Hearing the news that Jacoby Ellsbury would be undergoing surgery for a torn labrum, keeping him off the field for the entire 2018 season, brought a mix of disappointment and derision. On the one hand, I never want to see anyone get hurt on a baseball field. This is their workplace, and a player suffering a concussion, torn muscle, or other injury while at work is no different to me than a roofer or firefighter injured on the job. It’s somewhat eerie that sports fans get such insight into the private health issues of human beings.
On the other hand, there is a certain tragic comedy in Ellsbury’s season. Between his hip injury and the original oblique problem, he hasn’t played a single inning in the 2018 regular season. At the beginning of the year, we were all wondering how the Yankees would find playing time for all their outfielders, and now we know that was something we didn’t need to worry about.
On the OTHER other hand, Ellsbury’s injury highlights what might be a structural problem with the Yankees as an organization. For the last couple of seasons, a team that boasts the deepest pockets and most resources in the league has had a problem diagnosing and recognizing injuries. Ellsbury, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are all object examples in the organization’s recent failure to manage injuries.
Bird’s problems go back to last year, when the Yankee medical staff took three months to realize the first baseman had a broken foot. The delay in proper diagnosis and treatment meant that he missed a huge chunk of last season, after missing the previous year with shoulder surgery. The 2016 example, that happens. Players get hurt and miss time. The 2017 example, and the complications that stretched into 2018 where Bird was playing hurt through Spring Training and missed significant time this year, shouldn’t happen to a professional team.
Sanchez, meanwhile, has bounced from DL stint to DL stint with the same groin problem twice this season. After his infamous “no-hustle” game against the Rays, he went back on the 10-day DL, revealing that he re-aggravated his groin injury. I am not a doctor, but re-aggravating an injury within a week of returning screams that a player was brought back too quickly.
Given that he plays the most demanding position on the field, and the one that’s by far the hardest on a player’s legs, the failure of the Yankees to manage Sanchez’s injury seems to have doomed him to a full season of subpar performance. If the reason to return Sanchez too early was to give the Yankees a better chance of catching the Red Sox, that tactic has blown up in the Yankees’ face too.
As for Aaron Judge, his fractured wrist isn’t on the Yankees. It’s exactly the kind of freak injury that no conditioning or preventative measure can help; if you play baseball there will be a chance you’re hit by a pitch. Last year, however, can be placed on the Yankees. Judge played the second half of the season while wrapping his arms and shoulders in ice packs, and when questioned about it both he and the team were mum. There were rumors of a cortisone shot, and then finally the news in the offseason that he had surgery to remove “loose bodies”.
We’ll never know if giving Judge a week off or some other recovery program in the middle of last August would have sped up his healing, and hedged some of his awful lack of production that month. What we do know is the hush-hush attitude around it, in conjunction with the rest of the organization’s injury mishaps, shows that the team is either not taking player’s health as seriously as it should, or if they’re too incompetent to successfully treat their players.
Injury luck is one of the biggest determining factors in a team’s success. One of the reasons the Yankees were so successful in the late 90s/early 2000s was an uncanny ability to avoid major injury. If Mookie Betts or JD Martinez were to suffer a significant injury down the stretch, it would change the outlook of the AL East race. With the impact that injuries to the right - or wrong - players have, the Yankees need to ask themselves if they’re doing all they can do to keep players on the field.