Joe Panik went on the DL with a back injury yesterday, so Giants fans everywhere immediately assumed he was the latest victim of the Giants' post-World Series win second base curse, his career is over, next year's World Series winning second baseman will be either Austin Slater or Omar Infante, this is somehow Bruce Bochy's fault, and the "Giants panicking over second base" puns will drive us all further into the nurturing maw of madness, our comments sections devolving into nothing but food talk and arguments over fringe major leaguers. Can you even imagine?
The curse is incredibly real, of course, just as all curses are. In 2011, Freddy Sanchez hurt his shoulder diving for a ball and missed the rest of the season. Then, in 2012, he had back problems and never played again. In 2013, Marco Scutaro played for much more of the year than you remember, though he played through a finger injury from mid-June through mid-September. The next year, he had back problems, then he had back problems, then he had back problems but he was playing professional baseball for some reason, and then he had some more back problems.
Joe Panik was supposed to stay intact, since he's young and doesn't have a long injury history, but then back problems showed up like your college roommate's friend who hasn't showered in a week. Oh. You.
Okay, maybe that's being a little flippant. After all, it's a little premature to say that Panik's injury is especially serious. But granting Sanchez and Scutaro, we still only have two solid data points. That makes a line, not a pattern. If only there were one more second baseman who won a World Series with the Giants, didn't play another full season, and had a back injury that drove him out of baseball. If only...
Of course! It's . . .
Wait, who the hell is that?
That is Davey Williams, second baseman for the 1954 New York Giants. Alternatively, someone put the wrong picture up on Wikipedia, but as there are legions of Davey Williams superfans constantly scouring the Internet for any misinformation about their hero, that seems implausible.
Here's a quick rundown of Williams's career: after being on the Giants' farm team in Minneapolis for the better part of three years, Williams was getting ready to quit baseball. But during his call-up in 1951, Williams impressed Leo Durocher enough that he started at second base the next year. He was a career .252/.320/.351 (wRC+ of 81) hitter who played solid defense, made a lot of contact, and rarely struck out. If you're thinking that a second baseman with that profile undoubtedly batted second, you're wrong! He mostly hit leadoff.
Leo Durocher is in the Hall of Fame, by the way.
After two good years starting at second in '52 and '53, even making the All-Star team in 1953, Williams sharply declined in 1954 (.222/.284/.316, for a wRC+ of 57). The Giants would go on to win the World Series that year, so hey, he got to start again in 1955. But in a game in late April, Jackie Robinson, through a wacky turn of events, sort of ruined Williams's career.
In Robinson's mind, Sal Maglie was throwing up and in a little too much, so Robinson decided to make him pay. Late in the game, Robinson bunted with the intention of running over Maglie at first. When Williams covered instead, well hey, why waste a perfectly good revenge plot just because you're going after the wrong guy? Robinson charged into Williams, which contributed to spinal arthritis that would end his season in July. No one signed Williams after that, and his career was over.
The Giants wouldn't defend another World Series title for 56 years after that, and who knows how many second base injuries were averted by that fact? Maybe if McCovey had hit the ball two feet higher, Chuck Hiller would have thrown out his back celebrating. Maybe if the '89 World Series hadn't been a metaphoric, then literal, then metaphoric disaster, Robby Thompson would have dived too hard and wrenched something. Maybe if Rueter had started Game 7, Jeff Kent would have fallen on his butt, and the pain would have traveled to his back, and then he would've been all "Ow! My back but also my butt!" for years afterwards. We'll never know, just like we'll never know why the baseball gods have to keep taking second basemen from us after they win World Series. It's a mystery.
On the bright side, the second baseman for the 1933 World Series winners, Hughie Critz, was around for another year and a half afterwards, and there's no record of his suffering a back injury at all! Good job, Hughie! You did it!
Admittedly, we can't be 100% sure this isn't a coincidence, so the Giants should probably win the World Series for eight years in a row, just so we can see what happens. Maybe eight second basemen will break. Maybe not. The only way to be sure is to try.