A Pretty Excellent Definition of “Stardom”

Literally anything could happen next.

Top of the Order, edited by Sean Manning, is an anthology full of 25 brief paeans — each written by a notable author — to said authors’ favorite baseball players.

As is almost the rule for an anthology, the quality of the work is uneven. That said, Steve Almond — author of Candyfreak and Not That You Asked — delivers this pretty excellent definition of stardom while discussing Rickey Henderson.

Blockquotation (bold mine):

[Henderson] went two for four in his debut, with a stolen base. I listened to that game on my trusty Panasonic radio. I saw him for the first time a few days later, during one of Oakland’s rare televised contests. I was instantly and violently transfixed. It wasn’t just the crazy stance or the preening manner or the freakish marriage of bulk and speed, but the powerful sense that you had to watch Rickey, because if you didn’t you were going to miss something unprecedented.

This is the first and final signifier of stardom: that your presence on the field suggests possibility. Because possibility — some new miracle carved from air, some abrupt confrontation between grace and peril — is the reason we watch sports. Michael Jordan had it. Wayne Gretzky. Barry Sanders. The British football Paul Gascoigne. And Rickey — the stuff came off him like sparks.




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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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Bad Bill
Guest
Bad Bill

So are we to assume that Ryne Duren achieved stardom? Dave Kingman? Vince Coleman? Rob Deer? Because each of them, when present on the field, suggested possibility … although not necessarily of the kind the author had in mind.

Leo Martin
Member

Bill Simmons has that argument for Manny Ramirez’s greatness — that in his prime, when Manny was at bat on TV you never left to go to the bathroom.

Peter
Guest
Peter

Heck, Manny’s career is all “prime”. I’m so glad he found a job for 2011. I bet he’s got 1 more 1.000 OPS year left in him.

Choo
Member

It’s been awhile since I read Last Night of The Yankee Dynasty, but I will never forget the passage about Derek Jeter and the old Astros area scout who fell in love with him.

The old scout was working his way across the state of Michigan when he stopped at a high school game and laid eyes on a rail thin kid playing shortstop in clucky high-top cleats. Instantly, the scout was hypnotized by Jeter’s presence. The fact he fact he was a pretty good ballplayer certainly helped, but Jeter’s aura remained with the scout long after he left the ballpark. As the weeks passed, the old scout returned again and again to watch the kid play, rarely missing a game despite the six-hour drive. In his numerous scouting reports to the Astros, the old scout made it abundantly clear that Derek Jeter was a once-in-a-generation, championship-caliber leader and player of which he had never seen the likes of – and he had seen the likes of many.

As the amateur draft approached, the old scout lobbied hard for Jeter. The Astros had the first pick and were rumored to be leaning toward college star Phil Nevin. The old scout did everything in his power to sell the club on Jeter and, in a last ditch effort, promised the club that he would quit if they failed to take him.

Needless to say, the scout quit and watched Derek Jeter lead the Yankees to 4 World Series titles during his first 5 seasons in the league. As for Nevin, the Astros dealt him to the Tigers for Mike Henneman before Jeter even appeared in a big league game. Henneman threw a grand total of 21 innings for the Astros.

Scouts lead a tough life, but one of the perks is that tidal rush of discovery most of us lost with adulthood.

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