On Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury and Being Injury Prone

NY Post

Injuries happen, sometimes with great regularity, to everyone. The causes always vary, some due to negligence (either from self or third party) or by pure happenstance. Professional sports teams and athletes spend millions of dollars and hours trying to avoid injuries in the former category, even to the point that they might overwork their bodies and get injured anyway. We’ve come a long way when it comes to injury prevention but it’s nowhere near perfect. Think of every year that you’ve watched sports and remember all of the years that were seemingly ruined by a single ligament in a knee or elbow. It happens frequently.

The Yankees finally released Jacoby Ellsbury on November 20th, 2019. They also designated Greg Bird for assignment, which potentially means the end of his time with the Yankees. Both players are what I consider textbook examples of what’s known as “being injury prone” in sports. Ellsbury, from the beginning of his career with the Boston Red Sox, has dealt with with injuries. Of his seven years with Boston, he had three fully healthy seasons with a fourth where he played another 130+ games. The healthy seasons were good, especially in 2011 when he seemed to find a power stroke he never had before to combine with his speed.

Some of the injuries Ellsbury sustained were a product of the player he was. He slid hard into second and injured his shoulder. He collided with Adrián Beltré and broke his ribs. Sometimes, you just can’t avoid injuries if you constantly hurl yourself around a baseball field. He broke his foot after he fouled a ball off of it. You can’t really prevent that kind of injury either.

The contract he received (in my opinion) from the Yankees was reflective of his potential floor. A fast, good defender in centerfield only has to hit a little bit to be an average to above average contributor, and Ellsbury showed that. The Yankees never expected him to replicate the 9.5 fWAR season he produced in 2011, but they probably expected his floor somewhere around 3 WAR a year that would diminish as he reached his mid-to-late 30s. He showed in his debut that he was capable of that floor, but he never reached it again.

First it was a knee sprain in 2015, a healthy but disappointing 2016, then a concussion in 2017. In 2018, an oblique injury and a torn labrum in his hip followed by plantar fasciitis and a shoulder injury in 2019. Eventually, the body just gives in. With two full seasons away from baseball, it would be a miracle if he had made it back, much less contribute.

Fans have said and likely will continue to say that Ellsbury was injury prone as a way to jab or use it as a character flaw. The first thing fans jump to is that Ellsbury never wanted to play, he just wanted his paycheck. I’m not sure how you can watch players like Ellsbury didn’t want to play while doing things like this:

Players like that don’t want to quit. Their bodies make them quit, because it would be hazardous to their long term well-being if they continued. As of writing this, the Yankees are looking to recoup some of the money from the contract because Ellsbury may have used an outside specialist for treatment without their permission. This is likely far from being resolved.


Greg Bird is about nine years younger than Ellsbury and yet his major league career, at least with the Yankees, may be over. Bird had his fantastic debut nearly four years ago, as he replaced an injured Mark Teixeira. He was going to be the next Yankees home grown talent. In 2016, it was a torn labrum in his shoulder, ending his season before it started. The following season, he fouled a ball off his foot like Ellsbury, and things just never really recovered. There was a surgery and “anonymous Yankees insiders” :

‘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.’

Remember, when a player gets injured doing their job, they never actually want to heal, but rather collect a paycheck. A paycheck for Bird that year? Just the league minimum, $545,500. That was probably the beginning of the end, but then he showed up in the playoffs and slashed .244/.426/.512 with three homeruns. The ankle was hurt again in 2018, with another surgery and diminished performance upon return. There was a plantar fascia tear in 2019, but even then there was Luke Voit who had taken the majority of playing time.

Bird came up as a catcher but transitioned to first, seemingly saving his legs and fast tracking his bat. Catcher is supposed to be the physically challenging position with more potential for injury. Yet, as a first basemen Bird never played a full season. You can’t look at someone, unless they’re throwing themselves off of high buildings or doing extreme sports, and realistically say that they’re at fault for their body’s recovery or that you can predict how frequently they will be injured.

The contrast would be CC Sabathia, who literally pitched until he broke his body, because everyone will tell you there was no other way it could end for him. Yankee fans love him mostly for his part in the 2009 World Series but also because he just kept pushing his body even when it begged him to stop. We hoist up athletes for playing through injury and that’s (hopefully) their choice to do so. Times change and I don’t know that we need to do that anymore, because these are people with lives after sports who still need to function. If players are comfortable with that then so be it, but we shouldn’t be pressuring them to push through injuries that would probably leave us non-athletes bedridden indefinitely.

I’m sure Bird will continue to look to play, but maybe Ellsbury knows this is the end. I wish it went differently for them, and I’m sure they do too, because both are worth more than being labeled injury prone.



Sports, IT, Engineering

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store