Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Yankees' Worst Injuries / My Worst Injuries

In honor of the Yankees' too-little-too-late-but-nevertheless-satisfying firing of conditioning coach/season-killer Marty Miller, here are the Top Five Yankees Injuries I Have Witnessed, along with the Correlating Top Five Injuries I Have Endured:

5. Andre Robertson's Neck Injury / My Broken Pinky
Promising young shortstop Andre Robertson rolled his car late one night on the West Side Highway, severely injuring his neck (and paralyzing a woman in another car, but that's neither here nor there) and ruining his burgeoning career. One of my favorite players at a tender age (both me and him) was derailed before he ever really got started.

I broke my pinky by getting it caught in a locker-room door in junior high. It turned pink, purple and enormous. It healed completely, but my left pinky is slightly bent and misshapen to this day. Just like Andre Robertson's neck.

4. Hideki Matsui's Broken Wrist / My Strained Bicep
After playing 1,768 consecutive games in the U.S. and Japan, outfielder Hideki Matsui saw his streak come to a fluky end when he broke his wrist diving for a sinking liner in May 2006. Coupled with another freak wrist injury to outfielder Gary Sheffield, Matsui's broken bone gave the Yankees just 1/3 of a starting outfield for the majority of the season, and a lot to overcome.

Over a weekend of golf, softball, whiffleball and more, my right arm came out feeling very sore but not necessarily injured. However, a couple days later while playing tennis, the pain became so excruciating that I had to hit side-armed serves and two-handed forehands, then quit after one set, defeated. After two sleepless nights and a few dozen Advil, I was diagnosed with a strained bicep and potential nerve damage. Coming early in a long softball, tennis and golf season, the injury gave me a lot to overcome.

3. David Cone's Aneurysm / My Imaginary Aneurysm
In his first full season as a Yankee, David Cone was off to a fine start in 1996, with one problem. He kept experiencing numbness and tingling in his pitching hand. After trying to pitch through it, Cone was eventually diagnosed with a small aneurysm in his shoulder, and he underwent season- and career-threatening surgery in order to repair the aneurysm and save his life. Expected to miss the year at minimum, Cone made a heroic return in late August, no-hitting Oakland through seven innings in his return. He helped stop the Yankees' September swoon that year, and played a key role in bringing home the first world championship in 18 years to the Bronx.

Beginning soon after Cone's scare, I started to experience tingling in my right hand as well. I became convinced I, too, had an aneurysm, one which would eventually burst, and I would be rushed to surgery. Unfortunately for me, I wouldn't be in Sweden when it happened, like R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry, and without access to those wonderful doctors, I would perish. I never went to a doctor to get it checked out, but I still occasionally feel tingling, and I wonder.

2. Derek Jeter's Dislocated Shoulder / My Broken Collarbone
Opening Day, 2003: With the Yankees and Derek Jeter poised to have a huge year, Jeter made a typically heads-up play going first-to-third on a tapper back to the mound when no Blue Jay covered third base. Jays catcher Ken Huckaby raced down the line in an effort to take the throw from the first basemen, but got there late and crashed into Jeter just as he was sliding head first into the bag. Huckaby slammed full-speed into Jeter's left shoulder, dislocating it as he drove Jeter into the ground. It might not have been a "dirty" play, as Enrique Wilson claimed, but it was reckless, klutzy and stupid, particularly on a play where the Jays had almost no chance to get Jeter out. Jeter lay on the field, writhing in pain as the training staff attempted to stabilize him enough to get him off the field to pop the shoulder back in. Watching at home, Yankees fans could feel their shortstop's agony as he winced, sweated and screamed. Jeter sat for six weeks, and the promise of Opening Day died a quick, painful death.

One night at a local tavern, after a few beers, and then a few more beers, an argument broke out between me and a friend over who was faster. We decided to settle it right then and there, in our street clothes, in the alley behind the bar. At the last moment, a large Canadian decided to join the sprint as well. I thought the alley was a little narrow for a three-man race, but didn't think it was a big deal. I jumped out to an early lead, but felt my competitors gaining ground behind me as we passed the half-way mark. I refused to give ground, and the large Canadian bumped into me attempting to pass at full speed. I flew forward, head-first, and landed directly on my right shoulder in the concrete alley. I rolled over, vaguely aware that something hurt, but mostly upset that I hadn't won the race. Then, a friend attempted to lift me up by pulling under my arms. Pain shot through my right arm, and I waved him off and stood under my own power. Back in the bar, my friends repeatedly called me a pussy as I tried to explain that I couldn't lift my beer with my right arm. A waitress/EMT checked me out and told me I probably had a severe bruise. I believed her, drank some more and cabbed it home. When I stumbled into bed, I grimaced and grunted. My wife asked me what was wrong. I said, "I'm severely injured," and passed out. The next day, an X-ray showed a broken collarbone. The bad news: 6-8 weeks of inactivity and an annoying sling. The good news: Vicodin and a wife to wait on me.

1. Phil Hughes's Hamstring Pull / My Hamstring Pull
Recipient of the #1 slot more for the emotional impact of the injury than the physical severity, Hughes's blown hammy destroyed what could have been a historic day. The long-term impact of the injury won't be known for some time, but it could be devastating to the Yankees' season.

In a similar vein, when I was 28, I agreed to play in a 12-inch softball league, my first participation in any sort of organized sport since high school. On the first day of practice, things were going great, and my old baseball skills were coming back to me. I wondered why I hadn't been playing sports all along. I was a boy of summer again. Late in the day, I was shagging fly balls in left field, and took off in a sprint trying to catch a liner over my head and to my left. As I was closing in on the ball, I felt something pop in my leg and hit the ground hard. It was my first muscle injury of any kind, and a cruel reminder that maybe we ain't that young anymore. Like Hughes, I was on the shelf 4-6 weeks.