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December 30, 2019 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Metafilter favorite Jon Bois looks back on the least consequential athletes of the last decade.

Jon's rules:
  • This list is arranged in no particular order, because my definition of “inconsequential” is somewhat arbitrary and varies from case to case. It might mean that the athlete’s career was a meaningless blip on the radar, or brilliantly brief and terrible, or impressively invisible. If you take issue with anything you read here, I pledge to rewrite it to your satisfaction and mail you $100.
  • This list is nearly entirely made up of athletes competing at the top echelon of their sport, as fun as it would be to mock four-year-old T-ball first basemen who stood directly on top of the base, wore their glove on the wrong hand and cried.
  • This list is entirely made up of men. Women’s sports made enormous strides in the 2010s, and even those who played, say, two career minutes of WNBA basketball still contributed to something meaningful. None of the guys below were doing anything important.
  • If you’re one of the guys on this list, and you read this, please take some satisfaction in the knowledge that in 2012, I had to seek medical attention after injuring my knee playing Wiffle ball.
posted by firechicago (25 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you’re one of the guys on this list, and you read this, please take some satisfaction in the knowledge that in 2012, I had to seek medical attention after injuring my knee playing Wiffle ball.

I have a long scar on my wrist from setting up Wiffle ball...at work.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:46 AM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I love all the digressions about the stellar record such-and-such completely inconsequential pro athlete had in college. It's a good reminder about just what an order of magnitude kind of difference there is between professional sports and the next highest tier of competition.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:19 AM on December 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


The Mike Trout thing is pretty bizarre. A guy who's basically as good or better than Mantle in his prime and he's virtually anonymous among the public at large and even many sports fans. As much as baseball itself has lost its standing in the national spotlight, it is the sport that relies most on its history and stats to tell its story but even that doesn't get Trout much notice.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:31 AM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


I love Jon Bois.
That’s one basketball act every four minutes or so. It’s the faint signal of a distant star we will never visit. Price played basketball billions of years ago and billions of light-years away, but we are nearly certain that at one point, he was there.
This is 17776 levels of prose.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:49 AM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


It's a good reminder about just what an order of magnitude kind of difference there is between professional sports and the next highest tier of competition.

Of the 25,453 people who have played in the NFL, 495 played at Notre Dame (the highest number among all colleges). That's a little under 1 out of 50. Notre Dame, like all top-level schools, gets 85 scholarships at a time. That means that at the best school, one that is synonymous with college football, you're fielding a little over one and a half players who are good enough to be in the NFL.

Teams in good conferences will play six or seven good teams in their conference per year. Add a few nonconference games that aren't just tune-up games against Directional State U, plus a bowl game, and a college football player will play against perhaps 50 or so players good enough to be in the NFL over the entire course of his college career.

Every NFL team has 53 players who are good enough to be in the NFL.
posted by Etrigan at 10:52 AM on December 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


This list made me think of my sport, cycling, and of a tall Belgian guy named Johan Vansummeren. In 2011, Vansummeren was in the 8th year of a career in which he was considered a capable teammate without any personal results to show for it. Cycling's sort of messy like that - there are no real stats to quantify one's contribution to a team; it's an individual rider that gets a win even if it's a team effort.

During the 2011 Paris-Roubaix - considered one of cycling's most brutal and prestigious races - Vansummeren slipped into a minor breakaway from the main group with about 100km left to race. Behind him, a group of favorites coalesced and were expected to easily close the gap to Vansummeren's front group and compete among themselves for the win.

But the group of favorites neutralized each other, each expecting the other to shoulder the burden of closing the gap, and it never closed. Vansummeren slipped away from the breakaway group with about 15 kilometers left and soloed in to win. Even then it almost didn't happen - he flatted his rear tire with 5km left and just rode the rim the rest of the way.

He crossed the finish line 20 seconds ahead of the chasing group, victorious, and proposed to his girlfriend as soon as he got off his bike. He never won another professional bike race, and retired five years later.
posted by entropone at 10:59 AM on December 30, 2019 [30 favorites]


It's a good reminder about just what an order of magnitude kind of difference there is between professional sports and the next highest tier of competition.

Well the world needs realtors and car salesmen
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:25 AM on December 30, 2019


I find the entire premise of this article to be in bad taste, despite the author's caveats. Yet here I am? Anyway I just wanted to say that I don't think anyone in the MMA community would ever say this:
Seconds later, Sandoval took a dozen hammers to the face and was knocked out just over a minute into the fight.
The phrasing I hear just about universally, both on broadcasts and in the gym, is "hammer-fists", as in, "Sandoval took a dozen hammer-fists to the face". Or maybe I'm getting old and this is what the kids say? Thank you, this has been your daily combat sports pedantry.
posted by daveliepmann at 11:48 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I loved this article.

His first fight, in April 2010, resembles a video game with poor collision detection.

Gold!
posted by Gorgik at 12:00 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm endlessly fascinated by the powers of ten aspect of competitive anything - even though I am very much not a DFW fan, I love this passage from his essay about being an also-ran (or up and comer, depending on your level of optimism):

I feel like I could get on a tennis court with Julian Knowle. He would beat me, perhaps handily, but I don't feel like it would be absurd for me to occupy the same seventy-eight-by-twenty-seventy-foot rectangle as he. The idea of me playing Joyce–or even hitting around with him, which was one of the ideas I was entertaining on the flight to Montreal–is now revealed to me to be in a certain way obscene, and I resolve not even to let Joyce [40] know that I used to play competitive tennis, and (I'd presumed) rather well. This makes me sad.

As to Bois - his empathy for all the characters that are required to impart a compelling narrative on sports is well known. The more of this sort of thing, the better.
posted by 99_ at 12:02 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Every NFL team has 53 players who are good enough to be in the NFL.

Yeah, people always talk about how like, some particular year's undefeated USC or Alabama or Clemson could beat the 0-16 Browns or whatever, and it's like, no. They would get run out of the stadium.
posted by kmz at 12:14 PM on December 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


>> If you’re one of the guys on this list, and you read this, please take some satisfaction in the knowledge that in 2012, I had to seek medical attention after injuring my knee playing Wiffle ball.

> I have a long scar on my wrist from setting up Wiffle ball...at work.


I have a scar on my elbow from a piece of stale, burnt toast poorly aimed at the stage during a shadow-cast performance of Rocky Horror Picture Show.
posted by WaylandSmith at 12:22 PM on December 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


In Canadian/US sports, the divide is vast between college/minor league and the top level. I've always read that the hardest thing to do in sports is hitting major league pitching. The next hardest is adjusting to the overwhelming speed of play in the NFL, which is why so many top draft choices fail.

I assume that there are other functions in other sports that are equally daunting. But if you've ever seen major league pitching up close (like from the batters view or right behind the plate) you'll wonder how the hell they can hit the ball at all, let alone the best ones hitting three out of ten. Curve balls don't just curve, they drop off like they fell off a table but at an angle. Fastballs drop or rise. A sinker moves horizontally. It's insane.
posted by Ber at 12:35 PM on December 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


"In 2019, [Trout] signed a 12-year, $426 million contract with the Angels, the richest contract in the history of North American sports."

idk that sounds consequential
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:35 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Jon Bois, I needed an existential crisis today.
posted by Scattercat at 12:46 PM on December 30, 2019


Trout also has the coveted SuperPretzel endorsement.
posted by box at 12:55 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mike Trout is the Buck Bokai of our timeline.
posted by Etrigan at 1:03 PM on December 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Consequential for Trout maybe, but despite his play the team doesn't do very well from what little I understand about baseball. At least I think that was the point of including him in the list.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:28 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


> Women’s sports made enormous strides in the 2010s, and even those who played, say, two career minutes of WNBA basketball still contributed to something meaningful.

As a mediocre female competitive athlete, I resent this. We can be just as lousy as the men.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:17 PM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


My Mike Trout story: I went to see the Yankees play the Angels once several years ago and sat in the outfield, just a few rows from the field where Trout was playing. Two women in my section were Yankees fans and incredibly drunk and drinking more the entire time. They spent all nine innings he was out there yelling "TROUT! TROUT! YOU HAVE A GREAT ASS!" So HoF career, invisible god, great ass.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:18 PM on December 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


I've always read that the hardest thing to do in sports is hitting major league pitching.

So I used to live in Austin, near where the Round Rock Express play. They're the AAA affiliates of the Houston Astros, which means they're the top level of the minors and the last stop before the majors. Minor league baseball is fun as a general rule, but AAA ball is a particularly interesting mix of up and comers on their way up, players on their way down, and established stars recovering from injuries or working on their mechanics or something before going up to The Show.

I went to a lot of games and saw a lot of guys and a great many of them would be what Deadspin called Some Guys that might get a cup of coffee in the majors or might have a nice, long career bouncing around the upper minors with some callups.

And you could tell when one of the major leaguers was throwing, even if they weren't very good. Like they might be a guy that gets a roster spot, but they're no one to brag about having or anything. Nobody really wants their autograph and they'd never get picked for your fantasy team. But their fastballs hit the catcher's glove like a rifle shot. Their breaking stuff drops like it was pushed off the table or swerves like a crazy driver.

Even the career AAA guys who allllllmost made it and were alllllmost good enough (think the pitching equivalent of Crash Davis from Bull Durham) couldn't throw like that. They'd make hitters look foolish, even veterans with lots of AAA experience.

The difference between A ball and AA is noticeable, but not nearly as noticeable as the jump from AAA to the majors and the guys good enough to be at the top, even if they aren't good enough for you to notice.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:28 PM on December 30, 2019 [7 favorites]




Here are the top five from the 2001 Heisman Trophy voting, for the top player in college football:
1 Eric Crouch
2 Rex Grossman
3 Ken Dorsey
4 Joey Harrington
5 David Carr

Yikes. They’re all quarterbacks, and David Carr was taken #1 overall by the expansion Texans, but none of them wound up succeeding in the NFL. (And I say this as a Rex Grossman apologist.)

2012 and 2013 aren’t pretty either.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:36 PM on December 30, 2019


André Lotterer is actually a very successful racing driver - he's won Le Mans three times, the World Endurance Championship once, several junior titles and currently races for Porsche in Formula E.

But for all that, he has competed in exactly one Formula 1 race, for Caterham in the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix. He qualified 21st and broke down on the first lap.
posted by Urtylug at 2:45 AM on December 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


I like Bois and I liked this article, but I'd like to echo the sentiment about College Football and AAA Baseball:

If you don't follow basketball, Summer League is a mishmash of NBA Rookies and Sophomores, D-League* and Euro players. All of them have solid college or professional non-NBA careers. Completely pro, but in random mish-mashes of teams (except the signed players), a higher level than college, but completely mercenary.

In 2018 I caught a game with Dragan Bender and was watching him off-ball. There were a couple other dudes that looked like him, but bigger or stronger, but he was straight better. Much faster, always had the open shot, played defense. Even with the open shot, the PG would always try to do a fancy drive in and then miss. Bender, to me looked like the best forward on the floor, and I wondered why they didn't pass to him more, since he was open and would make the shots.

The guy is a marginal NBA player, but was a #4 pick in 2016. I think he's in the D-League now.

Anyone in that game fighting for the 15th seed on any NBA team will clown the shit out of 99.99% of humanity in horse, 1-1, rec league, and basically anything up to the pro level they already play at.

That's still not good enough to get a rotation spot on a deliberately tanking NBA team.

*i refuse to call it the Gatorade-League
posted by lkc at 7:21 PM on December 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


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