Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wang deserves a better fate

Chien-Ming Wang will be laid out on an operating table today, his star-crossed career now in the hands of Dr. James Andrews.

His season is over. Next season is an unknown. Facing his second shoulder operation in eight years, nothing for Wang is guaranteed.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Wang was once a back-to-back 19-game winner, ace of the New York Yankees, conquering hero of his native Taiwan. He appeared certain to have a long and successful career ahead of him.

But that was before the step–that step–that turned his entire life upside down.

That step, of course, was onto the third-base bag at Minute Maid Park in Houston on June 15 of last year. The bag may have well been a land mine seeing as what it did to Wang's foot, a ligament and tendon torn from the impact.

In the aftermath of the season-ending injury, the what ifs were everywhere.

What if Wang could have gotten the sacrifice bunt down successfully, and what if Miguel Tejada didn't make that throwing error, and what if Derek Jeter didn't loop a single into center, and what if Wang wasn't waved home. It was almost as if the fates had conspired against him.

Nothing in Wang's life has been remotely the same since that moment.

The 2009 season was supposed to be one of redemption for the right-hander, but instead he authored arguably the worst three-start stretch of a generation in April, allowing 23 runs over six innings before mercifully being shifted to the DL with what was called weakness in his hips.

Wang's return from that injury was uneven and short-lasting before his right shoulder starting aching during a July 4 start. Did the foot injury lead to a change in mechanics that brought upon the shoulder injury? I'll leave it to a more qualified person than myself to say for sure, but it's likely a good bet.

The Yankees suddenly have a hole to fill in their rotation for this year, and quite possibly, next. And with his contract up at the end of 2010, there's a chance we may never again see Wang in pinstripes.

I'm not sure Yankees fans, or the organization itself, ever fully appreciated him. His game seemed to lack the requisite flash necessary to endear. There were no double-digit strikeout performances, no wild gesticulating on the mound, no broad smiles in the dugout between starts. He was just a hard-throwing groundball machine, his heavy sinker making him one of baseball's most consistent starters.

In the marathon that is the baseball season, consistency is one of most coveted traits a player can possess. The Yankees will certainly miss that, even if they haven't realized it yet.

Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone.

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