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Article: On Miguel Sano, Al Franken and Believing in Heroes

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#1 Tom Froemming

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 02:11 PM

Maybe it’s appropriate that hero is a four-letter word. Investing in heroes or looking up to powerful men seems to be a foolish thing to do these days. Regardless, I’m still a believer there’s overwhelmingly more good in this world than bad. I wrote an article about that feeling for the Twins Prospect Handbook that I’d like to share.Spend two months thinking about a bunch of minor leaguers who’ve made major sacrifices to chase their dreams and you can’t help but develop a bit of a soft spot. In other words, to quote Moneyball, “It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”

Right when I was getting wrapped up in some of those feelings, the Al Franken accusations came out. Just like that, I was reminded how admiration can be so dangerous.

The article below was included in the Twins Prospect Handbook (which is available in paperback here and as a pdf here). I wrote it in one sitting on Nov. 21. I wanted to make sure to point that out because this was not written in response to the Sano situation, or any of the reactions to it.

I also just wanted to make it clear that I’m not comparing the things Sano is accused of doing to the things Franken is accused of doing. I mention them together as it relates to the disappointment they’ve caused, not the severity of the accusations.

The article as it appears in the handbook is below (with a few links added). It’s not the wisest business decision to give away something in the book for free, but I felt like this was something worthy of discussion at this time.

Athletes As Heroes? Sure, Why Not?

Believing in a hero is an increasingly difficult thing to do these days. It seems there’s a never-ending news cycle of stories regarding people we hold in high esteem doing bad things that shatter their public image. Entertainers, artists, politicians, CEOs, religious leaders, athletes – we see this happening everywhere and it’s nothing new. While it may be for the best that we acknowledge we’re all human, and worshiping our heroes was probably always a bad idea, it’s a shame that these developments have created a culture of universal distrust.

Things weren’t always this muddy. There was a time in America when things were more black and white, for better or worse. There was a hero and there was a villain. Maybe the hero wasn’t always perfect, but he abided by his code. He did what was right for the simple reason that it was the right thing to do. There’s perhaps no better an icon that represented those ideals than the American cowboy. Much of what the prototypical cowboy character was constructed from was all a myth, but that imagery captured the imagination of Americans for decades.

Who are the American folk heroes of today’s age? I’m not talking about the capital “H” type of heroes. The first responders or people like Todd Blyleven, Bert’s son and a former minor leaguer, who put himself in the way of danger to save others during the music festival massacre in Las Vegas this October. No, those are True Heroes, and lucky for the rest of us they’re still around.

But in popular culture we seem to have taken a sharp turn away from more relatable, real-life people as our heroes. The cowboys were replaced by superheroes sometime around 1940, but that genre has exploded off the pages of comic books and into the box office in recent years. Also, the line between good and evil is also often blurred, even in superhero stories. But aren’t there any everyday people we can look to for inspiration? Who are the American folk heroes of 2017?

Why not minor league baseball players? Hear me out.

A lot of people will immediately reject the notion of athletes being heroes. I get it. When Charles Barkley told us he was not a role model in a 1993 Nike ad, the message was ahead of its time. “Just because I dunk a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids,” Barkley said. While I agree with that sentiment – that we shouldn’t look up to athletes based solely on their abilities – it’s a shame it feels almost inappropriate to look up to someone who happens to be an athlete. Like you’d be judged for it.

Following prospects, just like searching for heroes, can often feel like a fool’s errand. Only a small percentage of these players will one day grace Target Field. To some people, that’s a good enough reason to completely dismiss the minor leagues. But those who deem only major leaguers worthy of their attention or only superheroes worthy of their admiration are missing out.

This book focuses on young men who are chasing their dreams. Some of them are just teenagers who’ve left behind their families and everything they’ve ever known to prove they have what it takes to make it here. What’s more American than that?

Some others have graduated from prestigious universities and turned their backs on more gainful employment to pursue a life in baseball for as long as they can. The vast majority of the players in this book make less than minimum wage on average. Even a lot of the guys who didn’t get a college education could be making more money if they gave up their baseball dreams and just worked a regular day job instead. During the season, they work hours and endure travel that would drive lesser man to tears. Days off are few and far between and there really is no offseason. These guys may decompress and get to spend the winters back at home if they choose, but I promise you none of them are just hanging around until spring training.

All for the love of the game.

If you’re reading this book, you probably have some sense of how things work, but most people assume the typical professional athlete is a pampered millionaire. Sure, there may be a few “bonus babies” in the minor leagues who already have seven figures in the bank, but they’re few and far between. And even they’re not taking private jets from city to city or riding in limousines to the ballpark. Royce Lewis, the No. 1 pick of the 2017 Draft, reportedly put his entire $6.7 million bonus into a trust fund, was living off his minor league salary of roughly $850 a month and living at the team’s dorm-like complex in Fort Myers this season.

These are all young men, so that means there’s a real good chance they’ve all done a thing or two that their mothers wouldn’t be proud of. Maybe some of these players even have some character flaws that would be less than desirable, I don’t know. But what I can tell you with confidence is that the majority of them are worthy of your admiration. Bad guys don’t tend to stick around in the minor leagues for long. Most of these players stay out of trouble and give back to their communities – both their hometowns and the cities they pass through on their way up the ranks. A few of them even sprung into action during an emergency situation last spring.

Rochester Red Wings manager Mike Quade was involved in a nasty car accident down in Florida during spring training last season. Among the first people to respond to those involved in the wreck were four young men: Twins minor leaguers Caleb Hamilton, Dane Hutcheon, Ben Rortvedt and Austin Tribby. The group checked in on passengers of the other cars involved and even assisted Quade’s girlfriend, who had been injured, out of their car and to safety. We know that story thanks to some great reporting by Phil Miller of the Star Tribune.

There are plenty of other feel-good stories. Pitcher Griffin Jax is an active member of the military who used his brief leave of absence from the Air Force to chase his baseball dreams in Cedar Rapids. I’m sure there are plenty of other accounts from the young men in this book that would make Twins fans proud that haven’t been widely disseminated.

It could be argued the players in this book have superhuman abilities (if you can throw or hit a 90 mph fastball, you’ve got superpowers in my book). In some ways, these players are just like the rest of us; but their pursuit of Major League dreams hearkens back to an earlier time in our country’s history. These days it’s easy to wonder if there even is such a thing as the American Dream anymore. Well, these ballplayers are living proof that ideal is alive and well.

For more information on the Twins Prospect Handbook, Seth provided many more details in this article announcing its release.

Click here to view the article
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#2 Tom Froemming

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 02:11 PM

I just wanted to jump in first and say I’d appreciate it if everyone would please read the entire article before commenting. These are complicated things to try and write about. I did my best, but I feel like there are some things that could be very easily misunderstood if taken out of context. I’ve shared my feelings and made my points. If you don’t agree with them, that’s okay.

 

Also, it would be great if we would try to keep the conversation on the topic of believing in heroes/looking up to people in today’s climate. The Sano situation is obviously relevant to this discussion, but there are already a number of threads in which you can discuss the specifics of that story if you wish to do so. Thank you.

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#3 djvang

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 03:20 PM

Hero worship is for the young and naive. The older I get the less I believe in heroes, especially among athletes and celebrities. And I have never looked at modern politicians as heroes. Call it experience. The sooner you realize that they're just humans with the same flaws as everyone else the better off you'll be.

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#4 Carole Keller

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 03:28 PM

I think it’s possible to admire and acknowledge the talent without worshipping the person and/or supporting their status and/or financial gain. It’s easy to see someone so talented as a youngster, chasing his/hr dream and even reaching it and think, ‘Wow, I want to be like them!’ But I learned a long while ago to be careful with misplaced admiration, to not cloud the talent and achievement with the person they are. And even in admiring and acknowledging the talent, I’m careful to know that that’s the line, and it doesn’t mean I am supporting that person’s talent through the purchase of music, Jersey, books, concert/event tickets, etc. And a hero to me is someone who inspires me to be and do better, like my parents and my siblings.
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#5 mickeymental

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 03:43 PM

1) it was much easier to maintain the look of a hero in the days before camera phones and social media. 2) it’s always wise to separate the art from the artist. 3) for those who insist on finding heroes, women seem like a much better bet.
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#6 Mike Sixel

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:07 PM

I agree with Carole....I can care about talent and effort, but not the person. I root for laundry, not players.
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I don't know, it is a site to discuss sports, not airline safety.....maybe we should take it less seriously?


#7 Craig Arko

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:30 PM

One of my great heroes in Science is the physicist Richard Feynman. He had some major faults, too. I try not to emulate those.

https://galileospend...ichard-feynman/

And the science fiction giant and polymath Issac Asimov...

https://io9.gizmodo....cifi-1785704207

And through a well-known organization devoted to skeptics:

http://www.slate.com...pe_threats.html

Point being, the problem is everywhere. Admire the accomplishments, learn not to repeat the really terrible behavior. And challenge that behavior when you see it in yourself or those around you. I fight this battle and you do too.

Ultimately, maybe the problem is belief itself. Doubt and question more. You may not like what you find, but that’s just too bad.

Edited by Craig Arko, 30 December 2017 - 05:17 PM.

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#8 mikelink45

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:31 PM

I really appreciate your essay.It is a difficult topic - all aspects of it - and it gets people upset for a variety of reasons that are personal to the individual reader.We have become a society of hyperbole and thus we being a star is not good enough - we need superstars.All our current stars are better than all other eras.

 

Even our movie heroes now have to be superheroes with supervillains.It is good to gain perspective on this. 

 

Being a hero means reacting to a situation and taking action that is appropriate, sometimes even putting yourself at risk.Not every firefighter is a hero, but they are all admirable for what they do.Not every talent is matched with a personality and morality.Too often bad guys get the money, the woman, the prize.That is not what life is about.

 

Our ball players are admirable for their talent and commitment and many of us are envious of that talent.We all wish we could step up to say - we might have been, we were close...But most of us were not.So they represent something to all of us, but hero worship is dangerous. 

 

Thanks for a thoughtful presentation.

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#9 KirbyDome89

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 04:33 PM

Personally I agree with Barkley. 

 

That said, I think one thing missing from the article is the role of a support system. If individuals directly involved in your life are also strong role models, it's easy to dismiss the idea of athletes filling that role; such is the case for me. However, I also understand not everybody is that fortunate. It isn't difficult for me to see how an athlete who excels at an activity, which possibly is one of the few bright spots in a person's life, can ascend to hero status.  


#10 Vanimal46

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 05:37 PM

I've heard you should never meet your sports/entertainment heroes because you'll come out of it disappointed.

As a young kid I idolized Ken Griffey Jr. and Pedro Martinez. It was fortunate that they both appeared to play the game honestly. But I don't know a thing about them outside of the playing field.

As an adult, my heroes changed to real people in my life. My parents, mentors in the industry I work in, others that have helped me along the way.

#11 DocBauer

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 08:16 PM

Thank you for sharing, Tom. Well written and well thought out. No thank you for stealing an idea I was thinking of posting/blogging about this weekend, lol.

One context we have to look at here is the difference between a hero and idolizing someone. I think it's an important differential. There are a plethora of people I have idolized in my life...musicians, actors, writers and athletes...and some of them have absolutely been heroes of mine, in various forms. I don't mean to sound condescending in the least, but I think some of it comes down to personal character, and even, possibly, upbrining. To me, a hero excels and even overcomes at times. An athlete, your example of a milb baseball player is not a bad example. So is the walk-on athlete at a major university or a FA NFL player. And a hero is also someone who gives of themselves to make the world a better place, even if it's just their corner of the world. And these heroes ABSOLUTELY can be famous people of note, whether a performer, artist, singer or athlete.

And sometimes those we idolize or mark as heroes can absolutely be flawed. But the extent of those flaws, what they do with them, how they overcome them, and what they bring to the populace, or their quiet corner, should always be examined and considered as well. As an example, there are a few musicians that I absolutely have idolized and can even call hero, to some degree, that have made HUGE mistakes and errors in judgement in their lives. Sometimes embarrassing and very public mistakes. It didn't take away the enjoyment of their music for me, but certainly gave me pause at times to consider the person behind the music. What stuck with me, and elevated their status as people, and potentially "heroes", is how they overcame their mistakes and/or demons to move on as people, including owning up to their mistakes.

Part of the problem with those in the public eye, we'll speak of athletes for the moment, is how high they themselves are elevated by us, the public at large. We're I to run in to Kent Hrbek or Joe Mauer in a public setting, I would derive great pleasure in buying Mr. Hrbek a beer or Mr. Mauer a glass of milk. (See what I did there?) Sometimes you have to wonder how those in the public eye can keep their head on straight with fandom and fan worship.

As fans of anyone, who idolize or hero worship anyone, perspective must always be kept. It's one thing to appreciate someone, and another to call them a hero. This is true as individuals and as parents. It's up to each of us to know the difference. And while I am absolutely NOT speaking directly to recent Twins news, I think it's also OK to elevate our personal status of someone who has let us down, only to right themselves and make more of themselves in the future.

And I will climb off my soapbox now.
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#12 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 11:06 PM

 

1) it was much easier to maintain the look of a hero in the days before camera phones and social media. 2) it’s always wise to separate the art from the artist. 3) for those who insist on finding heroes, women seem like a much better bet.

Yes, because they were worse people (by modern standards) without photographic or video evidence of their horribleness.

 

The problem with sports is that you can't separate the art the from the artist. Say Steven Spielberg was a horrible serial rapist (knock on wood PLEASE STEVEN DON'T BE THAT PERSON), that doesn't mean you love the characters of ET or Indiana Jones any less. There's a disconnect with art and the artist that does not exist in sports. Puckett hits that home run in game six of the series and there's no filter of Luke Skywalker to separate the artist from his "art".

 

And kids are going to worship at the alter of what they enjoy. When they watch a Pixar film, they won't give a rat's ass whether the creator of Wall-E is a double murderer. They only know Wall-E and he's great!

 

But an athlete? There's no separation.


#13 Seth Stohs

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Posted 30 December 2017 - 11:57 PM

My first sports heroes...

1.) Claudell Washington - cocaine suspension.

2.) Kirby Puckett - 

3.) Chuck Knoblauch...

 

It was at the point that I figured out, and I was old enough, to look up to players as players and realize that I don't know them personally and what they do in their personal, private lives. 

 

Now I'm with Tom on this... While I agree with my of Charles Barkeley's commercial, the reality is that kids will look up to athletes or musicians or both. And that's probably OK. Looking up to people is natural and it's good, but it can also teach lessons. That's not a bad thing. It helps growth.

 

At this point, I do have a little different perspective. I do know many of the Twins players, obviously some more than others. I know a lot of the Twins minor leaguers to some degree... I like to think that I have an idea of who they are as people from conversations and interactions... If certain Twins players or prospects got in trouble of any sort, I'd be disappointed. But at the end o the day, even when we see them in teh clubhouse, it's just a part of who they are. We don't see them at home... We like to think that we know these guys, from how they interact with the media and from stories told, but there's more to their lives than time at the ballpark... 

 

I also fully believe that 95+% of the players are really good people who make good choices most of the time. 

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#14 sploorp

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 07:38 AM

 

I also fully believe that 95+% of the players are really good people who make good choices most of the time. 

That is my feeling exactly.The problem is we only hear about the bad stuff.And when there isn't any bad stuff, any stupid little thing gets reported and blown out of proportion.


#15 drjim

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 08:41 AM

That is my feeling exactly. The problem is we only hear about the bad stuff. And when there isn't any bad stuff, any stupid little thing gets reported and blown out of proportion.


It's also been shown that athletes are much less likely to commit crimes and be arrested than males their age.

What Sano did is really bad, but (sadly) isn't exactly shocking behavior from a 22 year old male.
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#16 drjim

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 08:43 AM

On the bigger point, I think moving on from viewing athletes as heroes as one moves from childhood to adulthood is probably normal maturity.

Edited by drjim, 31 December 2017 - 08:43 AM.

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#17 ashburyjohn

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 09:11 AM

Say Steven Spielberg was a horrible serial rapist (knock on wood PLEASE STEVEN DON'T BE THAT PERSON), that doesn't mean you love the characters of ET or Indiana Jones any less.

I don't know. I doubt I would be able to watch Indy's interaction with Marion the same way with that subtext. Not at all, now that I think about it. Ish, Ick, Ptooie.

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#18 ashburyjohn

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 10:37 AM

I don't know. I doubt I would be able to watch Indy's interaction with Marion the same way with that subtext. Not at all, now that I think about it. Ish, Ick, Ptooie.

I have a bad memory for specifics, so I just now went back and looked at the first scene we ever saw with Marion. You probably remembered: she smiled, then socked him in the jaw. He replied, "I never meant to hurt you."

 

I can chuckle, while still recognizing the disgust if that were really part of the background info we carried about any of the artists involved.

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#19 Mike Sixel

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 11:02 AM

That is my feeling exactly. The problem is we only hear about the bad stuff. And when there isn't any bad stuff, any stupid little thing gets reported and blown out of proportion.


I don't know. I saw on like six news sites the story of the ballplayer that donated the mansion recently. We see stories about koskie all the time. And morneau. I think we hear positive stories a lot. They aren't reported the same way, agreed.
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I don't know, it is a site to discuss sports, not airline safety.....maybe we should take it less seriously?


#20 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 31 December 2017 - 12:16 PM

When my father returned to Boston Harbor, just a few days after the Japanese had surrendered, ending WWII, he said that the tugs and fire boats were shooting water into theair and blowing their horns...welcoming the American soldiers home from Europe. There were people cheering on the docks. He had served as a combat engineer in France, Belgium and Germany. He helped build a bridge across the Rhine River while being shelled. He and his buddies had defeated the Germans, but were on their way to the Pacific, to be a part of the invasion of Japan. Fortunatelythe Japanese had surrendered and the deadly invasion was not necessary.  So instead of my dad's troopship continuing toward the Panama Canal and the uncertain future awaiting them in the Pacific, the destination of the soldiers on my father's troopship was changed to Boston Harbor. He finally got off the boat and after waiting for hours in line at a payphone, he called my mother. She was crying, he was crying...both were so glad he was back from the war. He said then the lights went out. She told him his only brother, my uncle, John Benbow, from Greensboro, a P-51 Mustang pilot, was dead, his Mustang having been shot down July 16, 1945. My father said that he and the returning GI's had been made to feel like heroes but that he realized that they were not heroes. My father said he realized that all the heroes were dead.

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