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February 13, 2012

The BP First Take

Monday, February 13

by Daniel Rathman

Football season is over. Spring training is still a few days away. That means, for multi-sport fans like me, there is little choice but to get immersed in college basketball and the NBA. And doing so during the past week meant going Linsane.

Point guard Jeremy Lin emerged as the New York Knicks’ savior, reviving a team that was struggling to stay afloat in the absence of stars like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. A Harvard graduate who went undrafted and was rejected by two teams, Lin certainly did not take the beaten path to fame, but that only adds to the intrigue of his timely breakout. Hoops Analyst writer Ed Weiland is one of the few who can claim he saw this coming.

Being a baseball fan first, though, all of this Linsanity got me thinking: Who is baseball’s Jeremy Lin? 

One possible parallel is former Yankees outfielder Shane Spencer. A replacement player during spring training in 1995, Spencer toiled in the minor leagues for a few years after that, and then put himself in the spotlight with one of the most stunning months in recent history. In 42 plate appearances during September 1998, Spencer hit eight home runs, three of which were grand slams.  He went from September callup to part-time playoff starter, and drilled two more big flies in Games Two and Three of the ALDS to cement his legacy as the Yankees went on to win the World Series.

On the pitching side, the clear choice is 1980s Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela. Just as Linsanity has consumed New York during the past week, the 1980s were a decade of Fernandomania in Los Angeles. Lin has a long way to go when it comes to catching Valenzuela in terms of longevity—the latter was a six-time All Star, a Cy Young winner, and a World Series champion—but he is off to a promising start. I would think of Valenzuela as Lin’s ceiling; let’s talk when he is mentioned in an Academy Award-winning movie like Rain Man (1988).

Editor-in-Chief Steven Goldman went way back to the 1950s, suggesting Hurricane Bob Hazle. Rejected by the Redlegs after a brief stint in 1955, opportunity knocked once more for the outfielder with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, and he did far more than answer the door. After starter Bill Bruton was shelved with a knee injury, Hazle came up and hit .403/.477/.649 the rest of the way, placing fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting despite playing in only 41 games. Hazle went just 2-for-13 with no extra-base hits during the playoffs and was out of the league a year later, but he made quite a mark in those two fateful months.

A more recent choice might be the Rays’ Ben Zobrist. Forced to prove himself at every level after going unnoticed out of high school, Zobrist was drafted by the Astros, and then traded to the Rays in the Aubrey Huff deal. His calling card was versatility, and Zobrist showcased it on numerous occasions for Tampa Bay during its 2008 run to the AL pennant. But it was the surprising power display Zobrist put on late in the season that finally got him noticed. He hit .321/.426/.732 with five homers in 68 plate appearances that September, and gave manager Joe Maddon flexibility both in terms of lineup construction and defensive alignments.  Zobrist then went on to enjoy an MVP-caliber, 7.0 WARP campaign in 2009. Only time will tell if Lin can have that kind of impact.

With those four candidates presented, I open the floor to other suggestions: Who is baseball’s Jeremy Lin? 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

22 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Menthol

I see where you're coming from, but Shane Spencer was a power hitter. Since Jeremy Lin is a point guard, I'm not really feeling the comparison.

A better comp might be Dan Gladden, who came out of nowhere to hit .351 for the Giants in 1984. As a slappy table setter with speed and good SB skills, he fits the PG profile a little better.

Unfortunately, he was a mediocrity after his promising rookie season. Hopefully, Lin will have a more productive career!

Feb 13, 2012 08:09 AM
rating: 1
 
harderj

And as a Giants fan, I remember hoping that Randy Kutcher was the next Dan Gladden!

Feb 14, 2012 08:42 AM
rating: 0
 
SChandler

Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, for those of us old enough to remember.

Feb 13, 2012 08:34 AM
rating: 4
 
Menthol

Yes,good one!

Feb 13, 2012 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

First name that came to my mind too.

Feb 13, 2012 09:21 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Steve mentioned Fidrych as I chatted with him about candidates last night as well. Good call.

Feb 13, 2012 09:36 AM
 
jhardman

Dave Hostetler?

Feb 13, 2012 08:45 AM
rating: 1
 
jhardman

Actually, Pete Incaviglia might be a better example than Hostetler. And if you wanna go infielders, then David Eckstein might qualify.

Feb 13, 2012 08:47 AM
rating: 0
 
deeswan

My first thought was Fidrych. Since he was already mentioned, I'll throw Scott Podsednik, circa 2003, who came out of nowhere to finish second to Dontrelle Willis in the NL ROY race.

Feb 13, 2012 09:52 AM
rating: 0
 
steve.k

How about Mel Stottlemyre or Al Downing?? Whitey Ford for that matter.

Feb 13, 2012 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
mtgannon

Super Joe Charboneau - 1980 AL ROokie of the Year for the Indians

Feb 13, 2012 10:29 AM
rating: 1
 
SChandler

Another good call.

Feb 13, 2012 12:18 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Yep, nice one. Hopefully Lin avoids the overzealous MSG fans, though...

Feb 13, 2012 12:36 PM
 
hoopster3

And opening beer bottles with his eye socket...

Feb 14, 2012 02:13 AM
rating: 1
 
fgreenagel2

Kevin Maas. Cecil Fielder.

Feb 13, 2012 11:58 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Kind of surprised that no one has mentioned Jose Bautista. Jays got him for a song after he cycled through Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Baltimore and Tampa Bay in short order. He sat on the bench for a bit, and then was given some tips on hitting and a shot at starting. And then he hit 97 home runs over the last two years.

Feb 13, 2012 13:38 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Kerry Lightenberg had a great indie league story (acquired for a box of baseballs). Jose Lima also bounced to the Mexican league and back. Ankiel had a lot of hype as a pitcher, then as an outfielder (before the HGH revelation). Brooks Kieschnick also had a neat little career as a hybrid player.

And yeah, Cecil Fielder and Colby Lewis had nontraditional paths too.

I guess it depends on what "Linsanity means"... There's a CNN religion article comparing Linsanity to Tebowing.

Feb 13, 2012 18:31 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I think the Tebow/Lin comparison only exists because their breakouts came so close together.

Feb 13, 2012 20:16 PM
 
BarryR

Chris Shelton, April 2006

Gordy Coleman, 1961

Of course, we can't really come up with answer until we know whether this is a brief flash in the pan or someone launching a star career.

Feb 13, 2012 22:52 PM
rating: 3
 
tbwhite
(361)

How about Chris Sabo ?

Feb 14, 2012 06:52 AM
rating: 1
 
harderj

Call-up Dave Kingman had quite a first ten games for the Giants in 1971, with a triple slash line of .300/.364/1.050 in 22 plate appearances, with a double, a triple, four home runs, 5 runs, and 11 runs batted in.

Feb 14, 2012 08:54 AM
rating: 0
 
jfranco77

How about Ryan Vogelsong?

Feb 14, 2012 13:25 PM
rating: 0
 
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