What do Victor Martinez’s heart issues mean for his career?

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
Sep 4, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) at bat against the Kansas City Royals during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Victor Martinez was sent back to the disabled list for a second time this season due to an irregular heartbeat. The Detroit Tigers DH isn’t the only professional athlete to suffer from an irregular heartbeat; in fact, he’s not the only MLB player to miss playing time due to an arrhythmia. But what it means for Martinez’s future is still unknown.

Arrhythmias in baseball

In 2006, David Ortiz underwent testing for heart palpitations after experiencing issues before a game. The slugger was out for about a week before returning to the lineup after a two-day hospital stay, undergoing extensive testing and wearing a heart monitor. Big Papi went on to have a successful career with the Boston Red Sox, retiring after the 2016 season with some impressive stats: hitting 1.021 OPS with 38 home runs.

Mark DeRosa was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons due to an irregular heartbeat during a spring training practice with the Chicago Cubs in 2008. Doctors diagnosed the then 33-year-old with atrial arrhythmia, which was treated with a short procedure allowing the second baseman to return to the field a few weeks later. DeRosa went on to have a career season with the Cubs in ‘08, with a 4.2 WAR. While he played through the 2013 season with a number of clubs, his performance declined.

Common among athletes

Research has found that professional athletes are more prone to irregular heartbeats, these arrhythmias are also referred to as “athlete’s heart.” The result of excessive training (more than one hour most days) can enlarge the heart, which may lead to a slow heart rhythm or fast irregular heart rhythm. A couple of other well-known professional athletes who have suffered arrhythmias include former NBA star Larry Bird and former NFL running back, Arian Foster.

Bird dealt with an irregular heartbeat during his years playing with the Boston Celtics. According to Sports Illustrated, the former player experienced bouts when his heart rate doubled, reaching 104 beats per minute. However, Bird’s condition wasn’t diagnosed until after his retirement, when he continued to experience “episodes” while working in Boston’s front office. Bird’s treatment consisted of diet, exercise and medication.

In 2012, Foster left Week 16’s game in the third quarter with an irregular heartbeat. In early 2013, the running back dismissed rumors that he would undergo surgery for the condition. Although plagued by injury, Foster seemed to finish his career unaffected by the arrhythmia.

What does this mean for V-Mart?

An irregular heartbeat isn’t a deal breaker for athletes; however, it can put them at a greater risk for heart problems. But until doctors are able to pinpoint what’s causing Martinez’s arrhythmias, his future in baseball remains unclear. At 38, the slugger is hitting .255 with just 10 home runs on the season. Martinez previously said he plans to play out his contact with the Tigers, which has one year and $18 million left, before retiring following the 2018 season.