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Joining the Big League: Chiropractic and Professional Baseball

Author: Rick Bishop/Tuesday, March 28, 2017/Categories: In the Profession, Professional Development

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By Rick Bishop, DC

Professional baseball organizations have come a long way in providing chiropractic to their players. Chiropractic care has been a vital component of helping many of the biggest stars in Major League Baseball (MLB) to play and avoid injuries, but also enhance their performance throughout the long and tedious MLB season. Currently, 28 teams in the MLB utilize chiropractic services at home during the season as well as during spring training. Not only do the large majority of MLB teams recognize chiropractic, but many teams in Minor League Baseball (MiLB) do, as well. 

It’s important to appreciate our past and to know where we’ve come from before we can look to the future and have a clear vision of where we want to go as sports chiropractic physicians. Great sacrifices made by a few doctors many years ago enabled chiropractic’s integration into professional sports medical teams, and later resulted in the creation of the Professional Baseball Chiropractic Society (PBCS).

In 2008, PBCS came to fruition and the first annual PBCS Directory was created. The directory, with the assistance of each head athletic trainer in Major League Baseball, consisted of chiropractors from all but three Major League teams. After the 2008 MLB season, PBCS became inactive until it was given new life again in 2012 when Pittsburgh-area chiropractor Rick Bishop, DC, along with Arizona Diamondbacks chiropractor Alan Palmer, DC, were appointed to head PBCS and get it up and running. With minimal financial support, a PBCS Directory was once again published midway through the 2012 MLB season and distributed to each MLB head athletic trainer to assist the training staff of teams who might need chiropractic services while on the road.

Realizing a Vision of Collaboration

But long before PBCS was in existence, Dr. Palmer and long-time MLB head athletic trainer for the San Francisco Giants, Mark Letendre, had a vision of integrating chiropractic into professional sports, especially within Major League Baseball. Dr. Palmer has been the team chiropractor of the Arizona Diamondbacks since their inaugural season in 1998 and, for many years prior, he had adjusted the San Francisco Giants during their spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz. This relationship led to the founding of the Chiropractic Association for the Elite and Professional Athlete (CEPA), and ultimately to Dr. Palmer’s association with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Letendre and Palmer co-founded CEPA in 1995 to integrate chiropractic into professional sports and build a network of practitioners to call on. In 1998, Palmer sent the Arizona team information about CEPA and used Letendre as a reference. He soon found himself adjusting Diamondbacks.

“CEPA started out as a certification program,” Dr. Palmer explains. “Mark wanted us to educate the doctors about certain standards and protocols, and how to prevent chiropractors from stepping on toes, and how to build relationships with athletes and trainers and the team medical staff.”  The “continuity of care” concern figured large in the birth of CEPA.  Inconsistencies in care and communication when interacting with the team sports medicine specialists by some chiropractors left many head trainers wary of allowing chiropractors entry into players’ health care. CEPA was born out of these frustrations.

Fast forward again to 2012, where the first-ever PBCS meeting was held in Las Vegas during the annual ProSport Chiropractic Conference at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Conference Center.  

In attendance was PBCS Director Rick Bishop, DC, PBCS Assistant Director Alan Palmer, DC (Arizona Diamondbacks), Patrick Hammond, DC (Kansas City Royals), Brian Prieto, DC (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), Doug Roche, DC (San Diego Padres), Mickey Cohen, DC (Miami Marlins), Eric Blum, DC (Los Angeles Dodgers) and former Chicago Cubs chiropractor Alden Clendenin, DC.  It was during this initial meeting that a PBCS Board of Representatives was created.  The board consisted of one chiropractor from each division in Major League Baseball. The main objective of the board was to help facilitate communication between the training/medical staffs as well as the other team chiropractors within each MLB division.

Bringing the Players Together

As PBCS began to grow, a greater awareness and interest of the organization also began to develop within chiropractic. By 2014, the idea of an annual PBCS seminar or workshop, where team chiropractors in MLB could gather, was envisioned.  During the Professional Football Chiropractic Society’s annual conference in Indianapolis in February 2014, Dr. Bishop was introduced to Adam Brown, who was the director of sports development at the Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Fla.  This meeting eventually led to an official partnership between PBCS and LSI.  As a result, Laser Spine Institute hosted the first annual PBCS Workshop at its headquarters in Tampa, Fla. in March 2015. Many of the team chiropractors in Major League Baseball were in attendance as well as a few from Minor League Baseball.  This first seminar was an overwhelming success and a far cry from only a few years earlier when the first organized meeting took place in Las Vegas with only eight attendees.  It even included a surprise visit from former MLB manager Joe Torre.  Joe was on hand to support Dr. Ralph Filson as the first recipient of the PBCS Lifetime Achievement Award. Joe even took some time to address those in attendance on how beneficial chiropractic was not only to him, but also to the players on the teams he managed.

In 2015, PBCS expanded to include chiropractors who provide chiropractic care to teams in Minor League Baseball. PBCS Minor League Coordinator Sonny Haight, DC, collaborated in this process with Cincinnati Reds Minor League Medical Coordinator Richard Stark, MD.  “Currently over 30 Minor League affiliates have a chiropractor who works with their team and this number is climbing,” PBCS Director Dr. Bishop explains.  “We have a great vision for the incorporation of chiropractic care within every team in professional baseball.”  During the process of confirming which teams in Minor League Baseball are using chiropractic, PBCS has been able to work with the athletic trainers of teams that previously did not have a chiropractor working alongside them. As a result, it has been successful in placing chiropractors with these teams and assisting the training staffs in this capacity.

In 2016, the second annual PBCS Workshop was held at Salt River Fields, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ and the Colorado Rockies’ spring training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz.  This was a major milestone, not only for PBCS but also for the chiropractic profession. The inclusion of chiropractic within the multidisciplinary sports medicine model was unheard of in professional baseball years ago, and now a Major League Baseball team was playing host to a chiropractic education seminar. 

This past January, the third annual PBCS Workshop was hosted by the New York Yankees at their beautiful spring training facility in Tampa, Fla. This most recent seminar included even greater representation of team chiropractors from within both Major and Minor League Baseball. It also included a presentation from Tampa Bay Rays Head Athletic Trainer Ron Porterfield and former MLB pitcher Andy McGaffigan.

The acceptance of chiropractic in baseball has come a very long way in just a few short years. By taking an evidence-based approach, understanding a DC’s role in the multidisciplinary sports medical model wherein the DC is not the gatekeeper, and knowing how to be an asset and a team player for the athletic trainers and sports medicine medical doctors, chiropractic is becoming widely accepted. According to Dr. Palmer, “There are so many opportunities for doctors of chiropractic to contribute to the success and well-being of athletes, whether in youth, high school, collegiate and even professional levels. You just have to be willing to work hard and pay your dues to build your resume.”

Fostering Success through Education

PBCS has had a passion for education from its beginning, but had not found the right opportunity to facilitate that passion. Education is vital, not only for students but also for chiropractors who are not associated with a professional baseball team. “It is a very unique honor and privilege to be able to share the gift of chiropractic with players in professional baseball,” Dr. Bishop explains. This presents a platform to educate others and opens opportunities enabling our future and present colleagues to participate in PBCS and get a leg up on advancing their chances of becoming a team DC. To this end, Dr. Palmer has presented at many of the chiropractic profession’s events, such as the Parker Seminars and ACA Sports Council seminars. His talks focused on educating chiropractors about how to become the team DC and, once there, how to keep the job.

PBCS also partnered with Life University on a Sports Performance Conference with an emphasis on baseball.  This took place on Life University’s campus in Marietta, Ga., in November 2016. The great thing about this seminar is that not only is it open to chiropractors, but also to athletic trainers and strength and conditioning specialists. This multidisciplinary conference included a diverse range of sports medicine providers. We are already in the early planning phase for the second Baseball and Sports Performance Conference, which will take place again at Life University in November 2017 and where students and chiropractors will be in attendance. 

Until recently, members of PBCS consisted of only team chiropractors in professional baseball. With the expansion of education seminars, such as the one at Life University, PBCS will now offer membership opportunities for both students and chiropractors who are not affiliated with a professional baseball team. This will create a synergy where everyone benefits, the sports medicine staff, the team, the organization and especially the athlete!

Dr. Bishop is director of the Professional Baseball Chiropractic Society. For more information on PBCS, visit www.probaseballchiros.com.   



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