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Joba Chamberlain Wraps Up One Of The Stranger Baseball Careers

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Joba Chamberlain, after parts of 10 big-league seasons with four clubs, hasn’t pitched since July of 2016, and now says he’s done.

“No, it’s time to be a dad,” the 32-year-old Chamberlain said. “Karter is in junior high and obviously this year I got to see him play a lot. It was fun to watch. We went to Cooperstown [for a tournament] and that was fun for the boys.”


If this is retirement, well, it comes an auspicious anniversary. Exactly 10 years ago today, October 5, 2007, was game two of the ALDS. Does that ring a bell? What if I added that it was in Cleveland? What if I said...midges. Now you remember.

It’s easy to forget what a phenomenon Chamberlain was when he came up to the Yankees midway through the 2007 season. A first-round pick and a big, burly fireballer, he debuted with 16 scoreless innings and finished the year with an absurd 0.38 ERA and a 5.67 K/BB ratio. That’s what made it all the more shocking when he completely fell apart in the eighth inning against Cleveland.


Beset by a massive swarm of bugs that descended directly on the mound and required multiple timeout for bug-spray baths, Chamberlain walked two, hit a batter, and threw two wild pitches and allowed the Indians to tie the game, which they would eventually win in the 11th.

Chamberlain was good in 2008, but would never again reach the heights of his rookie year, and his next few seasons were dominated by controversial, aborted, repeated transitions from reliever to starter and back. The “Joba Rules,” at the time almost a punchline, were hard-and-fast limitations placed on Chamberlain’s usage by the Yankees in an attempt to prevent burning out a young arm. At times, they went so far as to include specific formulas for how much rest he needed both before and after throwing to additional batters beyond a standard one-inning appearance.


There was a DUI in 2008 and a horrific trampoline injury in 2012, and Chamberlain spent the last few years of his career bouncing around the AL Central with the Tigers, Royals, and Indians. He received an invite to Brewers spring training this year but didn’t make the team. In all, Chamberlain did win a ring with the Yankees in 2009, and made roughly $12 million in his decade in the big leagues. That’s a pretty darn good career, compared to how long most MLBers stick around (the average career length is 5.6 seasons, per a 2007 study). But it’s still a disappointment compared to how he first appeared on the scene. I guess just about anything would’ve been.

And, of course, the Yankees are back in Cleveland tonight, so expect to see an insect retrospective. But will the bugs be back? The Times is on it:

“It’s not totally predictable, but it’s usually tied to early changes in the climate,” said Jessica L. Fox, an associate professor of biology at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland who has a degree in entomology from Cornell.

“We have more than 40 species of midges around here, and you don’t know exactly when it is going to occur,” she said of a possible bug swarm. But, she noted, it “generally happens once in the spring and once in the fall, around this time.”

According to Fox, when the midges appear en masse they are actually engaging in a mating display. The males swarm around an object — a light pole, a puddle of water, or a right-handed relief pitcher — waiting for the females to arrive. For humans, they are essentially harmless — except in critical late-inning situations.

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