As Derek Jeter’s career comes to a close, he’ll be remembered for many things. As a journeyman catcher, Ken Huckaby will likely only be remembered for one thing in his career; injuring the man affectionately known as “The Captain”.
As Derek Jeter gets set to play his final series at the Rogers Centre, this week’s Flashback Friday looks back at his run-in with Ken Huckaby and subsequent injury on the field.
It was the 2003 Home Opener on March 31st as the Yankees and Blue Jays squared off at the Skydome. At the time, Derek Jeter was the darling of Major League Baseball and one of baseball’s brightest young stars.
So as Jeter writhed in pain on the field, the man who came into contact with him was automatically vilified. Watch the play for yourself and judge whether the Blue Jays’ backstop was in the wrong on the play.
Here’s Ken Huckaby’s side of the story, courtesy of Mark Feinsand of MLB.com:
“I was just trying to catch the ball on the run. I’m not small and I’m not fast. I’m trying to keep these legs moving and catch a baseball on the run. It was just one of those things, my momentum carried me through the base. He just happened to be there at the same time.
I was hoping they didn’t think it was a cheap shot. I felt horrible for what happened, but it wasn’t a cheap shot at all. It was just one of those fluke plays. How many times do you see a catcher covering third base? It never happens.”
And that’s exactly it; it was totally a fluke play.
Ordinarily, the pitcher would be the one back up the throw, but Halladay fielded the comebacker himself. And the left side of the infield had shifted to the right to compensate for Jason Giambi’s pull tenancies.
So with no one on the left side of the infield and Jeter taking an extra base, Ken Huckaby did what any astute baseball player would do, and that’s cover the base. It just so happens he was wearing his full catcher’s gear, and Jeter slid directly into it with full force.
Jeter missed a total of 36 games due to a dislocated left shoulder, and it seems as though he didn’t take too kindly to losing six weeks on the DL. Reportedly, Huckaby reached out to Jeter to apologize a few days later, but he was fairly nonchalant about the entire encounter.
Both players recall the apology being very brief and very awkward; Huckaby went into the visitor’s clubhouse and extended the olive branch (at the suggestion of Blue Jays radio voice Jerry Howarth), while Jeter basically just sat there stone faced.
He came over and apologized,” Jeter said. ”He said, ‘You all right?’ I said, ‘O.K.,’ and that was it.”
Maybe the reason why Derek Jeter wasn’t quick to forgive Ken Huckaby was he was fearful that injury could have hampered his play down the road, and maybe even ended his career.
Jeter was entering the third year of his massive (at the time) 10 year/$189 million dollar contract extension with the Yankees, so clearly there was a great deal of expectations on him to fulfill that deal. At the time, a shoulder injury of that magnitude didn’t bode well.
While it’s only natural to harbour a little anger towards someone involved with causing an injury, for all intents and purposes, it was all purely accidental. Perhaps Jeter didn’t see it that way … and maybe he never will.
Also, make sure to check out Shi Davidi’s piece on the Huckaby/Jeter incident; lots of great quotes and reflections from the play 11 years after the fact.
Images courtesy of Rick Stewart/Getty Images Sport