As a child, my favorite baseball player was Will Clark. No question. In fact, if asked who my favorite player is these days, I might still say Clark (Rickey Henderson and Pete Rose also merit consideration, with their similar, throwback style.) There aren’t a whole lot of players in the current baseball landscape that stroke my imagination, not as Clark did anyhow. I don’t know if it was his sweet swing, the eye black smeared on his face, or simply the fact that I was in Little League and Clark played for my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. Whatever the reason, the first baseman nicknamed Will the Thrill was it for me from ages six to nine.
Following the 1993 season, the Giants chose not to resign a declining Clark and he left to join the Texas Rangers. By this point, I had already shifted my loyalties to the superstar outfielder the Giants signed the year before, Barry Bonds. When it comes time to determine whether Bonds gets into the Hall of Fame, I wonder if it will be considered that there are multiple versions of Bonds, just as there are for someone like Michael Jackson. When I think of Jackson, I want to remember the hip, young guy who recorded Thriller, moonwalked and made Pepsi commercials, not the sad, frightened creature shown in the mug shot from his 2003 arrest (look up deer in headlights in the dictionary and that photo of Jackson is there.) The same holds true for Bonds. I fondly remember the five-tool athlete who played like the second-coming of his Godfather, Willie Mays. I liked the Bonds who looked like Arsenio Hall, not the one who in later years resembled the Michelin Man.
If I had to choose a favorite current player, it’s probably Tim Lincecum, though it’s a lukewarm choice. Sure, Lincecum has won back-to-back Cy Young awards, is the best player, hands down, on my favorite baseball team, and I’ll probably pay to see him pitch at some point. It’s an experience that probably should be had for anyone who claims to be a baseball fan. Still, I don’t feel as strongly about Lincecum as I did about Clark or Bonds.
Then again, to echo a theme I bring up commonly here, maybe I’m just getting older.