All glory is fleeting; or, The death of an outfielder

13/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Consider these names:

Andre Ethier

Jason Kubel

Grady Sizemore

These are all outfielders who once were useful for your fantasy league team. There wasn’t much reason to think they wouldn’t continue to be this year.

Now you see them, idling on the waiver wire of your league. It feels weird to see them there. These were guys who once had a big role – both in real life and in the lives of their fantasy obsessives.

Sport is cruel. It bestows a select few of us with immense talent. Even fewer find a way to channel those talents, taking them to the very top.

Then decline, rust, whatever you call it, sets in. The fantasy owner knows it, before the big leaguers do. Then again, when you’re the Phillies and you have the chance to take a flyer on a aged flyer like Sizemore – why not? It’s pointless for a fantasy GM, chasing a few extra roto points.

Why does the body break down? It’s hardly fair.

Andre Either is just 32. He was never blessed with power, but he hit well and played a good right field (good enough that he morphed into a centre fielder, actually). In 2013 he slashed 272/360/423, giving him an OPS+ of 121, just off his career number of 122. At the All Star break, he’s hitting 252/314/376. It’s a touch out of the ordinary. He’s actually just the guy you might want to take a flyer on, since his history suggests a strong chance of big(ish) second half. But that also depends on him getting playing time.

Jason Kubel is also 32. Last year was a disaster for him (216/293/317) but given the year before that, he hit 253/327/506 while mashing 30 home runs it was a good bet he’d bounce back to the slightly above-average performance he’d always had. His big 2012 was an OPS+ of 120; last year was a comical 69. His return to Minnesota, the site of his greatest consistency, was a good thing, you’d have thought.

But the Twins gave up on him last month. They offered him time in AAA to sort out his trouble but he said no thanks. No other MLB team was interested. It’s somewhat shocking to discover how little his exit from the majors garnered – there’s just a handful of articles noting his release. You look at his numbers and all you see is a flat-out inability to make contact.

And then there’s Grady Sizemore. Once upon a time, he was an MVP tout. Like Kubel and Ethier, he’s a 1982 birthday. He’s 32 in August. He’s a three-time all star, who, at age 25, looked like he had a good chance of being a hall of famer: he had speed, he could hit and he could hit for power. In 2008, he hit 268/374/502. That was his lowest average to date, but given everything else (33 homers 38 steals), it was alright.

He’s back up with the Phillies, seeing if he can make something work as a depth player in the National League. (Of course, some of the recall has to do with an out clause in his contract that was set to activate, but he was hitting in AAA, just as he should’ve.)

He’s battled injuries for years, undergoing seven surgeries in five years. He had hadn’t played since 2011. He’d basically broken himself by playing as hard as he did. I suppose you can credit him for that.

So, will he ever be the same? No. Can he contribute? Seems hard to see for this season – he’s got to prove that he can play at all. But don’t look away completely.

Sport, no matter the flavour, does violent things to the body. The best have to stay the best.

But it all reminds me of that great finish to Patton, with words that are claimed to him but we’re not quite sure where they come from. But they’re good words nonetheless. They’re guiding words.

For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade.
In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments.
The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses.
A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

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