July 08, 2006

Nothing’s Worse Than a Career Highlight

Don’t feel sorry for ugly ballplayers. And those guys with unfortunate names. Don’t feel sorry for the guys with bad hair, bad teeth, googly eyes, broken noses, pot bellies or gigantic asses. And don’t hang your head for the guys who struggle to make the majors, guys who get one at-bat and guys who can’t get a break.

Don’t feel bad for those who wear sunglasses for no apparent reason (like Kent Tekulve) or they who wear a batting helmet in the field (hello, John Olerud). For all of their apparent misfortune, they’re pretty well off. Instead, save your pity for those especially unlucky bastards whose Donruss ‘Career Highlights’ box is chock full of stuff accomplished either off the field or by somebody else. Because there’s nothing worse than your greatest career accomplishment be completely unrelated to your career or accomplished by someone who is not you.

Sure, it’s fun to see which players had brothers, fathers or grandfathers who played the game, but what about those guys whose sibling was better than he was? Like the Boones, the Bells, the Smalleys or the Forsch brothers, or how about the Bretts? (And by the way, George’s card never mentioned that he was Ken’s brother, except for the ‘Big League Brothers’ card of the two of them from Topps’ 1977 set.)

The best (or worst) example of this is Jackie Gutierrez. No matter what he achieved the previous season, (granted, never very much) his career highlight was that his father threw the javelin for the Colombian national track and field team in the 1936 Olympics. That’s no small feat, but I would bet that Jackie got tired of seeing that on his cards (if he was aware that cards were made of him). In all honesty, that’s one of those things that could haunt a child (or make him glow with pride) for his entire life, weigh down on his shoulders and make him feel constantly judged, for better or worse. Believe me, if your father threw the javelin on the world’s stage, you’d be spending your life in a humungous shadow, no matter how many times you led those slower-than-molasses Red Sox teams in stolen bases.

One of the funniest things Donruss did was highlight how and for how long a guy got injured. Vince Coleman, missing the 1985 World Series “due to a freak leg injury suffered when he was run over by automatic tarpaulin at Busch Stadium.” Oddibe McDowell: “A broken finger, sustained in a fall at his home, finished the ’84 season for him.” Tom Niedenfuer? Kidney stone. Mike Marshall? Appendicitis. Eddie Milner? Hepatitis. I would say that disease and injury were what Donruss highlighted the most, as if pain and suffering was some kind of accomplishment (Puritans were definitely on the payroll at Donruss).

And I always wondered: what was up with those guys who were really good at another sport? Why did they choose baseball? Was it because they hated their wives and wanted to be on the road for longer stretches? Or because there was, at the time, more money in it than another sport? Or was it the relative guaranteed-ness of the job? Guys like Bo Jackson, they’re not the ones I’m so concerned about. I’m more concerned about the guys like Wayne Tolleson. If what this Career Highlight box says is true is actually true, that Tolleson led the nation in pass receptions while at Western Carolina University, why did he choose baseball? Who would choose daily humiliation over weekly glory?

Or what about those guys who had pretty decent careers but whose chronicled highlights had nothing to do with any kind of sport? Like Jeff Musselman—did you know he was a stockbroker in the off-season? Or that Donruss was basically inferring that Oil Can Boyd liked to drink and/or was a drunk? (“Picked up his unusual nickname in college where beer was called ‘oil.’”)

I think it’s kind of beyond sad, or at least more funny than sad really. Reading over career highlights like Boyd’s and Musselman’s effectively destroys any Superman-aura you can give to a ballplayer: it turns out he’s just a regular guy, like you or me, except with a professional baseball-playing alter ego. It’s just that, and I know I’m digressing here, one of the things I always liked about baseball cards when I was growing up was that they turned regular guys into superheroes, worthy of idol worship. But now, when I go through them, all I see are normal people staring back, with normal accomplishments, some overshadowed by a parent or a sibling and others destined to be known, not for anything so great as hitting for the cycle or cracking a home run in their first at-bat, but for showing talent outside their chosen profession or, better yet, for accomplishing the mundane, like tearing off a fingernail (Joe Niekro) or being tall (Mike Smithson, at 6’8”).

1 comment:

jp1029 said...

Great post, it remnded me of so many bad cards. Ease up on Olurud though. If I remember correctly, he suffered a severe beaning and had a plate put in his head, and thats why he wore the batting helemet on the field