August 17, 2011
Ed Whitson, 1989 Donruss “Diamond Kings”
To whom much is given, much is expected, and there are many responsibilities for a Diamond King. For example, wearing a crown underneath your hat, posing for extravagant caricatures, signing autographs with an old-timey feather pen, kissing babies, playing baseball (occasionally), reminding people of other smelly baseball teams, and making brief cameos on local cable car commercials, to name a few. Let it be known, however, that the Diamond King is never asked, under any circumstances, to thrive or even exist within the pressure cooker of New York. Should a Diamond King ever conquer New York—has never happened; minimum requirements are 12 World Series titles, eight Cy Youngs and/or MVPs (preferably “and”), and a “clutchness” rating, as defined by the NY Council of Ethnocentric Standards, of 96.5 or higher—he would, as legend has it, cease to become a Diamond King, and would instead become: The Person Who Caused the World to Explode.
Once Ed Whitson escaped the tenseness of New York City and made it back to the serenity of San Diego, the right-hander rediscovered his pitching touch.
In 1985, the Yankees spent over $4 million—a lot at the time—for a 30-year old pitcher coming off a career year who had already pitched for four major league teams and who looked like a home water cooler salesman and who was Ed Whitson. (Not even taking into account Diamond King years—Diamond King portraits typically added 100 drug-infused years—Ed Whitson seemed old for his age.) It was a bad decision, even without retrospect as a handy guide. Whitson responded by pitching terribly, which, according to Wikipedia, resulted in death threats from moronic Yankee fans who take baseball way too seriously and who are morons. Whitson also responded—and this one’s pretty much on him—by getting into a fistfight with his manager at a hotel bar. All in all, a solid effort.
Nevertheless, Whitson was sent back to San Diego, land of serenity and, as implied here, indifference to all things, where he rediscovered his pitching touch. Whitson initially rediscovered his pitching touch by finishing ’86 with a 1-7 record and 1.612 WHIP. He did even more rediscovering the following year by giving up 36 home runs (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Then in 1988, he pitched pretty well. This = Diamond King!
(Although, it should be mentioned—and this is obviously something the Diamond King seers took into account—Whitson pitched very well in ’89 and ’90.)
By being a streaky pitcher for whom the Yankees overpaid, Ed Whitson became the poster boy for the now popular and jump-to-conclusions-board-type mantra of the “player who cannot succeed in New York.” Every player who has since failed to be totally awesome as a Yankee has done so not because they were old or not that great in the first place, but because they caved to the immense pressure and scrutiny of the city. Even players who have been totally awesome but failed to capture the imagination of Yankee fans have often fallen victim to the label. Thankfully, there are more serene cities like San Diego, where talent is allowed to breath.
Last year, despite the presence of newly-arrived Bruce Hurst, Whitson led the Padres staff wins with 16 and ERA with 2.66.
Last year, despite being on a pitching staff with other pitchers, Ed Whitson pitched well. And this is really what a Diamond King is all about—even in a generally pressure-free city, there is still the immense stress of having supportive teammates who are also trying to play baseball well. Can you handle it? That’s what separates the Diamond Kings from regular kings; regular kings from good players. Ed Whitson could handle it. And that, I believe, is his legacy.