The New York Mets' announcement that they're signing Tim Tebow to a minor league contract elicited the predictable array of snark and sarcasm from the team's fans on social media. "Typical Mets,'' said a few cynical Mets die-hards, who are apparently unaware that the team did reach the World Series in 2015.
Amid the negativity and resistance to Tebow's being handed a uniform and given an opportunity to take his shot, the natural question is: Why?
Why is it such an affront to the baseball community for a team to take a flier on a 29-year-old mega-athlete who can run a 60-yard dash in 6.7 seconds and hit a baseball 450 feet (albeit in batting practice)?
And what's so abhorrent about that pursuit generating interest in the game and selling some extra tickets in spring training or Tebow's first minor league stop? Is Tebow fatigue so rampant and ingrained in the sporting consciousness that we're not the least bit curious in seeing how this story plays out?
Tebow hasn't played organized ball since 2005, so he's 6,000 at-bats and hundreds of hours of backfield development time behind the curve. During his two-hour audition in Los Angeles last week, Tebow looked rigid and mechanical in the outfield and displayed a throwing arm that was surprisingly weak by former Heisman Trophy quarterback standards.
Tebow looks imposing in a form-fitting T-shirt, but that 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame (with 7.3 percent body fat) isn't doing him any favors. He's not busting through the line anymore in pursuit of the goal line, so he might want to pare back on the weightlifting.
That said, I talked to several scouts at Dedeaux Field who found snippets of encouragement. One evaluator took note of Tebow's weak arm but said the results were better when Tebow chased down balls on the run and came up throwing without obsessing over his mechanics. Former big league reliever David Aardsma, who threw live batting practice to Tebow, said after the workout that Tebow was gripping the bat too tightly and looks more natural on the back field when he's not trying to impress 40-something scouts.
The Mets' decision was a collaboration between chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and general manager Sandy Alderson, who took the plunge despite minimal interaction with the team's scouting folks or baseball operations people. That helps fuel the perception of the Tebow signing as a circus, publicity stunt, dog-and-pony show and all the other derogatory terms that will be used to characterize it in the coming weeks and months.
The flip side is that Sandy Alderson is an innovator with a Hall of Fame-caliber résumé. So is Atlanta Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz, who acquired two-sport stars Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan earlier in his career and was on board with the team's pursuit of Tebow. While some clubs dispatched area scouts to Los Angeles to watch Tebow out of due diligence, the Braves sent special assistant Roy Clark and amateur scouting director Brian Bridges to the showcase and were serious from the outset. When Clark and Bridges delivered their scouting reports to the front office, there was a lot more discussion about Tebow's bat speed than the potential impact on ticket sales with the Class A Carolina Mudcats.
Baseball talent evaluators point out, correctly, that Michael Jordan failed in his brief fling with the game. But Jordan did hit .202 with 30 stolen bases for the Double-A Birmingham Barons, and Tebow's swing is infinitely better than Jordan's. After last week's workout, USA Today quoted a scout who said Tebow looked "like an actor trying to play baseball.'' Other than Robert Redford in "The Natural," how many actors do you know who can hit a baseball farther than 400 feet?
""For me, you pursue what you love regardless of what else happens. If you fail or fall flat on your face, and that's the worst thing that can happen, it's OK.''" Tim Tebow on his baseball pursuit.
Could Tebow possibly block a young outfielder in the Mets' system? Sure. But that's their problem, not ours. Could he generate a frenzy of attention in spring training at the expense of the other players? Yes. But that's a problem that ace PR man Jay Horwitz will have to address, not us.
In the 2008, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed two pitchers out of a reality TV show in India. They both washed out in the minor leagues, but the 2014 movie "Million Dollar Arm'' grossed $39.2 million on a $25 million budget and garnered 63 percent positive reviews on "Rotten Tomatoes.'' If a publicity stunt is fun because it involves two scrappy, anonymous underdogs, why can't it be fun with a former Heisman Trophy winner who's a fish out of water?
If this venture ends the way most people expect it to, Tebow will get discouraged by the bus trips and the failure in the minors and go back to his TV work with ESPN. If that happens, baseball purists can nod their heads in agreement and say, "See, we told you this game is a lot harder than everybody thinks.''
Or maybe Tebow is less of a joke and sticks around for more than a season. Either way, he gets to see his quest through to fruition with no "what ifs.''
"For me, you pursue what you love regardless of what else happens,'' Tebow said last week in Los Angeles. "If you fail or fall flat on your face, and that's the worst thing that can happen, it's OK.''
In a roundabout way, that same thinking applies to his new employers, the Mets. Their partnership with Tebow might end with a big, fat oh-fer. But at least they'll know they tried.