No one was surprised Thursday when Johnson, now the designated hitter for the Baltimore Orioles, landed on the 15-day disabled list, the 14th time in 12 seasons he's been sidelined.
The wire reports noted that his latest injury, a sprained right wrist, was "not related" to an inflamed tendon on the same hand from last year. But when you're dealing with Johnson, all of those injuries are related — because it's Nick Johnson. No other major leaguer has trouble keeping his body from falling apart at such a pace.
Consider this: Johnson has played 832 games over his career, but he's been in the big leagues for 12 seasons. That means he could have played 1,824 games. Now, he's no Cal Ripken Jr., but he's appeared in just 45.6 percent of the games in which he could have played. Take out two years missed completely with injuries or working in the minor leagues, and his rate rises to 54.1 percent. This season, he was right on target — the Orioles have played 74 games through Thursday, when Johnson went out, and Johnson appeared in 38.
Johnson's injuries appear to be the serious kind — broken bone in his hand, broken right cheekbone, broken leg — but he's also got some strains in there, too. And it's not just the disabled list. The many times he sat out while on the active roster were likely not just due to his team not choosing to play him that day — he was probably about to snap something then, too, and they needed to give him some free days to try to keep him healthy. The only thing worse than an injured player is one too injured to play but not injured enough to go on the disabled list and free up a roster spot for a teammate.
The Yankees took a chance on Johnson in 2010 in one of their few attempts at having a regular designated hitter (this man is far too brittle to be a regular fielder). Some were concerned that the move would handicap New York from using the designated hitter spot as a waystation for veterans who needed a day off in the field — where Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira could bat while the benchwarmers got playing time.
A mere 24 games later, though, Johnson was gone for the season. This year, the Orioles tried the same trick, and they got 38 games.
Johnson will be back in July, but isn't it time to start asking if he should find a career that doesn't require so much physical activity?
Photo via Flickr/keithallison