Keidel: Joba’s Tale Becoming A Tragic Story Of What Could Have Been

By Jason Keidel
» More Column

My old man, who’s from Western Pennsylvania, was born and raised a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. He used his fatherly influence to funnel me toward the Steelers, who won four Super Bowls before I hit puberty. It was an easy sell. He lost me on the Pirates, however, once I saw Reggie Jackson hit three homers on three pitches from three pitchers.

But he told me a gripping but galling story about Steve Blass, a young Pirates pitcher who dominated the 1971 World Series, tossing two complete games while allowing seven hits combined. (He finished second in the MVP voting because of some guy named Roberto Clemente, who had a habit of producing in big games.)

Sadly and suddenly, Blass never pitched well again, inexplicably incapable of finding home plate with his pitches. There was no physical obstacle to speak of. He simply fell victim to a bout of wildness for which there was no explanation and no cure. His lone legacy is the medical term for such maladies: Steve Blass Disease. (Some call it Steve Sax Disease when referring to infielders who can’t find first base.)

And thus I think about Joba Chamberlain, eternally cursed for different reasons. Chamberlain just dislocated his ankle while playing with his son. It’s a tragic injury for a formerly magical pitcher who just busted his large rump to recover from Tommy John surgery. We can’t parse the particulars until doctors are done examining, but it’s safe to say he won’t pitch in 2012, or perhaps 2013. Or ever.

This latest news on Joba is the last link in a chain of major mistakes over his career.

Chamberlain landed like a meteor on the pitching mound five years ago, chucking lighting bolts from 60 feet away to the tune of an 0.38 ERA. His linebacker frame lumbered in from the bullpen, hovering like a brown bear from the pitcher’s mound. He threw 99 mph fastballs and had an off-the-table slider that had bats brushing dirt as though they were raking the batter’s box. Caught in his newfound stardom, Joba shrieked, fist-pumped and pirouetted on the rubber after each strikeout.

And despite his sublime pitching and divine right arm, the Yankees fired him, removing him from his perfect role and shoving him into the rotation. Their logic was that starting pitching was harder to find than relief pitching. So rather than keep a diamond on the diamond, the Yankees tinkered with perfection.

So we had the infamous Joba Rules – an amalgam of pitch counts, pop psychology and pampering. The overreaction to the Mets’ “Generation K” was so pronounced, so exaggerated, we’ve now weaned pitchers on the notion that 101 pitches will rip their arms right out of the socket. No medic — from Dr. James Andrews to Dr. Strangelove — has explained what magically (or tragically) occurs between pitch 99 and 101. Indeed, Nolan Ryan – who knows more about pitching than all of us combined – loathes pitch counts so much that he goes out of his way to flout them. The result? His Rangers have reached the last two World Series, coming within a strike of winning the last one.

Joba bombed for the Bombers as a starter, his stratospheric confidence shredded by abstract pitch counts, inning limits, and unqualified medical and psychological diagnoses. By the time Joba was done with the dual dementia of his manager and general manager, he was never right.

Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi were too clever for their own good, bucking baseball axioms that have worked since the 1800s. In the process, they ruined Mariano Rivera’s successor. You’ll notice the Yankees have gone through a fistful of presumed replacements since they thwarted Joba’s singular greatness. First, Joba was the next Mo; then it was Phil Hughes; then it was Rafael Soriano; then it was David Robertson…

Obviously, you can’t blame the Yankees for a freak accident like landing the wrong way on a trampoline, but you can blame them for everything else; a kaleidoscope of blunders, rendering their lab rat useless for the foreseeable future. If you believe in the metaphysical, as I do, it’s clear that Joba’s karma was irrevocably botched by the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees, like most companies with the money to cover their mistakes, can move on, while Joba can only watch and wonder what could have been.

If it weren’t his ankle it would have been his back, brain, knee or neck. Nature abhors a vacuum, precisely where the Yankees plopped Joba Chamberlain for the last five years. Just as my dad told me the sad story of Steve Blass, we’ll be forced to feed our kids the legend of Joba Chamberlain, who became legendary for the wrong reasons.

Feel free to email me at or check out my Twitter page here.

Will this be the end of Joba? And if so, what will his legacy be? Sound off with your thoughts below…

  • Annemarie

    JK — you are right — Joba came out of that bullpen like a man on a mission. It clearly, clearly worked. There was no reason (at least no reason that was apparent to me) to mess with that and try to stretch him into a starter. He was fun to watch out of the bullpen and it WORKED. Why they ever took him out of the pen is beyond me. They took what could have been an incredible legacy away from him. And as you pointed out, this was a freak accident and no one could have prevented it. What COULD have been prevented was making a mess out of someone with so much promise.

  • jant1215

    Finally! Someone has hit the nail on the head.! Great article.

    • JK

      Thank you, jant. Really appreciated.

  • JK

    You’ve got it all wrong, RR. Joba was born to be a brilliant starter! Don’t the results speak for themselves? Didn’t you see those 4.2 inning gems he threw?

  • Robert Richardson

    Anybody that followed the history of Joba knows that he was a diamond aa JK stated and became ‘tainted’ when the Yankees struggled to ‘perfect’ him as JK stated. And it’s as simple as that. It’s another sad sports story of what could of been.

  • JK

    Joey, perhaps you and Gregory share a cubicle and drink from the same Haterade cooler.

    First of all, EVERY pitcher begins as a starter. Mariano Rivera was a starter, too. Do you think Mo should have stayed in the rotation just because he started in the minors?

    You’re more than welcome to disagree with me, but you can do so sans insults and try a little logic. And you’re about the only man on Earth who thinks the Yanks handled Joba properly.

    Or maybe you just want to disagree with everything you read today. As I told Gregory, feel free to find another writer whose I.Q. is comparable to yours. Shouldn’t be too hard. ;)

    • JoeyB

      You’re getting a little cranky.

      First, while virtually all pitchers start off as starters, they only convert to RPs after they flunked out of starting school. Joba was the #3 prospect in the country, and possibly the best starting pitcher in the minor leagues. No one, repeat, no one, is going to take a premier starting prospect and convert him to a setup guy.

      Second, I happened to mention that the NYY handled him rather oddly. Should I have said ‘rather badly’ in order for you to understand?

      And if I were you, I wouldn’t mention the word ‘logic’ after saying the Hughes was brought in to replace Mo, and Texas won the WS because Ryan doesn’t beleive in pitch counts, even though apparently Washington does.

      • JK

        I never said Hughes was brought in to replace Mo. I said he was being considered as a replacement based on his stellar pitching out of the bullpen. As we know, no one can really replace Mariano Rivera.

        Joba instantly found his niche, and rather than keep him there, the Yankees toyed with his talent, ruining his confidence. Perhaps you missed the last five years.

        If you were me, you wouldn’t mention the word ‘logic’? I think we’ve established that you’re not me. First, I’d have to forget half my lexicon to match yours. Second, I wouldn’t troll the internet just to parse the pieces I wish I were writing.

        You’re a quintessential hater, Jose. Surely it’s more productive to find more productive dialogue, perhaps with someone on your intellectual level. But you love the attention you’re getting here. This will be my final correspondence to you. At the risk of redundancy, you have my permission to stalk another writer.

        Before you leave, I’d love to read your column on the matter. Where is it, again? No doubt someone with your talent has myriad media outlets begging for your opinions and prose….

        • JoeyB

          My suggestion to you is to not put articles on the internet if you’re afraid of a little criticism. I’ve posted responses on Fangraphs articles, and no one in there has had the meltdown that you’ve had at the slightest hint of criticism.

          So here’s my article. No need to respond with personal insults if I offend you.

          1-I liked Joba as a closer. That seemed to be his mentality. Unlike Hughes, Joba never struck me as a grind it out type.

          2-Mo was the closer, and will be the closer as long as he wants. So all Joba could hope to accomplish was to become a setup guy. I appreciate the importance of a setup guy, but you don’t use one of the best minor league arms in BB to pitch the 8th inning.

          3-Having no appropriate niche for Joba, I’d have traded him for value, much like they traded Montero. Much like they traded Kelly when Bernie emerged.

          4-I’m not a hater. My responses were not hateful. You are just extremely thin-skinned and go apoplectic anytime anyone disagrees with you. Saying that I should find someone on my own intellectual level is silly, since you know nothing about me. From what I’ve read here, my knowledge of baseball is well, well beyond yours.

          Have a nice day. I’ll go back to reading and posting at Fangraphs. You can stay here. Good luck.

  • JoeyB

    Wow, just so many mistakes.

    Joba was always a starter. You make it sound like the NYY were forcing an RP to become an SP. It’s not like no other pitching prospect doesn’t have limits, though the NYY handled rather oddly.

    And Hughes, Soriano, and Robertson were never supposed to replace Mo, though Robertson might some day. Hughes was brought up as a starter.

    IRT Ryan and the pitch count, did you ever bother to check Texas’ pitch counts to see if they threw more? I knew you didn’t, or you would’ve posted it. The entire team went over 120 PC count exactly 3x last year, and never exceeded 130.

    This sounds like something written on a ride home when you had to stop for a red light.

    • Jonas A-K

      Joba was indeed a good starter in the Minors, and that’s where the hype began. But after he dominated out of the bullpen, everyone including Joba himself loved him in that role. Posada if you recall was pretty vocal against moving Joba back into the rotation, and his stuff was better suited for a relief role.

      • Jonas A-K

        Since my comments are apparently not allowed, here goes:
        Hughes was good starter. Good from bullpen too. Soriano only signed because he wanted to close when Rivera retired.

  • Jonas A-K

    I love this article. Good, got that out of the way.

    As I was discussing this situation with my fellow baseball-lovin’, Yankee-hatin’ friends, it was clear that we all felt a grand sense of schadenfreude at the Yankees’ situation, but horrible for Joba. Yes, this was a stupid accident that was actually his fault. But would he have been rehabbing from those seemingly millions of injuries prior to this one had the Yanks not just let him be in a role he dominated?

  • JK

    Thanks for the backup, Jonas, but I doubt Gregorio is interested in an honest, earnest dialogue. The fact that he instantly reverts to insults tells us the Haterade is strong and plentiful.

  • JK

    Thanks for sharing, Gregory. My guess is you’ve done much hating in your life. How’s that going for you?

    I’m saying the Yankees messed with his head by changing his roles and showing a lack of confidence in him. Of course, your goal is not a robust debate but rather to troll the Internet and take pot shots from the comfort of your cubicle. Feel free to find another columnist, perhaps one closer to your colossal I.Q.

  • Gregory D.

    This makes no sense. You say Joba should have remained a reliever for short stints but then criticize the Yankees for imposing innings limits? Moreover, are you really suggesting the Rangers have reached the past two World Series BECAUSE of less stringent pitch counts (and not because they simply have an amazing roster)? That’s unbelievably stupid

    • Jonas A-K

      Wow, way to not get it. Joba should’ve remained a reliever because he was excellent at it. Stretching a guy back into being a starter can be a dangerous road, especially when there isn’t much of a point to it. Keidel was criticizing the Yanks for imposing their pitch count limits and innings limits, which most fans criticized, because the reason they did it was to get Joba back in the majors as quickly as they could. When you stretch a guy out to being a starter, you want to make sure he’s ready before you throw him out there.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Giving Tuesday
Charles Osgood Event

Listen Live