The Cult Hero in America’s Pastime
This blog post is going to explore the cult hero. And because we in New England are clambering for spring to come as soon as possible, that means baseball is also beginning where the ground isn’t covered in snow. I am a baseball fan and have been my whole life. And for some reason, I was always drawn to the less than stellar players. I liked the “dirt dogs” or hometown hero’s that didn’t get mainstream attention.
I am also a Red Sox fan, and before 2004, that meant something different than what it means now. I had to endure many heartaches and bad seasons. Most of my childhood, I watched a losing team night in and night out, season after season. Being in that atmosphere, I had many favorite players who were fringe players and not very good.
Becoming a cult hero is essentially the same as a film becoming a cult film. The dictionary meaning is “a writer, musician, artist, or other public figure who is greatly admired by a relatively small audience or is influential despite limited commercial success.”
My person intangibles for propelling a favorite player of mine to cult hero status would be: cool nickname, plays for the Red Sox, not a superstar and no off the field issues. I know the last one might seem like something that wouldn’t be important to a kid or a fan but to me it was. My father always read the paper and told me stories about the players as we watched the games.
Mike Greenwell aka “The Gator”
My cult hero growing up was Red Sox left fielder Mike Greenwell. I was always drawn to the left fielders mainly because of the Green Monster.
The Green Monster is the Red Sox left field wall. My dad always commented on how left fielders “played the wall” and that no one played the wall like Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski). Those were big shoes to fill, as Yaz was the left fielder for the Red Sox from 1961-83. But when Greenwell came up, my dad said he played the wall good, not as good as Yaz, but he was solid. That drew me to Greenwell.
I also imitated Greenwell’s batting stance. We’d play whiffle ball in the backyard and mimic player’s batting stances. My go to was Greenwell. I was a lefty, same as Greenwell and I liked the way he held the bat near his shoulder and bent his front knee.
Everyone called Greenwell “The Gator” and I wondered why. So, I asked my dad, and he told me a story about Greenwell catching an alligator with his bare hands and stuffed it in teammate Ellis Burkes’ locker. They nicknamed him “Gator” and it stuck. I loved the nickname and the story, and it only added to the cult hero persona I had placed on him as a kid.
Greenwell never made it to superstar status. He did finish second in MVP voting in 1988 to a reported steroid user, Jose Canseco. Greenwell himself has made a case he should be retroactively given the MVP title from that year due to Canseco admitting he was a steroid user. Greenwell was a career .300 hitter but it ended at the age of 32.