It may seem hard to remember in these days of Linsanity and Tebowmania, but there was once a time when Joba Chamberlain was the hottest thing in New York sports.
When Joba hit the scene in 2007, it was like a gift from the baseball gods. He'd thunder to the mound late in a close game, throw pitches that were too much for mere mortals to handle and then pump his fist to an adoring Yankee Stadium.
His shift to the starting rotation launched a million arguments and the Joba Rules became something as familiar to Yankee fans as the grounds crew dancing to "YMCA" in the middle of the sixth inning. Chamberlain was a phenomenon.
And then, suddenly, he wasn't. Chamberlain became just another pitcher at some point along the road and when he hurt his elbow last season there wasn't much hand-wringing about the fact that he'd miss a year while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees held out some hope for his return this summer, an ersatz trade deadline pickup that would flesh out the bullpen perhaps, but now even that won't happen. Chamberlain injured his ankle while playing with his son on a trampoline Thursday and he won't be back to work anytime soon.
Brian Cashman, described by Jack Curry of YES as somber as he delivered the news, said that Joba suffered an open dislocation of his right ankle and that he had surgery to repair the injury on Thursday night. Cashman said there's no timetable for his return and it didn't sound like getting him back on the mound is high on the list of concerns.
"We're worried about him as an individual right now," Cashman said.
Cashman said that he didn't think the injury was career threatening, but it is worth asking if it might spell the end of Chamberlain's time with the franchise. He's eligible for arbitration next season, so the Yankees certainly can keep him around but if this injury slows his rehab from the elbow surgery it might be a good long time before Chamberlain can get back to the business of baseball.
He's certainly not anyone that the Yankees can count on moving forward and any chance he'd get would be of the long shot variety. He only turns 27 this year, so it's not like you can totally write him off but it really feels like Chamberlain's future lies somewhere else.
And that's bittersweet. We'll always remember those heady early days with Joba with great fondness while also wondering why things went so wrong for a pitcher who seemed to have the whole world in his hands.
In the general scheme of things, Chamberlain is a footnote to Yankee history but he always felt like much more and that makes it all the sadder to see how things have gone sideways for him.