This past weekend’s series against the Red Sox was overall quite delightful. They opened the series with an easy, blowout win, took an embarrassing loss, and then bounced right back with another blowout win in primetime. One of the highlights was Friday night’s game, when Greg Bird stole the show.
In the 8-1 win over the Red Sox, Bird launched two powerful home runs. He knocked one off starter Eduardo Rodriguez and the off Justin Haley. Bird hitting the two home runs was a sight for sore eyes, and it was even better that they came off both a righty and a lefty. It was a statement game from the young first baseman, whose season had been off to an inauspicious start.
Bird really needs to build off that game. When he came up in 2015, he was the first of this new wave of Baby Bombers to come up and impress. Unfortunately a shoulder injury caused him to miss all of the 2016 season. Since then, it’s been a bumpy road back to the majors.
Seemingly poised to take over the starting gig in 2017, Bird ended up missing most of that season after fouling a ball off his foot on the last day of spring training. There were those in the front office who questioned his will to play, and fans made lazy Nick Johnson comparisons. Bird came back towards the end of last year and helped the Yankees get to Game Seven of the ALCS.
Finally healthy, 2018 was supposed to be Bird’s year. Spring training was awful and we later learned it was because he had a coin-sized calcium deposit that needed to be removed in his surgically-repaired ankle. He made his return to the lineup on at the end of May.
Since returning, Bird hasn’t quite found his timing just yet. His five home runs show that his power stroke is still there, and his 12 walks on the year show that his patience is still there. He just lacks consistency his bat. He’s had big games and big hits, like on Friday, but nothing resembling a hot streak. It’s partially why Bird has become such a polarizing figure for Yankees fans.
Brian Cashman once referred to him as the “best hitter in the organization.” The impressive debut and his home run to win Game Three of the ALDS off Andrew Miller illustrate his potential. His inability to stay on the field though, has many wondering if there are better options out there.
Thus far, it’s been easy to defend Bird. It’s not really making excuses, either. The reason I, and so many others, go out of their way to defend Bird is because these reasons are legitimate. Bird can’t be faulted for doctors missing the real issue in 2017. The bone spur he had removed earlier this year was just that, and it isn’t supposed to be a recurring issue. One can attribute his slow start to him just finding his timing.
That’s not to say the criticism of Bird is unwarranted. It’s definitely harsh and a bit unfair, but that’s the nature of sports fans. I understand, though, that it comes from wanting to see that potential develop into something real. And if Bird is ever going to turn his doubters into believers, he has to start now. He needs to have a big year so fans and the front office can have faith that he’s a reliable and realistic option going forward.
Without a doubt, Bird is still the Yankees best option at first base. He’s a better choice than Tyler Austin, Neil Walker, and Brandon Drury. His bat is very real. The Yankees are fortunate that Cashman has been able to build this team, which affords them the ability to be patient with Bird. Now he just needs to reward their patience and faith in him.
He’s been back for over a month now and he needs to get going. It’s time for Greg Bird to silence his critics.