There are few things in life more disheartening than having to admit our heroes are less than we once believed them to be. If one lives long enough, it happens a little too often, but that frequency does not make it any easier.
Athletes probably shouldn’t be held as close to our hearts as they are, but that’s what we tend to do. Many of us defend our favorite players like we would a family member. To say something bad about someone else’s favorite ballplayer can be taken as a personal insult. One can be dropped down a level in friend status, be thought of as less intelligent, and on occasion, catch a knuckle sandwich, over criticism of a hallowed sports star. Such is the case with Clayton Kershaw.
The man is not even considered to be a man in Los Angeles. He is the GOAT (Greatest of all Time) to many. He’s a deity. He is seen as walking on water as he approaches the mound. His curve ball was special enough to earn a Vin Scully nickname: Public Enemy Number One. Woe to the one who dares question Kershaw as the best pitcher on the planet.
I’ve sung Kershaw’s praises, but I never fully bought into calling him the greatest. I’ve always been the type who believes that can’t be applied until one succeeds on the biggest stage of the sport. That’s where the spotlights burn the brightest. That’s where the pressure is the biggest. That’s where every mistake is magnified the largest. They have to dig deeper than they ever have before, to find that which the greatest all hold deep inside – the power to endure and overcome it all – and win. Unfortunately, Clayton Kershaw just doesn’t have it.
Have you heard of Fran Tarkenton? He played thirteen years for the Minnesota Vikings, and he led them to three Super Bowls in the 1970’s. By the time he retired, he held just about every quarterback record there is. He’s in the Hall of Fame. His stats were the bar, but he lost every Super Bowl. He couldn’t get his team to the promised land, and that’s what separates the greatest from the also-rans.
Tarkenton is forever labeled as “Great, but couldn’t win the big one.” He fumbled when it counted the most. Kershaw has now enshrined himself in the Tarkenton Zone. He’s got all the stats, but he comes up short in The Big Game.
Of all the Dodgers greats – Koufax, Hershiser, Valenzuela, Sutton, Drysdale – Kershaw holds the highest postseason ERA (4.50). He now holds the record for the most home runs allowed in a single postseason (8). He allowed at least one homer in each of his postseason appearances this year.
In Game 5 of the World Series, Kershaw was spotted leads of 4-0 and 7-4, and he managed to blow both of them. The Dodgers’ loss last night can be laid at a few different places, but it starts and ends with leads of four runs and three runs his offense handed him, and he erased them both.
This young Dodgers team is very talented. Win or lose in this World Series, they’ve proved equal to the task, and shown to be one heck of a baseball powerhouse. I’m confident they have more Fall Classics ahead of them. I’m not so sure about Kershaw. He’s been hampered by back injuries the past two seasons. This year, he gave up the most home runs in his career. Next season, he’ll be another year older, and climbing the mountain will be that much more difficult. This may have been his last shot at a World Series title.
I can’t imagine the heartache that Kershaw must be feeling this morning. Each and every one of his fans are feeling disappointed as well. The emperor has no curve ball.