In baseball lore, there's little more tragic than a failed prospect. Some highly touted players flame out dramatically but are hidden, their potential extinguished before anyone had a chance to see it. Brien Taylor was the future of the Yankees until a stupid trailer-park fight destroyed his arm, an arm only scouts and some bewildered high school kids ever got to witness. Matt Bush wasn't that level of prospect, but he was a cheap first overall pick whose drunken escapades and evident immaturity turned him from a failed shortstop into a failed pitcher without anyone knowing what he ever could have done. This stories are more pathetic than anything else. They make us slobs angry that God could grant such ability to mortals who clearly never valued it.
Then there are the otherworldly talents who briefly reach the pinnacle but lack the wherewithal to stay there. These are your Darryl Strawberrys, your Dwight Goodens, your Garry Templetons, those whose brilliance blew us away and then vanished in a haze of smoke and peril. These have more of a Greek tragedy feel, Icarus too close to the sun, human frailty standing in the way of physical perfection. They make other professional baseball players angry that God could grant such ability to mortals who clearly never valued it. It is greatness denied.
But I'm more interested in those players who are supposed to be supernatural and then turn out to be, well, normal players. Just three years ago, Alex Gordon was supposed to be George Brett. A superstar phenom out of the University of Nebraska who had grown up a Royals fan, Gordon was the next great savior of a dormant franchise. Three years later, with some injuries and some big league struggles, he's entering his peak needing a big year just to make everyone stop thinking of him as a disappointment. But he's not a disappointment: He's just a regular player. That isn't enough. He's not what we thought he was, what we wanted him to be, even though none of us had any idea in the first place. He was mortal, not magic.
The White Sox have a guy like this, a little farther down the line: Mark Teahen. Most famous for being "the next Jason Giambi" in Moneyball, Teahen is yet another player to suffer from Michael Lewis' impressive ability to write books that absolutely convince us of a truth that is quite far from proven. As Jeff Passan has noted, the famous Moneyball draft, in which Billy Beane supposedly snookered the rest of baseball out of every future All-Star, ended up mostly a bust. (The lone stud mentioned in the draft chapter of the book is Kevin Youkilis, whom Beane didn't get. It's also worth mentioning, as B-Pro 2010 does, that the Chad Bradford-for-Miguel Olivo trade that Lewis uses to paint White Sox general manager Kenny Williams as a wayward boob has ultimately turned out to make Williams look like he got the better end of the deal.)
Teahen is a perfectly fine ballplayer — and, if you checked out his Twitter, which is written from the perspective of his dog, a funny, likable guy — but he is not Jason Giambi. He's just a regular dude. A regular dude who can't even get his hometown newspaper to spell his name right. He's an average ballplayer who will forever be known as some sort of slacker, because he didn't reach some arbitrary level none of us ever bothered to quantify. His fate was set before he ever played a Major League game.
This seems new and, frankly, Web-driven. The information age is spinning alchemy. Growing up, I had no idea who Vince Coleman or Willie McGee were until they slipped on the Cardinals powder blue for the first time. Now, I would have been reading about them for years. If Shelby Miller turns into Jeff Suppan rather than Nolan Ryan, I'll always lament what might have been. Though I have no idea what might have been. I look at Mark Teahen and I wonder what it feels like to have achieved something that 99.9999999 percent of the human population will never achieve, and be known only as a letdown. That would drive me crazy. That would make me set up a Twitter for my dog.