Talented underachievers or hustling overachievers

2009 August 23

Just got done reading the latest Sports Illustrated (I’m a little behind on my magazine reading), the one with Marc Buoniconti on the cover.

What struck my writing nerve, however, isn’t one of the articles. Instead, it’s a players poll. The question asked which major leaguer gets the least out of his talent. Survey says!

Four of them are current or former Washington Nationals: No. 1 Wily Mo Pena, No. 2 Daniel Cabrera, No. 3 Elijah Dukes and No. 5 Mike MacDougal. That’s really remarkable. It would not be surprising, however, when you consider whose fingerprints are on three of the four.

Jim Bowden.

Luckily, an FBI probe greased the skids for his exit from Washington. From a million miles away, Bowden always seemed a huckster pedaling miracle cures masquerading as a general manager. He assembled one of the worst bullpens in major league history (I don’t have stats to back it up, but I’ll send you copies of the doctor bills from prolonged head shaking-induced neck sprain). He cornered the market on corner outfielders heading into camp, apparently forgetting the need for, you know, an actual center fielder.

He to collect his former Cincinnati Reds players, which yielded Pena. He’s a guy Bowden brought to Washington. Not there any more. He brought in Cabrera. Not there now. He brought in Dukes, who is with the Nationals and putting up “stellar” numbers. Bowden gets a pass on MacDougal, but is a guy brought in after one of the bullpen purges brought on by his incompetence. (Mike isn’t short for Michael, by the way. It’s short for Meiklejohn, by the way. Never heard that name before, but you can’t blame a person for their own name unless it’s Esteban Ochocinco.)

I’ve written far more than I expected to get to my main point. I read that poll and thought, Man, I’d rather have a bunch of gritty, hustling overachievers than ubertalented but underachieving guys. Then I said, Check that. I’ve lived that nightmare, too.

Mike Ditka got enough rope in New Orleans to hang himself. He liked to draft gritty, hustling overachievers and his first draft in 1997 is proof: Guard Chris Naeole, DB Rob Kelly, DE Jared Tomich, RB Troy Davis, QB Danny Wuerffel, WR Keith Poole, TE Nicky Savoie.

Ditka bet a reporter that Wuerffel would be picked in the top 100, knowing he had pick No. 99 and would take him there, a humongous reach. (The Saints signed Jake Delhomme was an undrafted free agent, proving to be a far better selection than Wuerffel. Wuerffel is a world-class individual, but a bad NFL quarterback.) The rest of that class was underwhelming, save Chris Naeole. But Naeole was another reach, a stunning waste of a 10th overall pick for a guard, who probably would have been available where they picked Kelly, who probably would have been available when they picked Tomich, etc. (Picks 11 and 12? Warrick Dunn and Tony Gonzalez.)

So, which would I rather have. Team of gritty, hustling overachievers or ubertalented but underachieving guys. Trick answer: Neither. Nothing good comes of either approach. You can’t win without talent, but you can’t win without high achievers.

Force me to pick between Bowden and Ditka and I’ll change allegiance.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS