Seeing Greg Bird back on the diamond in the Arizona Fall League is a breath of fresh air to Yankees fans, despite the fact that he is still not 100%. Bird suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder prior to the start of the 2016 season, and needed almost a full calendar year to recover from surgery. Manager Joe Girardi has recently expressed his hopes that Bird will be the starting first baseman come Opening Day, but how Bird fares in the spring will likely determine that.
The injury was a major setback for Bird, a promising prospect who was his own version of Gary Sanchez when he arrived in 2015 and slugged 11 homers in 178 plate appearances. There are still hopes that Bird will be a prominent contributor to the Yankees’ new core of prospects that could carry the team into future contention. Luckily for Bird, members of the old core of Yankees had their experience with major injuries and were able to make the journey back. Here’s a few to note, along with others outside of the old core.
Mo appeared in just nine games in 2012 before tearing his knee in Kansas City while shagging fly balls in batting practice. It was an activity he participated regularly during his incredible career, but one that would cost him the rest of the season and plenty of physical rehabilitation. Rumors were that 2012 would be Rivera’s final season, but the season-ending injury ended any talks of that, as the greatest closer of all time vowed to not go out on such a sour note and would return in 2013.
Rivera kept to his word and made it back for his final season in 2013, recording 44 saves with a 2.11 ERA, and an All-Star selection. His solid farewell season helped make his devastating injury a year prior a distant memory.
Another member of the Core Four suffered a major injury towards the end of his career when Jeter broke his ankle diving for a ground ball in the first game of the 2012 ALCS. The footage of Jeter in agonizing pain still makes me cringe. Jeter would need a screw in his fractured ankle, and would suffer a setback when an additional fracture was later found early in the 2013 season, extending his recovery time.
Jeter would appear in just 19 games in the 2013 season, returning for a few games only to have the ankle bark again, until the Yankees decided it was best to shut him down completely. After leading the league in hits just a year before, Jeter wanted to show he could still play, and returned in 2014 for his final season.
Jeter’s numbers clearly declined in 2014 as he would bat .256 with just four home runs, but was able to stay healthy and appear in 145 games during his farewell season, setting up a fitting ending to his storied career on his final night in the Bronx.
Perhaps the most parallel example to Bird would be Posada, who struggled with pains in his right shoulder for the first half of the 2008 season before electing to have shoulder surgery in July so he would be ready for the start of the 2009 season. The surgery, like Bird’s, was to repair labrum damage.
Posada recovered and returned for 2009 and would hit the first home run at the new Yankee Stadium in April. His comeback season was a solid one statistically, batting .285 with 22 homers and 81 RBI. Posada would help the Yankees sweep the Twins in the ALDS by batting .364 for the series, as the Yankees marched to their 27th title.
Cone’s 1996 season with the Yankees seemed to end before it ever began when it was announced that the veteran pitcher would require surgery to remove an aneurysm in his right shoulder. Many declared his season over after surgery was performed, but Cone exceeded all medical expectations when he returned to the mound late in the regular season, and left his first start back with a no-hitter intact. Manager Joe Torre felt health was more important than history, and saved Cone’s energy for future starts when he would be needed. Turns out, he would be desperately needed.
Cone turned the 1996 World Series around with a phenomenal start in Atlanta to win the pivotal Game 3 and get the Yanks on the board in the series. Later in his career, he was able to finish what he started in 96 when he threw a perfect game in the Bronx in 1999.
Teixeira had been averaging 150 games played per year for the first decade of his career heading into the 2013 season, but that reputation of durability declined for the remainder of his career after suffering a right wrist injury in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Teixeira tried to make it back, but would only appear in 15 games before electing to have surgery to repair the torn tendon sheath. He was told by doctors that he would need six months before he was 100% again.
Teixeira would re-aggravate the wrist injury in 2014, as wrist problems are extremely difficult to eliminate when it comes to swinging a bat. He went on to appear in 123 games in 2014 and bat .216 before rebounding immensely in 2015, only to have his MVP-type season derailed by yet another injury. Teixeira has recently called it a career after a disappointing 2016 season.
He got hurt. A lot. It didn’t work out.