Talkin' Matt Wieters and the concept of hype, with Bill James
The Orioles promoted much-heralded prospect Matt Wieters last Friday
The 23-year-old catcher is probably the most hyped call-up since Bo Jackson
The phenomenon of hyped rookies dates back at least to the 1880s
The following is the continuing evolution of an experiment that we tried a couple weeks ago -- and the launch of a new weekly column on SI.com. It's a combination column with Boston Red Sox senior advisor and baseball writer extraordinaire Bill James. For a few years now, Bill and I have exchanged e-mails about everything from sports to politics to religion to crime to the qualities of Marlon Brando as an actor (Bill thinks he's overrated). So we have talked about bringing those e-mails to the stage. This is not a pure e-mail exchange ... it is rewritten to come out as a column. Anyway, we hope so...
Our topic this week is hype and Matt Wieters. You already know Baltimore called up the 23-year-old catcher last Friday -- and he is probably the most hyped baseball call-up since, well, we spent some thinking about that. We came up with Bo Jackson.
But even Bo did not have a Web site quite like "MattWietersFacts," which is subtitled, "Facts so good they make Chuck Norris cry like a a little girl."
A few of our favorite facts collected there:
Sliced bread is actually the best thing since Matt Wieters. (ESPN's Keith Law)
Matt Wieters beat cancer ... literally, with his bat. There is no more cancer. (fathead5f)
Matt Wieters sometimes impatiently homers from the on-deck circle. (Larrytt)
Matt Wieters is the reason I comes before E except after C. (Bob)
And so on. Wieters was generally viewed as the best every day player coming out of the 2007 draft (with similarly hyped David Price going No. 1 overall), and he hit .343 in his 168 games in the minor leagues, and even scouts and analysts who do not post at MattWietersFacts have called him "Joe Mauer with Power" and "the perfect catcher."
Time will tell on all that. But for now it's fun to have a wildly hyped young player come to the big leagues. Hype and rookies have been a part of baseball for a long, long time.
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Bill James: I think Matt Wieters is extremely good. I've seen him play several times, in spring training. His upside is obviously enormous, and I don't think there is a hole in his game that you can see by analysis or that you can see by watching him play, at least at my level of sophistication. There could still be a hole in his game that is exposed by major-league competition, but my guess is that, if there is, he can cover it pretty well.
Joe Posnanski: When I was working on The Machine -- my upcoming book about the 1975 Reds, and yes, I'm already pathetically hyping it -- I learned Johnny Bench was so hyped in the minor leagues that the Class A Peninsula Grays actually retired his number after he played 98 games there in 1966. He did hit 22 homers there, 10 over a "Hit it here, win a free suit" sign, so Bench was a sharp-dressed man when he moved up to Triple A. Hyping brilliantly talented young catchers is hardly something new.
Bill: There is a certain poignancy in the fact that Clint Hurdle was fired by the Rockies the same day that Wieters made his major league debut for the Orioles. Hurdle was the most-hyped rookie in Royals history, and probably the most-hyped rookie of the 1970s. He got drafted high and shot to the majors young, and hit a long, long home run in a late-season call-up in 1977; he was just a couple of months past his 20th birthday.
Sports Illustrated put him on the cover in the spring of 1978. He played OK in '78 but had back trouble and wasn't able to build on that. He went backward in what should have been his prime years, and it took him a long time to rebuild his life after that.
Joe: Hurdle hit that 425-foot homer into the waterfall at Royals Stadium on his second at-bat ... and in postgame interviews he sounded a bit peeved that he had not done it on his first at-bat. After the game Royals manager Whitey Herzog called him another George Brett, and the next spring in that Sports Illustrated article, legendary pitching coach Bill Fischer and hitting coach Charley Lau talked about this time they watched a 17-year-old Hurdle take batting practice. "It was the greatest exhibition you ever saw," Fischer said. So, yes, if the Internet had been around in 1978, there definitely would have been a "ClintHurdleFacts.com."
Rick Reichardt was so hyped he set off a bidding war which led to him getting $200,000 back in 1966 ... baseball people will tell you he's the main reason why owners instituted the draft.
Mickey Mantle was so hyped that it about broke him: He made the New York Yankees club when he was 19 years old. Then, after a rough spell, he was sent back to Kansas City, where he was so depressed he talked about quitting the game. That's when his father famously drove up to Kansas City and started packing his clothes and (in Mickey's memory) said, "I thought I raised a man. I see I raised a coward instead. You can come back to Oklahoma and work the mines with me."
Mantle, you might remember, decided to stick it out with baseball.