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Matt Mankiewich

Karpin: Bird Injury Evokes Eerie Similarities with a Former Yankee First Base Prospect

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You’re a die-hard Yankee fan, you’re getting excited because the season is just a few days away and you get the news about Greg Bird. Does the name Nick Johnson ring a bell?

The eerie similarities came to light earlier today when it was revealed that Bird would need surgery on his right ankle and is expected to miss 6-8 weeks before even starting to think about returning to the field.

Like Bird, Nick Johnson was a left hand hitting first baseman who was touted for stardom but a slew of injuries cut short his path. Bird was projected for more power than Johnson, who was the better defender.

In 1999, Johnson was playing for the Yankees AA affiliate in Norwich where he put up a monster season. The 20-year old had a slash line of .345/.525/.548 with 14 home runs and 87 runs batted in. He also walked 123 times and scored 114 runs.

Like Bird, Johnson’s troubles began in spring training.

In early March 2000, Johnson suffered a strained muscle in his right hand while checking his swing and missed the entire season. The injury became a chronic one that continued to plague him throughout his major league career.

It also began a string of misfortune for the young first baseman.

In 2003, Johnson sustained a stress fracture in his right hand and missed 60 games. He was traded to the Montreal Expos but the injuries continued to haunt him in the 2004 season. A lumbar strain kept him sidelined until late May but then a fractured his cheekbone in August caused him to miss the remainder of the season.

Johnson played parts of ten major league seasons and was never healthy.

As my NY Sportsday colleague Rich Mancuso wrote in his piece, the Yankees can survive this latest injury but what does it mean for the player himself.

Bird’s injury history is becoming as worrisome as Johnson’s did.

Bird was making his mark in the minor leagues and won the Arizona Fall League MVP in 2014 but a shoulder injury KO’ed him for the entire 2016 season. He was having a tremendous spring last year but, ala Johnson, got hurt towards the end of spring camp after he fouled a ball off of his right ankle. Bird played the first month but it became apparent that he would need surgery and ended up missing three months before returning in late August.

This latest surgery will feature the removal of a bone spur from his right ankle, the same body part where he had a procedure last year.

I’m far from being a medical expert but I do know that recurring injuries on the same body part could weaken the bones and may become a chronic problem for Bird.

The 25-year old first baseman has already gained a reputation for being injury prone. Let’s hope that he doesn’t justify that label.


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