=== The Mariners' Tim Tebow? ===
Who can be the Mariners Tim Tebow? Is is Ackley? Is it Felix and he just needed a bit more talent to lead? Is it Prince that comes in and stirs the drink?
Well, as far as a catalyst as dynamic as Tebow is -- I'd say that in any sport, the comp attributes of a Tebow-type athlete would be
- A hugely polarizing, controversial athlete ...
- ... who is a very good teammate in the locker room
- Great personal charisma and magnetism
- Talent that carries "mystique," potential, fear-of-failure and excitement for the team
- A super-dynamic playing style on the field
For example, in the late '60's and early '70's, Joe Namath met all these criteria. The NFL institution feared and hated him; Pete Rozelle did what he could to destroy Joe Namath.
It was by no means certain that Namath's downfield passing style would work. He had a mystique, controversy, and when he turned out to be very good, it ignited the Jets to far overperform their talent.
In basketball, Larry Bird had most of these attributes at court level. The NBA, anybody around it well tell you, "is a black man's league." Bird was quite controversial at court level, and it was by no means certain that his teams were going to be permitted to win, much less to actually win.
In early baseball history, Babe Ruth's presence obviously matched. Later on, Billy Martin's managing matched four of the five. Lou Piniella's managing matched all five, at a less intense level.
Still, the lesser question is, "Can a baseball player impose his charisma and swagger onto a dugout?"
It's pretty tough for a baseball hitter to fill a (reduced) Tim Tebow role. "Hey, we're going to win this thing tonight and I'll make sure we do!" Hitters fail 7 times out of 10, so trash talk can get a little embarrassing.
Reggie Jackson used to thump his chest and say "I got more here than you want, man." And then he'd go out and hit five home runs in the World Series. Ken Griffey Jr. brought some of the Tim Tebow element to the Mariners. In 1995, he single-handedly saved the ALDS psychologically, pointing across the dugouts and mocking Ruben Sierra's home run dance. The dugout rallied around Junior's charisma.
I wouldn't say that Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did any harm to the psyches of some baseball teams that were trying to "break through" against expectations. A bunch of moving parts have to be in place, of course, for a Straw That Stirs to mix anything. If there's no tonic or cranberry juice or ice, there's no point stirring. But get a Red Sox team with a lot in the glass already, but no belief other than a belief in a Curse, and that's when a Bloody Sock might stir the drink.
Baseball players can impose their own charisma and swagger onto a dugout. The effect may be a little more subtle than it is in basketball or football.
Can Prince Fielder do this for a rag-tag group of young players who lack swagger? Fielder's definitely an NFL-Street kind of personality. In SSI's book, he's got the style to go with the game.
Would like to see him give it a try. :- )