If Spring Training stats mattered, Greg Bird would be a superstar.
I distinctly remember coming into Opening Day 2017 believing more than ever that Bird was going to break through. He’d missed a full season with shoulder surgery after his eye-opening debut, but now he was healthy and ready to go. He homered seemingly every day and was the future, along with Gary Sanchez.
But with a week to go in Grapefruit League play, an injury struck. From there, it was a now-familiar story. Bird swung through hittable fastballs, lost his approach at the plate and was soon on the injured list.
In 2018, he didn’t make it through a week of the spring before suffering an injury and his debut came on May 26. His 2019 spring was a reasonable facsimile of 2017, and he similarly couldn’t make it through April despite finally coming off a full and healthy offseason.
In his five years as a Major League player, Greg Bird rarely, if ever, caught a break. His shoulder and feet let him down, eroding his talent during each of his opportunities to secure a long-term role. That’s why he was ultimately surpassed by Luke Voit and Mike Ford, and why he’s all but assured of playing for another organization next spring.
We saw the potential. Before he even reached the Majors, he was the Arizona Fall League MVP, a prospect with a limitless bat. When Mark Teixeira went down with a broken leg, Bird ran with the opportunity and was the Yankees’ best hitter as they chased a postseason berth. Remember when he gave the Yankees’ a crucial win in Toronto with a three-run homer? I sure do.
After his debut season left Yankee fans wanting more, they had to wait another 18 months as his nagging shoulder injury required surgery, the first of his many MLB ailments.
With Chris Carter’s limp bat and glove, Bird had every chance to star when he came back. His foot wouldn’t cooperate. The season was almost lost entirely, but Bird showed just enough to earn a postseason roster spot and the starting first base gig.
You’d be forgiven if your belief in Bird was wavering by then. The tabloids hadn’t been kind to him and his average was well below the Mendoza line.
But Bird was ready for that postseason. He put the Yankees ahead for good with a single in the Wild Card Game, then homered twice in the ALDS. His second homer was the most important of his career. In a scoreless tie, against the best left-handed reliever in baseball, Bird lived up to the moment with an unforgettable blast.
Though Bird would homer in ALCS Game 1, his impact on that series would come with his lack of foot speed, getting thrown out at the plate twice in crucial sequences.
And once the optimism of October wore off, so did Bird’s welcome. He never again hit well enough to stave off the cavalcade of players the Yankees threw at first base, and his injuries precluded a challenge to Voit or Ford for the past two seasons.
Bird can now elect to go to free agency and he should get another chance, perhaps his last chance, to make good on the promise of yesteryear. We held onto our faith in Bird, and only in March did it pay off.