Sunday, August 3, 2008

Will My Childhood Heroes Ever Let Me Down?

I've been noticing another trend lately within the blogging community. Heroes (childhood or otherwise) have been letting us down. Everyone from Jose Canseco to Manny Ramirez. Does everyone's hero eventually let them down?

It's getting increasingly difficult to pick a sports hero these days, without them getting into some type of trouble. Even my former classmate, Rob Mackowiak, has gotten a DUI. So, how do you know your children are picking out good role models? Sadly, I wish there was an easy answer to that question.

I consider myself lucky to have picked out two childhood heroes that have never steered me wrong.

Harold Baines has always been exemplary in showing proper manners and sportsmanship qualities. He's not outspoken, but commands respect by what he does, not by what he says. He helped out teammates and never spoke badly about anyone. He played by the rules and reaped the rewards because of it.

Carlton Fisk was a different type of player. He played the game right, but was never afraid to speak up against an injustice. He commanded respect by example and by voice. He would chew out a superstar for dogging it, but was the first to congratulate an opponent on an accomplishment. He walked the fine line between fierce competitor and elder statesman.

In this age of showmanship, how does one choose someone to admire and follow?

Look at how he reacts to teammates and to opponents. Does he do the right things or does he try to be selfish? Does he play the game the right way? If he was on your team, would you root for him? Is he all about the drama or does he try to fit in? Is he in it mostly for the money or for the love of the game?

I'm sure you can think of many more questions to ask.

I think I chose well when I was a kid. Unless Harold beats up his mother or Carlton kills his wife, I'd say I chose very well. As much as it pained me to write that last line, it now has to be said after the whole O.J. Simpson fiasco. He was well loved before that. That's happened to a lot of superstar athletes. Look at Michael Vick. How you treat animals is a preview of how you treat humans.

I put my faith in people like Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco when I was younger. I never considered them my heroes, but I enjoyed watching them play. When those issues were accepted as true, it didn't bother me that much. I didn't have my heart invested in those players. I never had my heart invested in Sammy Sosa either. Yes, I rooted for him when he was on the White Sox. He struck out too many times, in my opinion, to warrant any type of long term investment from me.

Sure, when Sammy started hitting those home runs on the North Side of town, I always thought it was good for a former Sox player to be doing that. But he always seemed a bit arrogant when he was admiring his home runs. When Ken Griffey Jr. passes Sammy on the all-time home run list, with two more homers, there will be a little justice in the world.

I had a third childhood hero, that I don't talk about too often. John Cangelosi. It's not that he ever did anything wrong, it's just that he kept bouncing between the majors and minors so much, it was very hard to keep track of him after he was traded away from the Sox. I was happy that he finally got a ring in Florida with the Marlins. I always thought he would blossom into a special player. He blossomed into a common, but that's OK too. Sometimes they make the best role models.


Andy said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. For whatever reason, I'm a different kind of person. Even as a kid, I never looked at sports players as heroes. I never found myself much invested in what they did, either on the field or off. True, I had my favorites--Don Mattingly was mine growing up (and he was so easy to like since he was so quiet and rarely raised ANY type of issue--good or bad--off the field.)

The truth of the matter is that few people live lives that, under the scrutiny of national media attention, would not look like a letdown. I'd say maybe 1/3rd of professional athletes have something against them--a DUI or other arrest, a bad marriage breakup that involves a custody battle, failure to pay income tax, etc. You know what? That's basically the same rate as the general population. Somebody reading THIS comment RIGHT now has had one of those issues, but we don't know about it because the media doesn't report on YOUR personal life. But if they did, some people out there would be saying that YOU let THEM down.

Dinged Corners said...

Wow, wonderful post. We probably have an overly restricted view of heroes as someone who, against all odds, attains excellence and is courageous too. Someone like, I don't know, Helen Keller. However, you've made a terrific case for Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk as sports heroes. Really thought-provoking essay, thank you Steve.

Steve Gierman said...

Great point!

We shouldn't hold athletes as heroes, but most kids do. Even as a kid, I shied away from looking up to those who seemed "dirty". I was never impressed by a player who did everything on the field. Give me someone who could do that PLUS lead by example off the field.

Steve Gierman said...

That's why I've always valued how a player conducts himself on and off the field as an evaluation of their character.

Andy said...

I made a stupid typo in my post--what I meant to say is that most anonymous people wouldn't look like heroes with media attention. I am totally distracted by my infant daughter...trying quickly to make comments

--David said...

Great article! As a kid, I guess most of 'heroes' were mostly Pirates (Stargell, Moreno, et al) and some Tribers (Barker, Kuiper, et al). Though, I will publickly admit that I had quite a 'thing' for Mary Lou Retton (we are about the same age, it turns out) back in 1984.... Not sure if that falls under the 'hero' umbrella or not, though. LOL! I should probably delete that last bit, but my wife ribs me about it, so why not everyone else in the card world, right?

Dinged Corners said...

Hey, Mary Lou was a DYNAMO. :)
The on-and-off-the-field issue is important nowadays. We live in a media-saturated world, so these ballplayers must deal with the down side (people knowing more about them) along with the up side (they make beeeeeg bucks). Ty Cobb and others got away with being mean but we have no interest in giving one minute of our time to anyone who is a known blankety blank.

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