Jul 13
NY Yankee Boasts Relief with Acupuncture
Posted by mbsilbs in Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Live Well Newsletter Articles on 07 13th, 2010| icon3Comments Off on NY Yankee Boasts Relief with Acupuncture

Yankees starter A.J. Burnett credits acupuncture with helping him stay healthy

Marc Carig/The Star-LedgerMarc Carig/The Star-Ledger


A.J. Burnett, to left, has tried to get Yankees manager Joe Girardi to try acupuncture. ‘I don’t think I could take it,’ Girardi says.NEW YORK – Brian Cashman had to be sure.

The Yankees general manager heard the reports out of Toronto, the ones that said that A.J. Burnett had been reformed. Gone was the pitcher who leaned on raw talent and little else to get by, the one with the nasty streak of a bulldog but the durability of a Ming vase. Inspired by the great Roy Halladay, Burnett had learned the virtue of preparation and thus discovered the key to staying healthy.

Still, Cashman had questions for Burnett when he became a free agent. So they talked about preparation, about lifting weights, running and throwing between starts, all the mundane work it takes to do the extraordinary. Then, Burnett told Cashman about the thing that he believed had made all the difference: his devotion to acupuncture.

“Do you guys have something like that?” Burnett asked.

In the winter of 2008, the Yankees did not. However, with the team still stinging from missing the playoffs and in dire need of high-end arms, Cashman told Burnett he was prepared to change that.

“It was a promise I made to him,” Cashman said. “Clearly, we want to keep this asset on the field. We want him right.”

With that, the Yankees closed the book on two signings that shaped the 2009 championship season: Burnett, who helped the Yankees win the World Series; and Gil Chimes, a Connecticut chiropractor and the first acupuncture specialist employed by the Yankees under Cashman’s watch.

“It’s something that’s part of his routine, his structure, his discipline,” Cashman said. “It’s vital to him and his mind. Therefore it’s vital to us.”

It takes only one glance to realize a few important things about Burnett. Tattoos cover his body, growing like ivy over his skin since he got his first ink as a teenager in Arkansas. Clearly, he has no problem with breaking from the mold, and he has no issues with needles. Which leads to another important point about Burnett.

In the past year-and-a-half, he has begun a transformation from one of baseball’s most injury-plagued players into one of its most reliable, a drastic change he attributes to his use of acupuncture.

No one area of Burnett’s body is routinely targeted, he said. The number of needles used and where they are placed varies every time he receives treatment.

“I believe in it,” said Burnett, who starts for the Yankees today against the Twins. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I think it’s helped.”

Since his major league debut in 1999, Burnett has landed on the disabled list with a ruptured ligament in his thumb, a stress fracture of his right foot, a bone bruise, a right shoulder strain and a break-up of scar tissue in his right elbow, ultimately a side-effect of the granddaddy of all pitcher’s injuries, a right elbow ligament that required Tommy John surgery.

For all of Burnett’s ferocity on the mound, he had come to be defined by his fragility.

But for the first time in his career, Burnett strung together back-to-back seasons (2008-2009) in which he threw at least 200 innings and made more than 30 starts.

“A.J. has come to a better understanding of what to do to stay healthy,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Sometimes, when you’re young and have a great arm, you just go out and wing stuff. And he’s kind of a free spirit. But over the years … he’s really learned what he needs to do.”

In 2003, before undergoing Tommy John surgery, Burnett made four starts for the Florida Marlins. So when the Marlins won the World Series, Burnett received a ring he hardly wore because he felt as if he hardly deserved it.

When the Yankees received their championship rings for last year’s World Series title, Burnett said he planned to wear the ring proudly. This time, he had earned that right. On a staff that featured renowned grinders such as CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, Burnett was the only member of the Yankees rotation who didn’t miss a single inning to injury.

“That’s what I’ve tried to do for 10 years but I just haven’t been able to,” Burnett said.

Until recently.

Burnett first tried acupuncture in 2007 while with the Blue Jays. Massage therapists employed by the team suggested the technique. Burnett figured it couldn’t hurt.

“I wasn’t afraid of it,” Burnett said. “I’ve seen people do it before. After a while, I loved it.”

By 2008, Burnett underwent acupuncture treatments as often as three times a week.

“I found that I responded really well to the acupuncture, how that treated my body and my nerves, and the release of stress,” Burnett said. “And I bought into it big time.”


The results made him a believer.

In his final season with the Blue Jays, Burnett made a career-high 34 starts. He also set career-highs in victories (18), innings (221 1/3) and strikeouts (231). It was only the second time that he crossed the 30-start plateau and the first time since 2005, his final season with the Marlins.

His timing couldn’t have been better. Heading into his free-agent year, Burnett had plenty of financial motivation to show that he could stay healthy. The pitching-starved Yankees were convinced, signing the right-hander to a five-year contract for $82.5 million – and a team-employed acupuncture specialist.

“(Cashman) basically told me, ‘Hey, we want you to have the exact same program that you have,’ ” Burnett said. “In a sense, I live by it in a way. I love it because I really feel like it helps.”

In the days leading up to his starts, it’s not uncommon to see Burnett return to the clubhouse, still trying to fully emerge from his slumber.

“I try to pass out every time,” he said. “It’s a different kind of sleep. It’s like a heavy coma.”

He can be out for as much as half an hour at a time while undergoing treatment, occasionally remaining asleep even after the needles have been removed from his body. Sometimes, however, Burnett has been seen sound asleep, with needles sticking out of his body.

“Yeah, it’s bizarre,” Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey said. “It’s a thing he’s been doing for a while now. He trusts it, he enjoys it, and he seems to think he gets results from it. That’s all that matters.”

Sometimes, Girardi walks by the trainers and catches glimpses of Burnett in the middle of an acupuncture session. The manager can barely stand the sight.

“I cringe because there’s no way I could do it,” said Girardi, who recalls a few teammates through the years giving acupuncture a chance. “He’s always trying to get me to do some, but I don’t think I could take it.”

Indeed, acupuncture may not be for everyone. But what’s most important for the Yankees is that Burnett knows it’s for him.

“The bottom line is that I was on the field for 35 starts,” he said. “That’s my main goal.”

Marc Carig may be reached at mcarig@starledger.com