When Greg Bird was called up in August of 2015, the outlook of the Baby Bombers was murky at best. Aaron Judge was still a hulk of a player who didn’t have plate discipline; Gary Sanchez had yet to quiet concerns over his catching; Didi Gregorius, well, he was just starting to feel comfortable as the Yankees shortstop.
Bird came first though, and it’s easy to forget that. He was also the first of the Baby Bombers to have a big, clutch moment. On September 22, 2015, when the Yankees were battling for first place with the juggernaut Blue Jays, Bird hit a go-ahead three-run home run that ultimately won the Yankees the game:
Bird finished that season with a 137 wRC+, and it very much looked like he would compete with Mark Teixeira for the everyday first base spot in 2016. Then, injury struck. He underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and instead of joining Judge and Sanchez that year, he had to wait another.
Spring training arrived in 2017, and the optimism resurfaced. In March he had eight home runs, seven doubles, and hit .451/.556/1.098 across just 23 games. At the end of Grapefruit League play, though, he fouled a pitch off of his ankle and wasn’t the same for months. He hit a putrid .100/.250/.200 before going on the disabled list due to an os trigonum injury in his right foot.
In the mean time, questions surfaced. Is he really worth the wait? Should the Yankees try to acquire another first baseman to bridge the gap, like Yonder Alonso or Lucas Duda? There was even a quote from an anonymous source, who said this:
“‘You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,’ a Yankee insider complained to me earlier this week. ‘You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.’”
His diagnosis wasn’t discovered until July when he had surgery to remove the os trigonum bone; he returned to major league roster on August 26th. In the second half, it didn’t take long for Bird to return to his 2015 self. He hit .253/.316/.575 with eight home runs in 29 games.
Fast forward to Game Three of the ALDS, and Bird finally had his moment. After a prelude in 2015 by showing what he could do in the clutch. This moment — a solo home run against Andrew Miller to break the tie in the playoffs — delivered. I can’t begin to describe how long awaited this was.
That home run pretty much silences the critics, in my mind. No more talk about whether he actually cares or whether he really wants to come back. It was pure hogwash regardless of the result, but it’s at least nice to stick that in critics’ faces.
Does this mean he’s going to have a full and prosperous career? Who really knows. He could get injured again in the spring and we may do this all over again. Here’s what I will say, though: If you think about the value to a franchise, almost nothing is more valuable to the Yankees than important moments in October. That’s how they build their brand, and that’s how they draw fans to the park the following year.
Bird has provided that, and anyone who watches baseball knows that his swing is special. I don’t know how October ends—I am writing this as Game Four rages on—but that one swing in particular will be remembered for a long time. Bird is the word, and that will be the case in 2018.