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January 15, 2014
The Lineup Card
Twelve Non-MLB Athletes We'd Like to See Playing Baseball
1. LeBron James
Perhaps it's time for King James to take on a new challenge, one that he could not receive from his current profession, by bringing his talents to the baseball world. It would be fitting for me to see James "take a break" from the league he conquered after winning a ring for the third consecutive season, just like the NBA immortal he's so often—and only—compared to in Michael Jordan, who retired from the NBA for a year to give a baseball chance immediately after winning his third consecutive championship. I wonder if James would be more successful than Jordan at baseball in due time, given his once-in-a-generation type athleticism. —Ronit Shah
2. The Cast of WWE
There'd be a downside to it, though. There would probably be allegations of steroids being thrown about, completely without regard to whether or not they were true. Now that I think about it, I don't think I'd want any of these things to happen to baseball. Besides, Don Zimmer would start showing up to work in just a Speedo.
You can't un-think that. Maybe it's best to just move along. —Russell A. Carleton
3. Zdeno Chara
4. Manute Bol
So, let’s take a different tact. Let’s take the topic literally. Which non-baseball playing athlete would I like to see try to play baseball? The easy joke is Jeff Francoeur, but let’s move beyond easy jokes to slightly less easy jokes. How about a sumo wrestler? Any of these guys would do. The sight of a mostly naked fat man is always amusing, and if you put a bat in his hand, so much the funnier. Or, how about a pole vaulter? He or she could use their pole instead of a bat. That would be funny because it wouldn’t work.
But I didn’t settle on any of those. I went further. I went to the top. In 1951, Eddie Gaedel batted for the St. Louis Browns. He was 3-foot-7 and quite fittingly walked on four consecutive pitches. There may have been some reticence to go all out against Gaedel, but a guy that tall is also going to have an amazingly small strike zone. Why do I bring this up? Because my choice would be the opposite of Gaedel: Manute Bol. Boll was 7-foot-7, or more than two Eddie Gaedels tall. It was said he could dunk a basketball without jumping. He once blocked 48 shots in one game. (I’m assuming, I didn’t look it up.) Also, he is dead. That’s problematic, but since this wasn’t going to happen anyway, I don’t see it as an impediment.
The sight of a 7-foot-7 man attempting to do pretty much anything on a baseball diamond would be amusing. How easily could Bol rob a hitter of a home run? Pretty easily if he could make it back to the wall in time. How about robbing a hitter of a line-drive single over the head of an infielder? No such thing if that infielder is Bol. In contrast though, simple grounders to Bol might be challenging. How about hitting? Just about any pitch thrown over the plate and above his knees would be a strike. Though that might not matter considering he never played baseball before; he’d probably swing and miss at everything anyway. Could he pitch? Ha ha, no, of course not! But it would be fun to see him try.
So which non-baseball playing athlete do I want to see attempt baseball? I’ll take the seven-plus-foot-tall dead guy, please, and now I win this topic. —Matthew Kory
5. AB de Villiers
Cricket is an interesting sport because although it seems to share many superficial similarities with baseball, such as hitting a ball thrown by a player into a field of other players who attempt to catch the ball, the language of achievement is so different as to render it more impregnable than a recently imagined dinner date. Is it good that, after “the third test, after centuries from Ashwell Prince and Jacques Kallis, de Villiers became the third centurion of the innings with a score of 163 off 196 balls with 12 fours and 7 sixes?” It certainly sounds good. Is it important for predicting his skill at baseball that “he became the first wicketkeeper to score a century and claim 10 dismissals in a Test?”
Anyway, look, try to understand the greatness we are dealing with here. According to Wikipedia, in 2008, “De Villiers scored an obdurate 174 that helped set up a 10-wicket win for South Africa in the second Test against England at Headingley Carnegie in Leeds in July 2008. This was followed by a 97 at The Oval before he came down the wicket trying to smash Panesar for a boundary and was clean bowled.” How can you not be impressed by that?
I’m impressed. Let’s give him a bat and a glove and see what he can do playing short, supposing he can figure out where to stand. —Dan Brooks
6. Ray Allen
7. Martin Brodeur
8. Viv Richards
9. Jameis Winston
He’s already said that he wants to “be better than Bo Jackson” and Rangers officials (Texas drafted Winston in the 15th round of the 2012 draft) have continued to rave about Winston and his chances of making it as a dual-sport athlete.
Raw may be the best way to describe Winston’s current makeup, but he’s certainly exciting to watch. His freshman year highlight video includes a handful of potential mistakes on the basepaths alleviated by his natural speed. The animation he displayed during pep talks in the football locker room was also present in the dugout. And then there’s this:
On the mound, he’s currently projected to start the season as the Seminoles closer and with his low-to-mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, he would likely have a faster track to the majors as a pitcher (Callis also points out that losing at-bats by not playing during the summer and fall hinders his development as a hitter compared to other college players).
However, I can’t imagine that any NFL team investing a top pick on Winston to be their franchise quarterback would be too thrilled to have him to risk a potential shoulder or elbow injury by pitching in the minors (his reliance on the slider doesn’t help). Given the relentless demands of being an NFL quarterback, it just seems unlikely that Winston will be able to follow in the footsteps of either Jackson or Deion Sanders.
Given the disparity in guaranteed money that Winston would receive at the top of the NFL draft compared to an MLB signing bonus and the fact that he’s simply better at football, there seems to be little chance that Winston would choose baseball over football. Any slim possibility of him taking such a route would probably be predicated on the matter of long-term health. If there were ever a time for an athlete to ditch pads and a helmet in favor of a bat and glove (and a significantly lower chance of having memory lapses before receiving AARP benefits) it would be now.
In all likelihood, we’ll only see Winston suiting up on Sundays after his days at Florida State are over. It’s a shame, because Winston’s athleticism and aggressiveness on the baseball field would fit perfectly with the new-school breed of players that have pervaded the game in recent seasons. —Chris Mosch
10. John Wall
11. Cristiano Ronaldo
Aesthetics are at the heart of this exercise, and for me Cristiano Ronaldo’s chiseled man physique is the perfect embodiment of athletic aesthetics. Google is loaded with shirtless Ronaldo photographs as the Portuguese footballer isn’t shy about showing off a hard body that screams athlete.
Baseball could use the injection of aesthetic and athleticism Ronaldo would provide. Can he hit a baseball? Almost certainly not, but it’d be fun to watch him try. —Mauricio Rubio
12. Randy Moss
In the Madden '06 CD-ROM that I still have for some reason, Moss rates as a 99 in speed, 99 in acceleration, 97 in agility, 97 in catching, and 99 in jumping. So you think Mike Trout is great at robbing home runs? Moss has plenty of experience snatching balls out of thin air while on the move. (Check this highlight for evidence.) An elite deep ball receiver, you could expect him to take precise routes to the ball with his sure footwork and excellent depth perception.
Like I said, Moss might be limited to a late-inning defensive replacement. Still, look at the outfield range on a team like the 2013 Mariners (-70 DRS in the outfield alone) and tell me it doesn’t beg for considering extreme measures. —Dan Rozenson