Hyperbole, Thy Name is Ike Davis
Posted by JD on April 19, 2010
Ike Davis arrived today to much fanfare. Davis was on fire in Spring Training and Buffalo and, given how poorly the current crew of first basemen have played in Daniel Murphy’s absence, it’s no shock that Mets fans are happy to see him.
Twitter, in particular, was alive with Davis chatter which, though it got to be a bit much at times, was a refreshing departure from the doom and gloom that has surrounded he Mets since Opening Day. And there was some great stuff out there: examples include Michael Baron’s photo galleries of Davis and Hot Foot’s Ike Davis facts tumblr (which cracked me up – that kind of thing always gets me). It was a good day to be a fan and and a welcome diversion.
But there was another theme out there that made me shake my head. If you spent any time on line I’m sure you saw it at least once today: the comparison of Daniel Murphy to Wally Pipp, a well-meaning comparison that, in my mind, treads uncomfortably close to the land of unfair expectations.
As the story goes, Pipp took a day off in 1925 because of a headache and Lou Gehrig took his place, launching his famous Iron Man streak. Pipp became an afterthought, known primarily for losing his job and, as a result, getting compared to almost every player that’s lost their job to a younger player.
But the comparison usually doesn’t work. With all due respect to Murphy, Pipp was a far, far better player with an established resume. Just take a look at his stats: he lead (or tied for the lead) the league in home runs twice*, finished in the top-10 and 15 in MVP votes twice as a Yankee (and once as a Red, after he lost his job to Gehrig). Murphy has a future in the league, probably as a utility player, but to compare him to Pipp is stretching it a bit.
*With 12 and 9 home runs, but still…
And that brings me to a bigger point: if you’re explicitly comparing Murphy to Pipp, you’re implicitly comparing Davis to Gehrig. If you’ve read this far, I hope you know I’m exaggerating a bit: I didn’t actually see anyone make that comparison and even the most ill-informed fans I know wouldn’t go there. But the level of hyperbole did get pretty high, pretty fast, and I worry that some folks may have unjustly exaggerated expectations for Davis.
I’m as excited to see Davis play as the next guy, but let’s try to keep it reasonable. It’s hard enough just to play in the major leagues, never mind to play as well as John Olerud. I actually did see this comparison made in a good way, as it was said that he probably won’t be as good as Olerud (and I apologize for not having a link to the tweets in question). There was another reasonable comparison to Adam Laroche, who’s not quite as good as Olerud but still a solid major leaguer. It then becomes a game of degrees: if comparing Davis to Laroche is reasonable while comparing him to Olerud is unfair, the gap between is a substantial gray area, and you can start talking yourself into something that’s not fair to you or the player.
So, I warn you against setting your expectations for Davis too high. We have a litany of examples of the angst this can cause: Generation K, Lastings Milledge, and Carlos Gomez, to name a few (and you could probably throw in Mike Pelfrey, Eddie Kunz, and Fernando Martinez, too).
We’re all fans and we all enjoy the game in different ways. The hype generated by Davis’ promotion presents us with another opportunity to express ourselves, and it’s awesome the way the Mets community came alive in response to it. Let’s all enjoy Davis’ debut: his future begins tonight, and it’s a big day. I have a feeling he’ll be just fine, but let’s try not to burden him with unreasonable expectations all the same.