Greg Bird, New York Yankees

Yankees: On Why Greg Bird Is Not Nick Johnson 2.0

The prevailing tendency of comparing Greg Bird to former Yankees first baseman, Nick Johnson, except to insert “oft-injured” in the description, and therefore casting Bird off, is not valid, and here’s why.

When disaster strikes, and make no mistake, the ankle injury suffered by Yankees first baseman Greg Bird qualifies as one, human nature inevitably takes over, and we seek to compartmentalize and compare one event to another.

This helps too, at least, create the illusion there is still order in the unpredictable world we live in. We see AccuWeather predicting the upcoming storm will be worse than Irene and that gives us the perspective to button down the hatches.

Surgery was performed today on Greg Bird and a calcium deposit the size of a quarter was removed from the area where previous operations were done over the past two seasons. Bird will miss six to eight weeks. We know pf the recent nightmare surrounding Bird’s career with the Yankees to date, and more than anything we seek to understand, not only Bird’s future but the future of the team as well.

The early season injury is almost a replica of the time frame last year when Bird went down at the end of April and was lost to the Yankees until just before the postseason. It was thought by Yankees brass, and Bird himself believed, the injuries were a thing of the past and Bird was being counted on to fill the need for a reliable left-handed hitter spaced between Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton at the top of the Yankees power-laden lineup.

Last season, Brian Cashman overreacted (my word choice) by doing some dumpster diving and finding Chris Carter buried in there, signing Carter for a couple of million dollars. The experiment flopped, and it wasn’t until Joe Girardi threw his hands up, begging Cashman to get this guy off my team. Cashman did, and the rest is history with Chase Headley and Todd Frazier handling the duties at first until Bird was able to return.

So far, Neil Walker will get the Opening  Day start and more, and the only move Cashman has made is to bring Adam Lind (previously released) back into the fold with no immediate financial impact. Tyler Austin is also more than capable of filling the void at first base.

So that brings us up to date on the past and present as it relates to Greg Bird. But the point of this piece is to negate the view of the naysayers who proclaim that his situation is nothing more than Nick Johnson 2.0.

Nick Johnson was once one of the most highly touted players in the major leagues. Here’s how Johnson was seen by Baseball Prospectus in 1999:

Johnson has drawn comparisons to Will Clark, but I see him more as Jim Thome, without the fashion statement. Johnson is going to be great; the only question is opportunity.Howard Megdal, Politico

In 2002, Baseball Prospectus upgraded their blurb about Johnson, even going so far as to mention him in the same sentence with Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson.

Johnson missed all of 2000 due to a mysterious (and still slightly worrisome) wrist injury. No matter: he’s destined for greatness. Johnson possesses a Max Bishop/Rickey Henderson batting eye and a very quick stroke, and he plays a pretty good first base, too. There aren’t many players with exactly the same skill set. He’ll likely end up as a cross between John Olerud and Barry Bonds. I think most Yankees fans can live with that, even if it takes him a few years to get thereHoward Megdal, Politico

Greg Bird has been the recipient of similar plaudits, the most recent of which came from former Yankees first baseman, Tino Martinez. Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, once called Bird the “best pure hitter on the Yankees.”

The trouble, of course, is that neither was able to stay on the field for any length of time during their tenure with the Yankees. At only 25, apparently, Bird has plenty of time to negate that and make no mistake, Greg Bird will have a positive impact on the Yankees team before the 2018 season is over.

But there is a parting of the ways between Bird and Johnson, and it is brought to light in what you see, from this list compiled by Bleacher Report of the injuries suffered by Nick Johnson:

2000 – Strained muscle in his right hand checking his swing. Out entire season.

2002 – Bone bruise in left wrist occurred during a caught line drive. Out 24 games .

2003 – Stress fracture in his third metacarpal bone in his right band. Out 61 games .

2004 – Lumbar strain. Out 46 games . Returned, fractured right cheekbone. Out remainder of season from August 20th on .

2005 – Suffered right heel contusion trying to avoid a tag. Out 24 games.

2006 – Fractured right femur in a collision on September 23. Out remainder of season and entire 2007 season .

2008 – Injured right wrist tendon sheath swinging a bat on May 13. Out remainder of the season .

2009 – Strained right hamstring. Out 15 games .

Do we see the same thing? Unlike Greg Bird, whose time lost has been almost exclusively pertaining to one balky ankle, Johnson was all over the place with the injuries that plagued his career. It got to the point where Johnson’s opposing manager, Willie Randolph of the Mets, felt it was necessary to begin his press conference after Johnson broke his leg chasing a foul ball off the bat of David Wright (2007) with this rather remarkable statement:

“Before we get started, I’d just like for you guys that know Nick Johnson to say a little prayer for him tonight,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said at the start of his postgame news conference just after the obviously devastating injury. “You know, he’s a great kid and it’s tough to see him out there like that.” (Politico)

Reiterating, the loss of Bird for any length of time is to be considered a severe invasion of what had been up to this point an injury-free Spring Training for the Yankees, save for Clint Frazier‘s concussion. It was not expected, but it is not the last of the injuries to key players that will crop up as the season moves along.

Depth wins. The Yankees have it with Walker and Austin, and if necessary with Adam Lind. Bird proved last year that he is more than capable of dealing with the realities connected to what may be one of those “shop (play) until you drop” situations.

He’ll fight to get back just as he did last season when idiots in the media said he didn’t have the “makeup” to do so. Patience and time will reveal all when it comes to Greg Bird. And don’t be surprised if (this time) Brian Cashman sits back and waits for the explosion he knows is coming.

And finally, in case there’s anyone out there who doubts the meaning of Greg Bird to the Yankees, here’s a clip to remember from the 2017 bomb Bird hit off Andrew Miller, propelling the Yankees to a 1-0 win in Game 3 of the ALDS and onto the ALCS.

My friends, stay tuned because it can happen again.

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