By Jason Keidel
If you look at the baseball map, you’ll see a storm approaching Port St. Lucie.
Indeed, Hurricane Tebow is about to crash upon the eastern shores of Florida. The former Florida Gator and Heisman Trophy winner, who swapped the pigskin for rawhide, has been promoted by the Mets to the higher levels of their farm system. This after batting .222 with three homers and 22 RBI in 227 plate appearances while playing with the Single-A Columbia Fireflies.
Like anything related to Tim Tebow, it draws strong emotions and clashing views. His critics, a growing chorus who see Tebow as a pampered superstar whose attention and/or accolades don’t nearly match his achievements, say this is clearly a Mets PR ploy to drum up interest and sales around their peripheral outlets.
Maybe. Did the Mets sign Tebow knowing the tornadic media coverage that follows him? Of course. Tebow is good for business. As long as he doesn’t embarrass himself or the club on the diamond — we all know he’s a pseudo-saint off the field — then this just makes cents, er, sense. If you have some free time and a few bucks, and a chance to see Tim Tebow wield a bat, run down a fly ball or jog shirtless across a rainy outfield, it surely beats the nth iteration of Transformers.
But the ancillary argument, that Tebow is somehow blunting the progress of another player who deserves the very spot Tebow occupies, is silly. It’s just laughable to suggest that the Mets have the next Mike Trout on their hands, but won’t get time or shine because he’s toiling in Tim Tebow’s shadow.
This is not about Tim Tebow the athlete, of course. Never was. It’s about Tebow the man, the phenomenon, the happening, the aura. Tebow operates in some nimbus, above or beyond the normal human. It’s not news that folks hate those who look or perform better than they do. Add the fact that Tebow is literally selfless and has done more for the downtrodden than any five of us combined, and he makes a convenient cultural dartboard for the haters.
Then add his religion, politics and monolithic devotion to principle, and it just drives those people to madness. We have to hate success, and if we can’t find it on the field, we find it off the field, or the reverse.
When someone is guilty of beating his wife, of driving drunk, of drowning dogs, of hurling his girlfriend onto a bed covered with assault rifles, we become de facto lawyers, indulging in those endless second chances we afford Americans. As long as he produces for our favorite team. Yet, for whatever reason, it singes our sensibilities when the man is a model citizen.
We love sports because it’s the closest thing we have to a pure meritocracy. The team that scores the most points wins, the people who produce on the diamond/hardwood/gridiron play the most, without any regard to social, political or religious status, and no regard to ethnicity.
But it would be naive to think that popularity and publicity have no bearing on who plays or why. Tom Brady isn’t an icon simply because of his Super Bowl rings. Or Michael Jordan, or Bryce Harper. Whether it’s their perfectly placed cheekbones, farms of flawless hair, or the way they fill out their silk suits, appearance and perceptions matters. It matters that Brady is married to the most prolific model in the world. It matters that Jordan virtually sired the sneaker empire. It matters that Harper hits a mammoth homer, pulls off his helmet and his hair hasn’t moved.
This is the world we live in. Lonzo Ball hasn’t scored a single point yet he, by dint of his dad, has commandeered social media for months, with the attendant audacity to sell sneakers bearing his name for $495.
So it matters that Tebow was not only a great college football player, but is also absurdly handsome, publicly professed his virginity and pinballs the world helping the poor, the incarcerated and the forgotten. In fact, you could argue — and I would — that Tebow’s popularity, in a strict athletic sense, has cost him a job in the NFL. He led a team to the playoffs, and defeated a heavily favored 12-4 team in the first round. But based on his popularity, Tebow can’t find a spot on an NFL roster. He would be the most imposing backup on the planet.
So Tim Tebow gets a baseball gig that you and I, with similar stats, would not. Is that really worth the vitriol and violent rhetoric that follows? Yes, it’s rather presumptuous of him to think that he can drop baseball in high school, then simply pick up a bat a decade later and compete with Mike Trout. But it’s just as innocuous as it is inconceivable.
Who’s being harmed by all of this? Just you, for hating Tim Tebow, who’s impossible to hate, unless you’re just a hater.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.