There are a few simple truths about today’s cultural landscape that one must accept—no matter how hard it is to do so—not to fit in with the rest of us, but to simply make it through the day. One is that baseball players are under tremendous amounts of pressure from all sides to succeed and they go to great lengths to make sure they stay in the bigs and at the top of their game. Another is that players generally do not know when to give up, and there are very few players whose career performance can justify playing until they’re 97 years old. Julio Franco is one. Rickey Henderson is another. Similar players are sprinkled across the historical timeline of the game. Minnie Minoso, was, of course, on the original 1869 Cincinnati team, and Rogers Hornsby was a well-documented bastard for at least 25 years. The Niekro brothers were actually born on a baseball diamond to a family of barnstorming gypsies, so that explains their longstanding, unwavering commitment to the game. But others don’t know when to give up, and end up ruining potentially flawless, high-flying careers with a few unmemorable years of creaky knees, well-publicized tempers or bloated egos (see Jose Canseco, Bo Jackson, Kevin Brown and Joe Rudi).
The final truth that’s hard to swallow may seem unrelated, but is in fact quite relevant: the previous two truths apply to everybody. Take movie directors, for example. There are a few that can go on forever and won’t be mercilessly shredded in the press if they pull a Tampa Bay-era Wade Boggs and hog the at bats a young Aubrey Huff should be getting, just for the sake of 3,000 hits. Martin Scorsese is one, Ang Lee is another, and maybe Cameron Crowe. But someone like Michael Bay, director extraordinaire, is just making it hard for himself. Guys who stay around for a long time are flexible, they can do a lot of genres, cover multiple positions, get on base; they know where they fit on the team. Michael Bay only knows one thing: he likes to blow shit up. It doesn’t matter what it is—it doesn’t even have to be flammable—he can create a fifty-foot high explosion, and somehow has repeatedly convinced studios to believe that his movies will make someone feel like they’re getting their money’s worth (when really two-thirds feel cheated, even those with very, very low standards, who can’t help but leave the theater thinking Wait a minute, I wasted my money on that?). Sound familiar? His career trajectory, no matter how glamorous, is so much like Albert Belle’s that it’s crazy.
“Don’t Call Me Joey” Belle burst on the scene in the early Nineties for an Indians team that pretty much set the offensive benchmark for the decade (and you could make the case that Belle was one of, if not the best (and most) offensive prospect for the decade). He battered pitchers for his entire career, hitting 50 homers in 1995, in effect setting the bar for the outrageous home run totals of the late Nineties. He hit for power, he hit for average, he played consistently and he was unapproachable, self-involved and mean. Belle’s destructive character traits may have been hidden to owners by his prowess at the plate, but the fans ended up thinking Wait a minute, how can I root for this guy?
Now, I don’t want you to think that I have vendettas against either Bay or Belle. But both were and have been senseless with their careers. Back when I didn't pay attention to what players did off the field, Belle was one of my favorite players. He could’ve been in the Hall of Fame, maybe not first ballot, but there still could’ve been a spot reserved. And Bay could’ve at least tried to make Pearl Harbor and The Island less shitty. I mean, c’mon. It’s okay to blow stuff up, but at least have a purpose. You won’t last too long without one.
There are few opportunities out there to cradle a bat in your hands and carve out a respectable, mythic career, or create fantastic art that deserves to be held in a rare light, and it’s sad when the one afforded such an opportunity wastes it or doesn’t know when to quit.
Fantastic Card of the Day
Okay, the Fantastic Card of the Day is really two cards. I got these from an uncle who, as a devout comic book fan, found them at Comic Con in 1992 or 1993. I’m not entirely sure who at Fleer came up with this idea, but it is one of the best ever. Eckersley remains one of my favorite players and the fact that I’m not really a comic book superhero fan and therefore don’t really know who Thunderstrike is doesn’t matter in the slightest. The fact that Marvel had a character that mimicked Eck’s wild movement and hair is great, and judging by the serious weapon that Thunderstrike’s twirling around, if I were Eck and were sitting at a bar, sipping on an O’Doul’s and suffering through another one of Tony LaRussa’s crazy Howard Hughes’ like conspiracies about anonymous men in center field stealing signs, and I saw someone like Thunderstrike walk towards the men’s room out of the corner of my eye, I would probably get up, saunter over and casually ask him while washing my hands if he would want to pick up a little cash going over to the Rolaids headquarters to hammer out a new spokesperson contract for me—not hurting anyone, mind you—but just getting the point across that I wanted more Rolaids, because, in truth, my heartburn was getting real bad and I had bragged to other guys on the team that my whole garage was full of them when it really wasn’t, and I was having a party in a few weeks and I needed to have it freshly stocked, just to see the looks on their faces and so they know that I don’t make shit up just to impress them. That’s why I keep my long, unwashed mane.
But, if for some reason the Rolaids people didn’t respond to simple negotiations, I wouldn’t be opposed to Thunderstrike using his nun-chuck hammer thing to make them see eye-to-eye. Hell, it’s not even for me that he’d be doing this, it would just be for the look on Walt Weiss’s face. After the party I would donate most of the Rolaids to those who really need help, like at a children’s hospital…well, maybe not a children’s hospital, but I could probably round up Dave Duncan and Terry Steinbach to stand with me in a parking lot outside a diner or a Chinese food place and hand them out. That would be nice, you know, the right thing to do.