signed Mike Napoli in 2012, the franchise knew that they were investing in a great player – despite the fact that his contract was conditional pending a medical review. That being said, though, the team’s investment has certainly paid off. His powerful drives into the stands were integral to bringing the Sox from last place in the division to first in only a year’s time. Napoli is also largely credited for starting this winning streak when he helped his team win against the Oakland Athletics – his beard in tow all along the way. That winning streak earned the team their 8th World Series pennant.
But despite Napoli’s talent, there were signs that sleep apnea may be lurking in the dugout with him. The first sign of trouble was noticed in his physical, which showed an abnormality in his hip. It turns out that the issue was a disease called avascular necrosis, or osteonecrosis, which cuts down the blood supply to certain bones – eventually it causes the bone tissue to die. In Napoli’s case, the disease was directly affecting his hip and it knocked his initial contract down from two years to one year – and from $39 million to $5 million.
Avascular necrosis is common amongst athletes – it actually ended Bo Jackson’s career – but the condition is also associated with other muscular skeletal disorders such as fibromyalgia. In one study – published in Rheumatology International – obstructive sleep apnea was found to be an uncommon cause of fibromyalgia. One female patient in the study – who had been suffering from musculoskeletal symptoms, morning fatigue, restless sleep and excessive snoring for a shocking 10 years – was totally cured by nasal CPAP treatment. Could Napoli’s avascular necrosis be caused by sleep apnea? – There is no definitive or conclusive proof, but it is suspect.
Mike Napoli was also showing signs of fatigue, loss of concentration and irritability, especially with his excessive and record-breaking strikeouts. When Napoli struck out for 178th time of the season – breaking the previous franchise strikeout record held by Mark Bellhorn – he aggressively went after the umpire who called the strike. As a result, Napoli was ejected from the game for the first time in his career. In addition, there were also the 14 games he missed in May and June as a result of injuries to his fingers, knee and toes. Obstructive sleep apnea’s damage has a tendency to get worse and worse – not unlike a runaway train.
Finally, the damage got so much worse that people started asking questions, and just last week Red Sox manager Ben Cherington, a notable Amherst College alumnus, was forced to offer an answer: Mike Napoli was diagnosed with sleep apnea and is getting treatment for the disorder in preparation for the 2015 season. There is a good chance that after dedicated CPAP treatment, the team’s new $32 million dollar investment in Napoli will offer even more of a return for the Sox. Mike Napoli’s case is a prime example of how destructive sleep apnea can be and how truly deleterious it can become to your career, personal life and personal health. In the end, help is as easy as getting tested for the disorder and beginning treatment immediately.