The Quarter Million Dollar Wrist Injury

10 Aug

Ken Strong was a Hall of Fame running back and kicker for 12 seasons in the NFL, and the hero of the 1934 Championship game when he scored 17 points in the New York Giants 30-13 win over the Chicago Bears.  The aftermath of a wrist injury prevented him from starring in the major leagues as well.

Elmer Kenneth Strong Jr. was born March 21, 1906 (Baseball Reference incorrectly lists his birth as August 6, and his name as Kenneth Elmer).  A football and baseball star at New York University, Strong played the 1929 season at New Haven in the Eastern League before joining the NFL’s Staten Island Stapleton’s in September.

Ken Strong

In 104 games at New Haven Strong hit .283 with 21 home runs. After hitting .272 in 27 games at New Haven in 1930, he was sent to Hazleton in the New York Penn League.  Strong hit .373 with 41 home runs in 117 games at Hazelton.  Headlines that referred to Strong as the “New Babe” were greatly exaggerated given that 39 of his 41 home runs were hit at Hazleton’s Buhler Stadium, the smallest ballpark in organized ball in 1930.  Regardless, he was considered a top prospect and his contract was purchased by the Detroit Tigers who sent him to Toronto in the International League in 1931.

At Toronto he was batting .340 through 118 games when he broke his wrist.  Strong underwent a surgical procedure in Detroit which included the removal of part of his wrist bone and was limited to kicking during the 1931 NFL season.

Strong was given a good shot at making the Tigers opening day roster, but was slow to recover from the surgery.  When the Tigers sent Strong to New York for a second surgery it was discovered that the wrong bone had been removed during the first procedure, permanently damaging Strong’s wrist.

In 1933 Strong sued the doctor for $250,000, the equivalent of more than $4.4 million today.  Strong claimed the surgery robbed him of the opportunity to play major league ball and limited his ability in the NFL.

The trial featured former Tigers star Bobby Veach demonstrating to Federal Judge Ernest O’Brien “that good wrist action was essential in baseball.

Bobby Veach

Strong was awarded $75,000 and the verdict was upheld on a later appeal.

While Strong continued to play in the NFL through 1935, and again in 1939 and 1944-47, his baseball career was over. He attempted to come back in 1935, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but was released before the season began.

Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967, Strong died in New York City on October 5, 1979.

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