January 05, 2010

Let us now praise anonymous men

When players come into the league, they either do or do not live up to their hype. Doesn't matter who—Alex Rodriguez, Fred Lynn, Bob Hamelin, or Stephen Strasburg—it seems like everybody is subject to hype. (A great movie about this, in a roundabout way, is Sugar.)

But what about the guys who fly under the radar? Guys who just sort of show up? Where do they stand? In a world dominated by information, it's hard to imagine a player making it to the majors today without at least one news source commenting on his talent (or lack thereof).

I'm not old enough to remember John Doherty. His statistics suggest he didn't really belong in the major leagues, or the high minor leagues, for that matter, but he hung around the California Angels for parts of two seasons (1974, 1975), and triple-AAA for six others.

But you'd think someone must remember him, right? You'd think fans of the game or little kids collecting cards in the mid-1970s would know about John Doherty of the Angels. And maybe they do, but I'd venture a guess that the circle is relatively small—say, limited to the Los Angeles, California–area. The reason? This card of Doherty (1975 Topps) was his only Topps card. Ever.

And it's not a memorable card. The only reason I pulled it from a stack last night was because I didn't recognize the face or the name, and because his face was so close to the camera. Right away that's a bad sign, possibly meaning no photo of him in game-play action, or the batting cage, for that matter, was taken (though he's wearing a left-handed batting helmet). Even the signature (from his Topps contract) emblazoned across his neck is hurriedly scrawled, as if Doherty, too, was surprised by the dumb luck of his being called up.

The game's history is filled with "cup of coffee" guys. For some players, that means one inning of mop-up duty, or a few games as a fourth outfielder. For others, it's parts of a few seasons, or an exceptional first season followed by a disappointing second. And then nothing.

We will remember Stephen Strasburg, no matter how he performs in the majors, just like we remember Clint Hurdle and Brien Taylor.

But John Doherty? All I can say is, Who?

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