I have a confession. I used to watch Monday Night Raw. I used to watch it a lot. Like every week. Like, I’d sit around a tiny TV in college with a bunch of other dudes and drink bad beer and yell at the screen. We paid for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view that The Rock won (in controversial fashion) by clinging to the top rope and pulling The Big Show out while seeming to put his foot on the ground. It was traumatic.
Anyway, with Raw’s 1000th episode last night (which I didn’t watch; sorry), I figured it was time to dust off our old metaphor bit and feature some of the greatest sports entertainers in WWF/WWE history:
Michael Young is Hulk Hogan
My art teacher in middle school, Mrs. Churchill, had a picture of her with her brother on her desk, and he looked a lot like the Hulkster. Rumors flew around our school about him. That Hogan was indeed her brother, that he might drop by some day, that he did so regularly. We were dumb. Anyway, it was a big deal in 1991.
That was a long time ago; Hogan is going to turn 60 next year. But he’s still ridiculously popular. Hulkamania has run wild over wrestling since 1984. Despite not actually being a very good wrestler, Hogan became an icon of the “sport,” and a legitimate movie and tv star (Thunder in Paradise, anybody?), had his own cartoon show, and was seemingly everywhere in the mid-to-late ‘80s. His interviews with Mean Gene Oakerland became the stuff of legend. He never stopped drawing, even when he shockingly turned heel in 1996. People still aren’t tired of his schtick even though Hulk is older, slower, and even less technically proficient than he used to be. That’s amazing.
Like Hogan, Michael Young is an icon in Texas, revered by fans and media as a team leader and superstar, who have a tremendous attachment to Young. Who could forget, for example, this example of terrible parenting after Michael Young demanded a trade before 2011, rather than become a DH/super-utility guy:
Like Hogan, Young has seen better days. He’s won a batting title, led his league in hits twice, and been a valuable middle infielder, where his bat covered for his defensive shortcomings. As he’s moved left on the defensive spectrum, however, Young has become less and less useful, even as his salary and popularity continue to rise. He’s even turned heel like Hogan did, publicly demanding trades twice (and not getting his way) and battling with the Rangers’ management team through the media. And this year, his colleagues voted him the most underrated player in the game, despite him hitting just .271/.300/.346 (69 OPS+) with a -2.0 WAR from the DH and 1B spots. Like the Hulkster, Young once had his day, but it’s been clear for a long time that he’s coasting on his reputation, his showmanship, and his ability to give a good interview.
Derek Jeter is Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels was at times beloved, at times hated, but is generally regarded as one of the more gifted technical wrestlers of the WWE era. His stage presence was tremendous and he had a terrific sense of “the moment.” Just like Captain Jeter, who continues to plug along, hitting .309/.353/.409 this year. There’s been a lot of complaint over the years that Jeter’s been overrated. I’m not sure if it’s that as much as that Jeter has been worshipped by announcers, media types, and fawning Yankee fans. But to overrate Jeter is pretty difficult to do. He’s easily one of the five best shortstops in baseball history, and may rank even higher than that depending on how you feel about Alex Rodriguez and Robin Yount, position wise. It’s time to stop complaining about Jeter and to appreciate him as he is: one of baseball’s all time greats.
(Bonus: This means Nomar is Marty Jannetty, the one who got left behind.)
Ichiro is Andre the Giant
Like Andre, Ichiro was a true original, unlike anything we’d ever seen before in the states. A physical marvel who took our breath away and who was pretty much universally loved. Ichiro is even turning heel here at the end of his career, like Andre did before Wrestlemania III, and willingly joining the Yankees as his body starts to slow and betray him.
Joe Mauer is Mick Foley
Mick Foley was never so good as when he was destroying his body in cage matches, street fights, and no holds barred matches. He would throw himself into barbed wire, baseball bats, trash can lids, stop signs. Anything to make the match bloody and dangerous. God only knows how badly he’s going to pay for it later in life. Similarly, Mauer is never as valuable when he’s not behind the plate. Sure, he can hit enough to play anywhere, but to be great he has to stay at catcher. He has to put all the weight of his 6’5” frame on his legs and lower back, and he wears down quickly. Last year’s disastrous season is only a taste of how bad it can get if Mauer doesn’t take it easy more often. But if he’s not punishing himself, it’s just not as exciting.
Brett Lawrie is Stone Cold Steve Austin
I loved Austin back in the day. He was a badass with no friends, no respect, and no rules. He waged a one man war across the WWE and became one of the most popular wrestlers of all time. But looking back, I can see what an asshole his character was (and what a jackass he was in real life). In his storylines and in real life, he would go to any lengths to antagonize his opponents and get his way. He had no code, and no decency, and it was impossible to tell (if you didn’t listen to the roaring crowd) that he was supposed to be a good guy. He walked out on the WWE, took leaves of absence, refused to lose to certain opponents, and publicly ripped the organization. And, of course, he famously beat up his wife, a former WWE “diva” in 2000. Austin represented the worst of WWE in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Brett Lawrie is not that bad. But he’s also angry and aggressive to what seems like an unhealthy degree. He doesn’t seem to think before he acts and makes bad decisions (diving into a camera pit, for instance). He only has one speed has trouble playing in control. Like Austin, Lawrie is immensely talented, but seems liable to self-destruct at any moment. I’ll be honest, I’m scared for what might happen in this young man’s career. Maybe he’s not a bad guy, but he sure is good at acting like one.
Finally, I have no idea who is The Rock. Leave suggestions for that and more in the usual place.
Photo of Hulk Michael Young Hogan courtesy of Scott Lewis.