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Tough break

PHOENIX – He doesn't remember stepping under any ladders, opening any umbrellas indoors or breaking any mirrors. And while Bobby Crosby assuredly has stepped on a crack somewhere, it's supposed to break your mother's back, not your own.

Crosby believes in luck. He believes the bad kind explains why he has spent the last two seasons getting to know X-ray, MRI and bone-scan technicians on a first-name basis. He believes the good kind will come to him soon, partly because he's due it, partly because he needs it and – in what would make Branch Rickey proud – partly because he worked for it.

Luck, too, is a barrier. It separates Crosby from the nasty compound adjective no player wants to precede his name.

"I don't think I'm injury-prone," he said recently from Oakland A's training camp, where Crosby took batting practice this week for the first time since he learned his spine was fractured. And he is right. He may not be injury-prone. The cracked ribs he suffered on Opening Day 2005 might have been a fluke. His fractured ankle later that season surely was an accident. The bruised finger on Opening Day last year – happenstance and nothing more.

And yet with athletes, individual injuries, like patches on a quilt, get sewn together no matter their disparate sizes, shapes and qualities. Crosby's ribs had nothing to do with his ankle, his finger nothing to do with his back.

No matter. When Kerry Wood hurt himself falling out of a hot tub, no one thought much of it because it has become expected.

"I want to stay healthy," Crosby said. "That's it. I'm confident in what I can do. I don't set certain goals. But if I stay healthy, I can do good things.

"My rookie year I stayed healthy, and I played 151 games. That turned out OK."

Crosby won American League Rookie of the Year in 2004, played a tremendous shortstop, hit 22 home runs and thrust himself toward the edge of elite status at baseball's glamour position. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he looked the part of franchise shortstop as much as he played it.

"He can be one of the best in the game," Oakland manager Bob Geren said. "He's got power. He's a solid defensive player. He can play.

"He feels good, though, so let's stay positive on that."

Everything with Crosby has become a hedge, a hope or a hypothetical. He knows he can produce … if he stays healthy. Geren thinks his health is improving … so no need to belabor the past.

"Get him 500 to 600 at-bats," A's third baseman Eric Chavez said, "and he's going to his 25 or 30 home runs."

Maybe. In Crosby's last two seasons combined, he has hit 18 home runs in 691 at-bats. During his scant batting-practice sessions so far, Crosby has also unveiled a swing with more controlled aggression. It is still long and looping, still full of holes for pitchers to exploit, though Crosby believes that by reigning its force he'll prevent another injury.

"My back was a freak deal, something that developed over time," Crosby said. "Without your back, you can't do anything. You can't bend over, you can't swing a bat.

"Every day it doesn't hurt is a good day."

All throughout last season it had hurt Crosby, and finally July 21 he was removed from a game because of the pain. He returned a few days later, went on the disabled list a few days after that, held out hope he'd return for the AL Championship Series and eventually got used to his seat on the bench.

Team doctors had told Crosby he had a sacroiliac-joint strain. Second and third opinions suggested Crosby had fractured the L-5 vertebra, and Dr. Robert Watkins, the spinal surgeon who operated on Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown, confirmed the diagnosis.

It marked the third time A's medical personnel had misdiagnosed Crosby … they didn't catch his broken ribs or ankle until a few days after they happened … and he told the San Francisco Chronicle: "It's almost absurd to think you can play in the big leagues and need four different opinions to find out what's going on."

Then again, for a misdiagnosis, there was a need to diagnose, and diagnoses are not necessary without injuries, which, ultimately, lead back to Crosby. And their mention brings him back to luck, long his scourge, preferably his friend.

"I've had a run of bad luck," Crosby said, and he did so forcefully, as if to tell Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, "Shallow men believe in luck," that he was full of crap.

It's not shallow men who believe in luck.

It's ones with no other answer.