Right about now if I owned any pieces of clothing with pinstripes I would hide them. (Of course, if I owned any clothing with pinstripes everyone I know from growing up in Boston would disown me.) I didn’t know you could catch broken bones, strained ligaments and sprained muscles the way you can catch the flu just by having someone breathe on you, but the New York Yankees seem to be on the verge of that kind of medical breakthrough.
Although opening day is a few weeks ago, the No. 1 concern in the Yankees spring training camp at this point is whether or not there will be 25 guys healthy enough to fill a roster, never mind who will play where when the first pitch is thrown.
It’s been a long time since baseball analysts reviewed a Yankee lineup and didn’t pencil the team in as the favorite for the American League East Division crown, or at the very least being a contender. But if a recent experience is emblematic of pre-season thinking I think we’re looking at a Yankees team that could finish last in the East. The Yankees can’t even count on the Baltimore Orioles to prevent that from happening anymore. One of my friends, who is a diehard Yankees fan (I tolerate them) was shaking his head when I saw him, already lamenting how 2013 was going to be different because the Yankees wouldn’t be going anywhere in the standings. Usually, all you get at this time of the year from Yankee buffs is arrogance.
Right now the Yankees are dead men walking–with canes, on crutches, in casts–if they are walking at all. While a select group of players is in various stages of repair, there is no way to predict if some or all of them will be able to come back and be effective this season or just when during this season. Neither the Yankees nor the fans have a clue how capable the heart of the team will be.
The casualty list is impressive. Reliever Mariano Rivera, shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, outfielder Curtis Granderson, and first baseman Mark Teixera all had or have major injuries. Some are trying to make comebacks and might start the season on the Yankee roster. Some are out for weeks for sure. And nobody has any idea if Rodriguez will be able to play this year or ever again. The one most deserving of independent fan rooting for a clean comeback is Jeter, who as his career winds down is on the verge of posting some historic stats.
They all had or have injuries that were too serious to repair with band-aids. They all have been stars and they all would be key components in the New York lineup if they were healthy. The Yankees did not spend big to fill holes over the off-season and they do not have the type of depth on the team that can cover up problems if several of these guys are unable to play at an All-Star level.
Even if fans despise the Yankees (and there is definitely a core group in that corner) they should be able to appreciate the individual skills and accomplishments of the top Yankee players and true fans don’t wish for career-ending injuries or stars to have seasons ruined by injury.
But I still suspect there will be considerable gloating over the general fate of the Yankees as they fall into the division basement. If you wear the pinstripes you don’t get the sympathy vote.