A Sporting Vacation
I believe in honesty. So . . . I’m skiing right now, but my “editor” said that if I don’t produce a column . . . no lasagna for me. Thus, 2011 is off to a spectacular sports start. Auburn has a national title for the decade until the NCAA decides to investigate Cam Newton. Alexander Ovechkin proved that he can score from his keester. Joe Flacco had a fourteen point second half lead, remains “that guy who sort of looks like the lead singer of Maroon 5,” and has yet to move on to “elite NFL quarterback.”
Furthermore, as I’m a few brews down, I won’t pretend that I did my usual research and fact checking. So naturally, I will be talking about baseball, baby! In honor of full disclosure, this article started as a Nationals column. I will live in DC for at least another fifteen months, so I saw this as an opportunity to get to know the local team of my favorite sport. It sounded fun, but with apologies to Sam Cowin and Cam Jenrich, the Nationals are boring.
You know what isn’t boring? Carlos Beltrán. Ok boys and girls, be careful with that chilly porcelain, I’ll set the Delorean, and let’s go back to 2004. Beltrán, then twenty-seven, had just finished one of the historically great seasons by a center fielder. He finished two home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club. He hit roughly ninety-four home runs against the Cardinals in the NLCS, including a 900 foot shot off the glass in Enron field, splintering the plexiglass and my self-awareness.
Beltrán then signed a Mets megadeal worth $119 million over seven years. As a reminder A-Rod signed his ten-year $252 million Rangers deal one year removed from his 1999 40-40 season. Well, Beltrán had it all: money, the New York market, and media doting. Beltrán was the pure baseball player -- the five tool player. He hit for power. He hit for average. He could steal bases. He had a plus glove and a plus arm.
On a personal note, this made me soooooo happy. A guy who had just dominated my beloved Cardinals and lost had just signed with one of the top three most hated teams (with the Yankees and Cubs). Plus he had just signed the übermegadeal. The stage was set for a decade of sports hating.
But then he unexpected happened. Beltrán turned out to be . . . just ok. He has had one top ten MVP season since 2005. He battled injuries. He stopped stealing bases. He turned into a guy with doubles-power. This actually has bummed me out. I think you should know by now that I value excellence in sport above all else. Most importantly, I can’t really sports-hate him. You don’t sports-hate Rickie Weeks. You sports-hate super stars like Jeter or Griffey or Bonds or Ortiz (notice that those players need only one name).
So what happened? How did a five-tool player in his prime worth over $100 million fall so far? As you may have guessed, I have a theory. Five tool players are twenty-six-year olds. Baseball players, like all athletes, must evolve as they age to sustain excellence. Beltrán will be thirty-four next season, and I wonder if he’s trying to be a twenty-six year old baseball player in a thirty-four-year old body.
I’d love to bring up Mays and Mantle because they were too center fielders, but let’s stick to the rules. I will only talk about players who I have seen play after 1995 so that I can pretend like I know what I’m talking about. So let’s think about Jim Edmonds. He was a five-tool player with the Angels. But then he developed a big power stroke with the Cardinals, dropped the average a bit, and relied on his speed less. In other words he became an player with older skills. He parlayed that into a major league career as a forty-year old, leaving gracefully as a platoon corner outfielder with the Brewers.
Now I don’t know what lies in store for Beltrán, but I know he needs to change. Wow. That article ended abruptly. Now for my punishment: I promise to remember deadlines. I promise to remember deadlines. I promise to remember deadlines. I promise to remember deadlines. I promise to remember deadlines. I promise to remember deadlines....