It started out innocently enough.
Last Wednesday, Joba Chamberlain was among several Yankees pitchers to report early to the team’s spring complex in Tampa, and some beat writers on the scene remarked on Twitter that the reliever looked as though he’d put on weight.
Only, nothing is really innocent when it comes to Twitter and reporting anymore. The two have converged suddenly — you could argue recklessly — in the past year, turning off-the-cuff thoughts into BREAKING NEWS. Chamberlain and Chubgate was just the latest example.
On one hand, it was hardly a big deal. Baseball is the last bastion for the beer-gutted professional athlete. Basketball and football have long since become workplaces where even punters and third-string power forwards look like T-800 Terminator models.
The majority of baseball players are also more fit than ever, but it remains the one sport — not counting bowling and golf … never count bowling and golf — where you can be overweight and still be elite. Look no further than the top of the Yankees’ rotation, where CC Sabathia — even after swearing off the salty tyrant of the breakfast table, Cap’n Crunch — tips the scales at 290 pounds.
If Chamberlain is carrying a little more heat around the midsection, so be it. He’s a middle reliever anyway, designed for short bursts of efficiency. When I was in college in Boston, the Red Sox’s most reliable setup man was Rich Garces, a dude whose fitness level was so ghastly he earned the mocking nickname “El Guapo.”
But on the other hand, you can’t help but wonder if this is just the latest red flag for Chamberlain. Right now, he’s using the husky frat guy excuse (“Been pumpin’ iron, bro, addin’ mass, bro, just gettin’ big, bro”), but it’s not exactly convincing. Brian Cashman appeared to bite his tongue when asked about Chubgate, remarking, “He is heavier. Leave it at that.”
Joe Girardi, a classic my-body-is-my-temple type and the guy who banned sweets from the Yankees clubhouse, reserved judgment in his chat with the media, but it’s clearly the 800-pound middle reliever in the room right now.
What’s most disappointing is that Chamberlain entered the offseason fully aware that this is a make-or-break season in his Yankees career. He was passed over for a rotation spot last spring, and was then slowly fazed from the bullpen hierarchy during the summer and fall. The most telling move came in December, when New York spent millions and a draft pick to make Rafael Soriano the world’s most expensive understudy.
The player who gets it comes into camp more determined than ever. He feels angry, disrespected even. The Revenge Factor is at Balboa-Drago levels. Roger Clemens once revitalized his career in Toronto with the help of a chip on his shoulder.
Chamberlain makes you worry that he’s the type of guy who doesn’t get it. Of course, it’d be unfair to pass judgment on the basis of a few tweets and a handful of AP photos. But when it comes to Chamberlain, the average Yankees fan has gone from dreaming about greatness to expecting the worst.
What a big fat waste that would be.