Is Chase Utley the Next Big Superstar? Is Anyone?

Heaven knows it’s a battle to fill the gaping maw of a newspaper sports section (or, heck, an Internet site).  It’s eternally ravenous, utterly unforgiving, and preternaturally cruel.  Lots of writers have to resort to the occasional trick (like comedy bullet points) to keep the beast at bay for another day.

Carl Fredricksen from Up

(ARIZONA REPUBLIC writer, considering his next opus)

However, it takes a special effort to knock out 1200 words bemoaning the loss of the baseball superstar.  It takes interviews with other old men as they pass through town to hopefully buttress your case.  It takes calling up your friends and/or other similarly-minded sports fans in town.  It takes quoting Simon and Garfunkel.  And, of course, it takes bullet points.  (These are also funny, but it’s less intentional this time.)

Bob McManaman of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC made it happen, though, and we are gifted with the resultant mess. The first 200 words rattle off the famous players of the past and wonders with an audible sigh where they all went.  (Hint: Most of them died. The others went to private autograph signings.)

Then McManaman opens the stage for Professional Curmudgeon Lou Piniella, who has no hesitation when it comes to discussing the Good Ol’ Days.  In the olden days, Lou opines, superstars were clutch and they looked like superstars and they urinated gold flecks or some such.  Men! Manly men!

McManaman follows by begrudgingly allowing for Chipper Jones and Albert Pujols (two perpetually injured large men) before spending another 100 words on how steroids and their ilk have ruined the superstars of the game like Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro.

And then the pivot point:

But honestly, do any of them - from Mets pitcher Johan Santana, to Phillies second baseman Chase Utley or Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira - really qualify as legitimate superstars these days?

We could have broken off this trail of old person tears here by shouting, “YES!  YES!  A THOUSAND TIMES, YES!”  However, the juggernaut had already achieved terminal crotchety, so the bullet points of rationalization followed to cut the piece down from the book deal that the feature piece hoped to be.

Expansion?  More teams (and more player slots and lower quality of opponents) meant fewer opportunities to shine.  Of course!  Or maybe talent is up all over and there’s fewer scrubs (Neifi Perez weeps). Or the steroids.  Or too many Latinos and Asians.  Or not enough Blacks (capitalization not ours).  Or free agency.  Or maybe global damned warming. What is this, spaghetti feature piece theater?

Then the best part: the end.  Not just for obvious reasons, though; Bobby Cox gets a few words at the end to throw the entire feature under the bus:

Maybe the perceived lack of superstars in baseball today is just that, a perception. That’s how Braves manager Bobby Cox sees it.

“I think there’s always going to be the superstar players,” Cox said. “But are there less now than there were 20 years ago, 30 years ago? I can’t say. I don’t know.

“But if it’s true, how many superstars are we supposed to have from year to year in the first place?”

Bobby Cox, doing the work of FIRE JOE MORGAN in less than 50 words.