A tale of two cornerstones

It’s funny how sports fans view professional athletes. Somehow, we have developed this notion that our beloved athletes will get better as they age – much like fine wine, but considerably more expensive – and then "peak" before starting to decline. The Indians’ Michael Brantley is an excellent example of this “Bell Curve” philosophy: He’s improved steadily over the past several years and at age 27, does not appear to have peaked as of yet. But unfortunately, he’s an exception to the rule.

In the real world – the working world of you and I – we go to our jobs, and try to do well with the expectation that if we do, we’ll be rewarded – usually financially – by our employer. Imagine how good life would be if our employer rewarded us ahead of time, based not on past performance but on what we might accomplish in the future. That’s how it works in sports.

There are far more misses than hits in professional sports. Of course, if you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you’re already painfully aware of that. Let’s look at a couple of recently deposed “misses” of the Indians.

In 2006, the Indians acquired Asdrubal Cabrera from Seattle for the immortal Edwardo Perez. He was promoted to the big league club mid-season 2007 and helped ignite the Tribe in its run to a division championship. I loved the guy; he could run, hit, and played a very solid defense. By 2009, he was a vital part of the franchise; a “cornerstone”, if you will. Then something happened to Cabrera, probably on the way to the bank.

Under Manny Acta, in 2011 and 2012, Cabrera still played with fire and enthusiasm – enough to make the All-Star team each year, but tailed off drastically after the All-Star Game. He began to get hurt a lot; his range disappeared, along with his enthusiasm. I wanted to unload him in 2012 after it became obvious – to me, anyway – that for whatever reason, Asdrubal just wasn’t into it as much as he used to be. He’d peaked early in his career, but I don’t think it had anything to do with physical skills as much as it had to do with his mindset. In the Indians’ defense, that’s hard to foresee.

The major player the Indians received in the Victor Martinez trade of 2009 was Justin Masterson (although we also received Nick Hagadone, too). The Indians, from day one, hoped he’d be the mainstay of the pitching staff. I always harbored some doubt about Masterson for one reason, and it had nothing to do with his physical tools, which were (and still are) many.

His attitude, an “Aw shucks, we’ll get ‘em next time” approach, isn’t consistent with the most successful pitchers in baseball. You need that hunger, that win-at-all-costs mentality, to be really good, and that’s why Masterson will never make it big, in my estimation. In the big leagues, you need to really want it – and I never saw it with him.

Perhaps that’s why the Indians hesitated in giving him the $15 million/year for three years – they saw the same thing. His career record of 48-61 with the Tribe may also have had something to do with it.

So, it’s safe to say the Bell Curve assumption in sports is never a sure thing.

For both Masterson and Cabrera, the Bell rang prematurely.


Jeff Bing

Lifelong Westlake resident who dabbles in writing whenever the real world permits. My forte is humor and horror...What a combo!

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Volume 6, Issue 18, Posted 9:48 AM, 09.03.2014