Thursday, June 11, 2009

As Good As It Gets

The photo of Chien Ming Wang above was taken on June 15th , 2008, just before he stepped into the batter's box against Roy Oswalt in the fifth inning. With men on first and second, Wang squared to bunt and laid it on the ground in front of Oswalt, who threw Jorge Posada out at third base for the second out of the inning. Wang took his place on first after the unsuccessful sacrifice.

Comfortably the best pitcher in the Yankees' starting rotation to that point, Wang had cruised through the Astros line-up that Sunday afternoon, having not allowed a run in 5 innings and the Yanks sat atop a comfortable 3-0 lead. The win they would notch later in the day would bring them to 4 games over .500, their high water mark on the season at the time.

Next up was Johnny Damon who hit a grounder towards Miguel Tejada at short. Wang, not the fastest of runners, would have been out comfortably at second, but Tejada mishandled the ball and everyone was safe. This in turn brought up Derek Jeter, who hit what might have been the costliest three run single in Yankee history. Cano scored easily on the play, but as he rounded third base, Wang came up limping and the rest was history. They were tack-on runs in what turned out to be a 13-0 blowout and it probably wouldn't have happened if Miguel Tejada had fielded Damon's ball cleanly.

The Lisfranc injury sustained by the sinkerballer not only struck a huge blow to the Yankees chances of making the playoffs in 2008, but has seemingly since submarined his career.

When I look at the picture above, I think about the scene they have in a lot of movies, where things reach an obvious high point and the characters are blissfully unaware of the demise that is sure to follow. Like in Casino where Ace and Ginger are cutting the cake at their wedding. Everything is wonderful until Ginger sneaks out during the reception to call her old pimp of a boyfriend, Lester Diamond, from a pay phone in the hallway. Similar to Blow where they buy the house in Mexico and everyone jumps in the pool right before George gets knocked for the first time. Or during the The Beach when they take a photo of everyone jumping in the air at the same time to symbolize how perfect and in-sync everything is. Of course when the three Swedish guys get attacked by sharks shortly thereafter, their little utopia dissolves quite quickly.

I'm not trying to say that Wang's wife is going to drive her Mercedes up on the lawn and steal the key to the safe deposit box. He won't serve any prison time. I don't think the Yankees are going to make him stand guard on the edge of the island waiting for the tourists who he gave a copy of the map to, only to watch them gunned down by marijuana farmers protecting their crops.

I do however, think that picture represents a freezeframe of the high water mark of Wang's career and that makes me really sad. The guy was an extremely valuable and inexpensive part of the Yankees for parts of 4 seasons and over 600 innings pitched. He has the support of an entire country. Now he's a guy with no clear role and a 14.34 ERA who can't catch a break.

Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes, can't it? Damn you Miguel Tejada!


  1. As baseball blog posts go, that has to be one of the finest things I've ever read.

    What a nice respite from "Cano's isolated power and WAR is trending toward the harmonic mean for middle infielders, which bodes poorly for further PECOTA projections."

    Seriously, that was a poignant, dare I say moving commentary. It's why, as I said in another blog post today, I'd never wish the life of a professional athlete on anyone. For the very few, very elite, it's a good gig. For the rest - including the majority of major league baseball players - it's not what it's cracked up to be.

    Let's all say a prayer that Wang recovers.

  2. Uncle 86g, sincerely appreciate the compliment and am glad you liked the post. Sometimes the ideas just hit you and you have roll with them.

    You're right, in sports like any other walk of life, we idolize the very top during their breif stints at the peak. We rarely think what it would be like to be the guy to played the cop standing in the left of the screenshot, which is an eminently more realistic goal.

    I'm certainly pulling for the Wanger.

  3. Listen Jay, what you do to your wanger is your own busin...

    Oh, pulling for the Wanger. Nevermind...