By Jason Keidel
So Tim Tebow is restless. And most people see his audition for MLB teams next week as little more than extension of his athletic boredom, a doomed circus that will waste everyone’s time.
He’s also cut the line. If any other outsider decided to flex his baseball muscles, there’s no way 20 MLB scouts would attend. That’s all by dint of his stardom, of course. Tebow is more than a failed pro football player. He represents something stark to everyone; it just depends on your side of the aisle, or the tracks.
But it’s his stardom that keeps him toxic to NFL general managers.
There’s no way Tebow hasn’t done enough to warrant a place on an NFL roster. He led the 2011 Broncos to the playoffs and defeated the 12-4 Steelers in the first round. Meanwhile, the New York Jets, one of his former teams, currently has four quarterbacks who haven’t won a single playoff game combined.
So, at 29, he’s in an odd realm of retirement from the game he truly loves. And since his turns in the studio haven’t quenched his athletic thirst, he’s gone back to baseball, which he hasn’t played competitively since high school.
But why does his sudden impulse to play baseball spark such a visceral reaction? Is it his fame? His looks? His religious fervor? His service to others?
This baseball thing is just a microcosm of the Tebow phenomenon, reviving the very emotions that swarmed him since he landed like a comet in college.
It’s hard to understand why anyone would hate Tim Tebow other than cloaked envy. While most famous people use their celebrity to climb within their professions, Tebow’s celebrity has worked against him, at least on the gridiron.
So if the baseball thing is some warped projection, a way to recapture his high school years, who cares? He won’t be the first good athlete who fell short of greatness.
Is it possible, or even likely, that one MLB club will take him because of his cachet instead of his skill? Sure.
The relationship would be purely symbiotic. He will toil in the minor leagues to chase his latest dream, while the team sees a serious bump in revenue. After that, it would be a pure meritocracy. He won’t make a big league roster unless his stats support it.
The worst possible result is he bombs before a gaggle of scouts. Then he will return to whichever network suits him. He may not have the swing for major-league pitching, or the right throwing motion for NFL coaches, but he certainly has the contours for television.
Tebow is still fascinating, not because of what he does but because of what he does to people. And it’s hardly restricted to the media or the masses. Luminaries from football and baseball see this as an affront to their traditional sensibilities.
Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter took a crack at Tebow. Former NFL wideout David Anderson called Tebow the worst QB with whom he’s ever played. Those are just two names on an endless list of detractors. Indeed, a Google search will yield a litany of grievances with nearly anything Tebow does.
It’s hard to think of anyone to whom we so freely give life advice. Don’t play football. Don’t play baseball. Get married. Keep your religious views to yourself. Maybe the world feels he’s lived past his public expiration date, that he should melt into the sidelines and be content with his moment in America’s heart.
But at his essence, Tim Tebow is a competitor. He’s hardly the first athlete to defy convention and try another sport. And like those before him, he will eventually fall on his face and realize the arena is eventually closed off to everyone. Even former legends.
Especially former legends.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.