Tuesday, June 19, 2012
I was reading Chuck Klosterman writing on the essential weirdness of nostalgia, and what exactly we remember when we look at something from our past that we have no immediate personal connection to, like a song or a movie, and then I looked at this card of Brien Taylor and was struck with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia – not nostalgia precisely, but a memory of how people viewed baseball's No. 1 draft pick at the time that that was the only way people identified Brien Taylor. Thousands of collectors knew nothing about Brien Taylor other than he was baseball's No. 1 draft pick (by the Yankees): knew nothing about his high-school career or the speed of his fastball or even which hand he threw with. They knew he was baseball's No. 1 draft pick and if they were able to acquire something of him, most commonly a trading card – maybe this card -- Brien Taylor would return 200 percent minimum. He was more than an instant celebrity; he was an instant investment -- in Google stock, not Facebook.
I remember editing an interview with Ken Griffey Jr. where his greatest astonishment was saved for the notion that people were making hundreds or thousands off of his image without any involvement from him. Someone took his picture and made it available at random, and the people who found it sold it again for 50 times what they paid for it. And it was completely legal, and sanctioned by everyone involved. And just like M&M Enterprises in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, everyone had a piece.
It didn't happen that way with Taylor – didn't really happen with any of the No. 1 picks beyond Griffey, just a little with Darryl Strawberry and Alex Rodriguez – but there was always the thought that it could happen with this one, even if this one was Matt Anderson or Phil Nevin.
The thought process reminds me of boy bands. There's a new one of those every year or so, and the thought is always that this one is so different. One Direction is different from Take That because Take That won the Eurovision contest as a group while One Direction was made up of individual singers who appeared on X Factor. Big Time Rush was different from Justin Bieber because their song "Boyfriend" was nothing like his song "Boyfriend."
This is totally untrue, of course, because everyone who's grown up in the rock-'n'-roll age has had a moment when a boy band makes all the sense in the world. The moment happens at a different time for everyone, so they think it's a different moment, but it's actually the same semi-sweet moment, on a tape loop.
So I took all the No. 1 draft picks from 1980 to 2000 – from Strawberry to Adrian Gonzalez, pre-Bryan Bullington and post-Al Chambers – and came up with an equivalent boy band. Here's how it looks:
It’s easy to take this too far – was Strawberry’s speed Jermaine or Tito? – but when Michael Jackson released Bad Strawberry was in the midst of a .284-39-114 season. Their careers were frontloaded, and their career arcs were not without parallels.