Joba Chamberlain’s Latest Obstacle

March hasn’t been too kind to some big-name relievers. For Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria, there were torn elbow ligaments. For Joba Chamberlain? Well, this one’s a bit rarer: Last week, he suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle while playing with his 5-year-old son on trampoline-like contraption at a children’s gymnastics center. Essentially, bone pierced skin and he’s reported to have had lost “a potentially life-threatening amount of blood.” Sadly, the incident happened while Chamberlain had been preparing for a return following ulnar collateral ligament replacement — aka, Tommy John surgery — last year. Here’s  Bill Madden and Anthony McCarron, of the New York Daily News, with more details:

“When the skin is intact, it’s much easier to heal,” [Dr. Steven] Weinfeld said. “This makes it not only a career-threatening injury, but a limb-threatening injury. There is a small percentage of people who end up with an amputation. There are a small percentage of people, if the skin envelope doesn’t heal, they are susceptible to infection and that can lead to amputation. These days, that’s less likely to happen because we have good antibiotics.”

Further testing showed no microfractures in Chamberlain’s injured ankle — according to Chad Jennings of the Journal News — and doctors were confident enough in Chamberlain’s ability to avoid infection that they released him from the hospital during the weekend. “Things are going as good as could be expected, as I understand it,” Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman told Jennings. “There’s a limit of what we can give in terms of absolutes, and there’s a spectrum of risk to optimism …. We’re not in a position to give absolutes that this is going to be a definite one way or the other.”

It’s obviously a significant injury, but for what it’s worth, Chamberlain’s agent and his father have both denied the “life-threatening” blood-loss report. Harlan Chamberlain told Dan Martin and Kevin Kernan of the New York Post: “That’s [B.S.]”

For now, Chamberlain will spend the next six weeks in a cast before shifting to a weight-bearing walking boot. As Weinfeld explained in the NYDN report, infection is the most serious concern. The most optimistic scenario calls for him to be back on a mound in July — when he would also resume his rehab from elbow surgery. He was due back from that procedure in mid-June. In all likelihood, he will miss the entire 2012 campaign. We could spend all day moralizing, but the bottom line is that Chamberlain made a mistake. You know it. I know it. And he knows it.

* * *

Like so many people these days, Chamberlain grew up in a broken home. His mother battled substance abuse and left when he was three, so his father — who was stricken with polio as a child and needs a motorized scooter to get around — raised him. Chamberlain struggled with weight issues and injuries (triceps and knee) in college, though he showed enough during his junior year at Nebraska to be considered one of the best prospects in the country leading up to the 2006 draft. The Yankees grabbed him with the 40th overall pick and paid him a $1.1 million bonus.

The Yankees promoted Chamberlain late in 2007 to help their beleaguered bullpen, and he became an instant star. He posted a 1.82 FIP and 1,221 ERA+ in 24 relief innings. The “Joba Rules” — a phrase media and merchandisers coined — were put in place to protect his golden arm from notorious reliever-abuser Joe Torre. The Joba Rules were roundly mocked when Chamberlain blew out his elbow last summer because hey, they went through all that trouble to protect him but he got hurt anyway. Of course the other side of the argument is that the rules may have kept him healthy long enough to help the Yankees to the 2009 World Championship.

That instant success proved to be the worst non-injury to happen in Chamberlain’s career, as he’s now widely considered overrated and a disappointment because he’s never been able to repeat that initial dynamite performance. He’s been effective in any role, though, and the Yankees certainly have moved him around quite a bit. Chamberlain bounced from the bullpen (late-2007 and early-2008) to the rotation (late-2008 and 2009) and back to the bullpen (2010-present), though he was never sent to the minors to make the transition. Instead, the Yankees had him gradually stretch out in the big leagues. If we remove the short, pitch-limited starts he made in mid-2008 (when he was being stretched out) and late-2009 (when the Yankees were trying to limit his innings), we get what amounts to a full season’s worth of starts as a big leaguer:

Games Innings ERA K% BB% HR%
Starter (full starts)
33 183.1 3.88 22.3% 10.1% 2.4%
Reliever 150 160.1 3.03 27.6% 7.5% 1.7%

Like I said, Chamberlain has been a very effective pitcher for the Yankees — just not as hyper-effective as he was during those brief 24 innings in 2007. That was an unsustainable pace.

Chamberlain had a rough upbringing, and those ups and downs have carried into his playing career. He enjoyed the high of being a young phenom, then he dealt with the embarrassment of his DUI arrest following the 2008 season. He experienced the joy of a World Series championship in 2009, then he had to endure Tommy John surgery last year. And now he’s in the dumps again, the injured hurler who suffered a career-threatening ankle injury — and for what? For being a father who just wanted to play with his son.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

19 Responses to “Joba Chamberlain’s Latest Obstacle”

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  1. SFSUGatorAlum says:

    but the bottom line is that Chamberlain made a mistake. You know it. I know it. And he knows it.

    So you’re saying it was a mistake to spend time with his son?

    Your last sentence also sends a mixed message, so I’ll save my rant in case I’m reading this wrong.

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    • jeff_bonds says:

      It’s not like Joba was hunting grizzlies with his bare hands. He chose to play on a “trampoline-like contraption” that’s deemed safe enough for children.

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      • noseeum says:

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying he made a mistake. It’s a well intentioned, perfectly reasonable mistake to make, but the guy is still recovering from a significant injury. The biggest impact is his TJ rehab is now put on hold.

        I know it’s difficult when you’re “feeling fine” and pitching from the mound to really understand that you’re not back yet. Totally understandable.

        It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that a trampoline is much safer for a 40 pound child than it is for a 230 pound man! Force = mass times distance. Lots of mass here.

        Bottom line is you can be a great dad and watch your kid on a trampoline without getting up on it yourself. I don’t think he’s an idiot or jerk for doing it, but a little caution in his situation is more than merited.

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      • joser says:

        Not to mention, he could’ve come down on his repaired arm (or, more likely, used his repaired arm to catch himself on protective netting or whatever) and done damage to a limb that hasn’t finished healing. There’s lots of reasons for an athlete recovering from surgery not to put himself in situations that could lead to setbacks. Of course, athletes are conditioned to think they can accomplish things that might be unwise, difficult, or impossible for ordinary human beings — and they’re often right — so while it’s completely reasonable to judge this as a mistake, it’s also completely understandable why it didn’t look that way to him.

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    • Joey says:

      Word is that he was jumping with full force on a trampoline alongside his kid. At one point he was coming down full force and might have landed on top of hid kid so he tried to adjust himself in mid air to avoid smashing into a child on the way down. So while he avoided the kid he lost his balance and came down off of the trampoline and went right into the solid floor ankle first.

      Every report was that the blood loss was severe but that the “life threatening” amount was highly exaggerated. Most people who see a lot of blood just assume the worst. No one goes to the playpen gymnasium thinking that someone will recreate the blood tidal wave from The Shining.

      Was Joba careless? Yes. Anyone who has seen those giant trampolines knows that an adult can get some serious air with those things. But still this seems just like a freak accident. Similar to when Aaron Boone broke his ankle or whatever playing pickup basketball. It’s not like these guys went out doing high risk activities like cage fighting or the 100ft half pipe at the X-Games.

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    • Madoff Withurmoni says:

      It’s not so much saying that he made a mistake jumping on a trampoline as inferring that coming from a broken home and having a rough childhood was a factor in him doing so that baffles me.

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  2. Pat says:

    I hope Joba has a successful return. But as somebody who has displaced my right foot ( skin intact), I think the Yankees are doing a great disservice to him by implying he could be back this season. They are following the same mistake the Angels made with Kendrys Morales in only thinking about the bones. There is a tremendous amount of atrophy that happens ( especially to the knee ) that will make being a competitive ballplayer very unlikely this season. The scar tissue on the tendons will never allow a full range of motion in the ankle, and will take 18-24 months to heal as well as it can. Look for him to be back in camp next season, but not going north to start the season. That is if the Yankees tender him a contract.

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    • Daven says:

      Very true. My brother completely broke a bone in his leg (pierced the skin) playing soccer and while the bone healed within a couple months (with a rod inside for extra support and virtually no using the leg during that span), it took him about a year to get back much of his strength in that leg and even a couple years later it’s still weaker than it used to be, despite him working out heavily 4-5 days a week. (he does triathlons and plays sports all the time so is in phenomenal shape, better than Joba I’d bet ;-))

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  3. West says:

    “The Joba rules” should have included not jumping on a trampoline,

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    • Greg says:

      I’m a little surprised they didn’t, but I suppose you can’t think of everything. Actuaries hate trampolines. Your homeowner’s or renter’s insurer might cancel your policy if you buy one and don’t tell them.

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  4. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Not sure why we need the back story, the hype and conversation around Joba has never been the problem. Staying healthy and getting results has been much tougher than keeping his name in the new, apparently.

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  5. Westside guy says:

    I don’t see the “mistake” here. He wasn’t exactly popping wheelies on his motorcycle.

    I don’t know that it’s realistic to tell ballplayers they can’t play active games with their children. Should we also tell ballplayers they can’t pick up their kids’ sandals if one falls off in a pizza parlor?

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    • pft says:

      No ball player on a MLB contract should ever ben on a trampoline, ever.

      No parent in their right mind should ever let their kid on a trampoline, ever.

      Ask any pediatrician at any ER what they think about trampolines.

      Joba should also stay away from pizza parlors.

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  6. raf says:

    The Yankees’ handling of Chamberlain has been curious to say the least. I thought that he’d be a full time starter after the 2009 season, but it seems that he was never in the running for the 5th starter spot.

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  7. bjoseph316 says:

    Joba will bounce back from this. #PunIntended

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  8. Shane H says:

    Freak accident. Their is nothing wrong with playing on a trampoline with your kid. Any other opinion is just absurd. Lifting free weights can cause some crazy injuries yet we never harp on that because of the benefits it allows hitters. You could suffer the same injury squatting large amounts of weight if you lost your balance and stumbled with 400 pounds on your shoulders. Trampolines are also commonly used to build calf strength and strengthen blood flow in your legs, although this is not what Joba was doing. It’s life, shit happens.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Seriously?? This guy is a dumb ass. The JOB he has, playing professional baseball, pays the bills. This risk taking activity seems to markedly raise the posibility of getting hurt. You can play with your kid a million different ways that don’t risk this type of injury.

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      • SFSUGatorAlum says:

        And his job actually has a guaranteed salary too. It’s not like he slipped on a 20 at the strip club or fell while “washing his truck” he was playing with his kid, he should be celebrated for wanting to actually raise his child rather than leaving “franchises” all across the country.

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      • Drew says:

        Seriously?? By your logic, no employed individual anywhere should ever jump on a trampoline. Ever. That freak dislocation would just as easily keep a construction worker out of their job. Fall a different way and break your wrist and anyone working at a computer all day is going to be out of luck too. In fact, maybe Congress should just pass a law banning all trampoline sales in the US and take care of this pressing issue once and for all.

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