I haven’t always been a huge fan of Tim Tebow. When he first came to my attention, he was busy contributing to the annual destruction my Vanderbilt Commodores endured at the hands of the Florida Gators. He gained a lot of my respect for appearing in a prominent pro-life commercial with his mom, but I still didn’t find myself actively following his career or rooting for him until probably after he left the Denver Broncos.
So look, this is why I love Tim Tebow even though I’m not Southern Baptist or Evangelical at all these days and I don’t really wear my religion on my sleeve at all. I think I would have assumed, prior to 2010 or so, that virtually everyone would be proud to have a son like Tim Tebow. It’s easy for people to focus on (and be jealous of) the fact that Tebow is attractive, athletic, and at ease as a national celebrity. Tebow has the kind of personality that Donald Trump tries (with little success) to pull off: self-assured bordering on cocky, with a side of overt, unashamed masculinity.
But for all that he has the bearing of a much less insecure version of Donald Trump, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that Tim Tebow is, you know, a good person. By all accounts, he treats everyone he comes across with courtesy, decency, and respect. He is genuinely devout about a simple faith in God that he is relentless about sharing with others. When he declared to the media his senior year of college that he was a virgin, he met their derisive scoffs with an open challenge to dig into his past and see if they could find a girl who would testify that he wasn’t – not a move that you would expect from anyone who had something to hide with respect to the way he treated women.
Oh yeah, in addition to all this, Tebow has handled an intense amount of extremely personal hatred and criticism from a great mass of the American public who just simply hates him for no apparent reason at all – and he has done it with poise and grace. And to top it all off, the guy did quarterback a college national championship team and an NFL playoff team, and he has a successful post-career career as a television broadcaster.
And I think it’s this – the insane hatred directed toward Tebow and his classy response to it – that made me a fan of Tebow. There’s a certain visceral glee that Tebow’s NFL failures elicited from total strangers that I have never understood. Sure, I understand that some NFL quarterbacks – especially the ones who are prototypical magazine cover guys like Tom Brady or Tony Romo or Brady Quinn – just rub people the wrong way. In Brady’s case, it’s understandable, because he’s been involved in two prominent “cheating” controversies during the course of his career. In the case of a guy like Jonny Manziel, it’s also understandable because he is an unlikable jerk.
But the guys who have just been hated even by fans of their non-rivals for no apparent reason at all have always mystified me – and absolutely no one has taken more of that over the last few years than Tebow. And honestly, I have noticed something about every single person who just hates on Tim Tebow (for reasons unrelated to being a fan of a rival SEC team) – they are all just terrible people. Seriously, just the type of people who I wouldn’t allow to watch my cat. And I don’t have a cat or want one. And he has heard an unrelenting stream of absurd comments from these people for years and not once (at least that I know of) has he responded in kind.
If you ask one of Tebow’s detractors why they hate him so much, they will inevitably respond that he is too overtly Christian in what strikes them as a fake way. Overtly Christian I will grant you, but I have yet to see any suggestion that Tebow is a fake or anything other than what he claims to be, and surely if he were, some credible person would have come forward by now. What I’m left with, then, is the conclusion that some people just hate human beings who are good and decent people.
Anyone who collects that many of that kind of enemy just by their existence on the planet earth is someone I just involuntarily find myself rooting for, and Tebow is no exception. Nothing would make me happier than to see him blossom into an MLB superstar, even if he ends up playing for the hated Yankees and destroying my Red Sox for years. That’s how much I’m a fan of Tim Tebow nowadays.
And yet, as much as I’ll be rooting for Tebow and checking the box scores in Port. St. Lucie periodically to see how he’s doing, it’s difficult to see how this ends up with Tebow seeing playing time in the majors, even if you squint.
To begin with, it is hard to make the majors for anyone, even for a cup of coffee, even for the top 0.01% of athletes on the planet like Tim Tebow. Major League Baseball draws from perhaps the largest global talent pool of any of the major sports (although the NBA is making a strong bid right now). Major League Baseball has a highly developed and organized scouting system that gets the pick of baseball athletes from not only America but also the Caribbean, central America, and South America. MLB is also making significant incursions into Asia, even though Asian markets often have teams that legitimately compete with MLB for the best Asian talent (like European leagues do with the NHL for elite global hockey talent) – but MLB is getting an increasing number of these as well. Soccer is of course a much bigger sport with a much bigger worldwide reach, but they also have many, many more major teams and leagues competing for those players. To make a major league roster, you have to beat out a significantly larger number of potential athletes than probably any other sport on the planet.
And baseball is an extremely skill-driven game, especially as it pertains to hitting. And more than being a skill-driven game, it’s a game that requires thousands or millions of practice repetitions to develop major league skill regardless of your talent level. This makes adopting the game as your primary sport at a relatively advanced age (29) puts you behind the 8-ball way more than it would in other sports. How do I know this? There have been baseball players who have been unable to hack it in the majors and switched to football late in life and had some success: Chris Weinke and Brandon Weeden come to mind. Sure, those guys weren’t great NFL players, but they saw actual playing time on an NFL field – and the examples of people who have succeeded doing what Tebow is trying to do, on the other hand, do not exist.
This is why baseball has a higher optimum performance age than almost any other sport. By the time most male athletes graduate from college and enter the pros at age 21 or 22, they are already at or past their pure physical peak. Generally speaking, athletes entering a pro sport require a year or two for experience to catch up to the physical decline; such that peak performance age is generally 23-25. In baseball it is 27. Hitting, in particular, requires nothing so much as it requires experience and repetition – and this will become relevant later.
The scouts who have seen Tebow play say that he grades out, in terms of his defensive ceiling, as a slightly above average corner outfielder with a weak arm. That is another way to say, he is always going to be one of the least valuable defensive players on any field he steps on. And what that means is that he is going to have to be tremendously successful as a hitter at every level before he is promoted. And, as we have already discussed, becoming a great hitter is the absolute hardest thing to do at a late age.
The one scenario where I could see a football player having a reasonable chance of success making the transition to baseball at age 29 is if they were left handed and could pitch, or somehow knew how to threw a knuckleball or something. Making it as a position player, when your success will depend almost entirely on being able to have above average success with a bat, is asking almost too much of anyone, including Tim Tebow.
Tebow’s defenders have pointed to the astonishing arc of former MLB player Rick Ankiel as a comp for what Tebow is attempting to do. For those who might not be familiar, Rick Ankiel came up with the Cardinals as a left handed pitcher who was expected to be his generation’s version of Clayton Kershaw. In a memorable playoff appearance against Tebow’s current team (the Mets), Ankiel suffered a meltdown on the mound and threw over a dozen wild pitches in about 2 innings’ work. Ankiel was demoted back to the minors where he suffered through attempting to rediscover where home plate was before announcing abruptly that he was giving up pitching and going to attempt becoming a major league outfielder, which he did. The key differences, however, are that Ankiel was 25 when he took up position playing full time, and even when he was pitching in the NL, he still occassionally faced both batting practice and live pitching. At no point did he go 13 years between batting practice sessions. And, again, those 3 years are tremendously important.
That having been said, I think everyone agrees that if anyone can do this, it’s Tim Tebow. In addition to clearly being an athlete who is in good shape, Tebow has a legendary work ethic, which he will definitely need to give himself a reasonable chance of even getting in a publicity appearance or two at the major league level. I have tremendous respect for him for trying, and no one will be happier than me if this post is eventually proven foolish.