The 5 MLB Players Who Have Brought Fiction To Life
Sometimes when fictional sports movies are made, characters are obviously based off of real personalities. Was there any doubt that Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) from Blue Chips was inspired by Bobby Knight? How else do you explain the chair throw in the opening scene? Then of course is the entire Rocky concept where Sylvester Stallone essentially stole Chuck Wepner’s fairy tale story and gave us the Hollywood version of Muhammad Ali in the form of someone named Apollo Creed.
Could the opposite occur in which life imitates art? Don’t laugh but there are a handful of modern day athletes that have taken on the persona of some memorable fictional characters, whether they realize it or not.
Here are five examples from the world of baseball:
Who is he?
Steve Nebraska (The Scout)
Equipped with a fastball that routinely hits 100 mph and a K/9 rate of over 10, the 6’6”, 240 pound hard-throwing righty has quickly become one of, if not the, most intimidating pitcher in all of baseball. How could he not with those long, flowing blonde locks and the Norwegian Viking heritage to justify the Thor nickname?
What if we’ve been wrong all along in comparing the Mets pitch to the Asgardian God of Thunder? Surely he has the look of the son of Odin, but if you dig a little deeper you will quickly realize Syndergaard is the real-life version of another New York pitcher, albeit one who pitched for the crosstown Yankees.
You remember Steve Nebraska, don’t you? The tall, right-handed fireballer from The Scout may have had a small sample size of dominance but who else in MLB throws consistently over 100 mph and could conceivably strike out 27 batters in a game? Not to mention both pitchers aren’t shy about throwing at someone to send a message — Syndergaard at Alcides Escobar and Chase Utley during the 2015 postseason. Nebraska, although it was dishes, at the New York media outside of Al Percolo’s apartment.
It’s not just the pitching dominance either. Earlier this 2016 year, Syndergaard cracked two home runs in the same game against the Dodgers’ Kenta Maeda and later on in the summer against Arizona’s Braden Shipley. How often does a pitcher display that type of power in a ballpark not known to favor hitters? Well if you recall, after embarrassing Keith Hernandez during the pitching segment of his famous audition, Nebraska absolutely obliterated Brett Saberhagen in front of league scouts and executives. Lastly who could forget in that opening game of the World Series it was Nebraska’s tape measure bomb off of Bob Tewksbury that proved to be the difference.
Who is he?
Bobby Rayburn (The Fan)
For nine years, Justin Upton has displayed the kind of power and speed MLB teams covet. When a player averages 25 HR and 15 steals per 162 games with a career batting average of .271, handing out a lucrative multi-year deal is not one bit outrageous.
Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong for Upton after signing a 6 year, $132M contract with the Detroit Tigers last offseason. With a lineup that featured the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and JD Martinez, Upton had plenty of protection and the opportunity to have his best season yet.
At the midway point of his 2016 campaign, the 28 year old was hitting below .230 with an on-base percentage south of .300. A perennial 30 home run threat was on pace for fewer than 20 home runs and 70 RBI, and to make matters worse, he was striking out at an alarming rate of more than 30%.
This type of drop off may not have been seen before in real-life but it did happen once to a very prominent former Atlanta Brave. Surely you remember Bobby Rayburn, who scored a big-deal on the open market with the San Francisco Giants. It seemed like the perfect situation for the star outfielder as his boisterous agent, John Leguizamo, predicted a .400 batting average prior to the season. Unfortunately for him, his Giants career couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start.
Rayburn at least had the excuse of colliding with his teammate on Opening Day for getting off to such a sluggish start, so what was Upton’s reason? Both players did change uniform numbers but for Upton, that was his choosing. As for Rayburn, he had no choice with teammate Juan Primo already claiming the number 11. Eventually Rayburn got his season on track although it required him to wear his Braves uniform underneath his Giants one and for his biggest fan to savagely murder his fellow outfielder (Primo) over the jersey number.
As for Upton, he did experience a sudden surge in the second half of the season to finish with 31 home runs, but the season as a whole was a disappointment. Was it simply adjusting to the American League or was it digging his old Atlanta uniform out of his closet? Whatever the reason, luckily his teammates’ safety was never in jeopardy. RIP Juan Primo.
Who is he?
Ricky Vaughn (Major League)
After being selected first overall in the 2004 Draft by the San Diego Padres, Bush experienced nothing but personal and legal problems. After pleading no contest to a drunk driving incident in 2012 and sentenced to 51 months in state prison, his career was in serious question.
Following his release this past October, Bush signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers and eventually got promoted to the big leagues. Following his debut on May 13, Bush flashed the type of dominance that once made him a highly touted prospect worthy of being selected first overall. With the Rangers he has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning with a average fastball velocity of nearly 97 mph. He became a vital part of the Rangers’ bullpen and has the type of stuff to easily emerge as the team’s closer next season.
Although he was incarcerated for a different crime (grand theft auto), Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn pitched in the California Penal League prior to receiving a Spring Training invite with the Cleveland Indians. There are differences between the two, as Vaughn was primarily a starter, but who could forget the heat he brought in relief against Clu Haywood of the Yankees in that one-game playoff.
Who is he?
Pedro Cerrano (Major League)
Although this burly slugger didn’t defect from Cuba nor does he practice voodoo, he is possibly the closest thing we have to the the slugger portrayed in the film, Major League. Over the course of his seven-year career, Carter has hit his fair share of tape-measured bombs, but those home runs have come with an obscene number of strikeouts. If you prorate his statistics at a 162 game pace, he has averaged 35 home runs but 206 strikeouts, which makes you wonder if his bats are afraid of curveballs as well.
Carter has found himself on three teams already in his career — Oakland, Houston, and Milwaukee. He just completed a one-year, $2.5M deal with the Brewers, so a small market team in need of a little oomph in the middle lineup should consider the 29 year old free agent. It’s too bad the Cleveland Indians were successful in signing Edwin Encarnacion. Had they failed in their quest to land the former Blue Jay, perhaps Carter would’ve been their consolation prize. If the big slugger ended up with the Tribe, it truly would’ve been a case of fiction becoming reality.
Who is he?
Ben Williams (Angels in the Outfield)
You probably don’t recognize the name Ben Williams, but this was the forgettable role played by lesser known actor at the time, Matthew McConaughey. Williams may have had assistance from Christopher Lloyd’s team of angels, but regardless there’s no other human on Earth who can cover that much ground in the outfield aside from Pillar. There’s a reason why he’s been nicknamed, Superman, by the Toronto faithful.
Originally published at www.wemustbenets.com on January 28, 2017.