When you’re in T-ball and you figure that professional baseball players are just better versions of yourself and your teammates, at some point there comes a shocking revelation that they aren’t.
Because of my naivete I didn’t realize this until listening to a Dodgers-Padres game one summer evening and hearing about Garry Templeton.
Templeton was a great player early in his career but ran into some difficulties that a lot of 1980s baseball players did and unbeknownst to him, engineered his trade from St. Louis to San Diego by making three obscene gestures to fans on “Ladies Day” that included a middle finger and a crotch grab (if done at the same time on stage, he’d be reveled as a rock hero; but since this is baseball, it’s offensive).
And, Templeton smoked cigarettes.
Even in the 80s, before all the truth.com campaigns came out and research showed that cigarettes were not, indeed, good for you, I still knew that smoking them was the opposite of eating vegetables. Maybe it was the D.A.R.E. classes at elementary school, or maybe it was that my dad smoked them, coughed a lot and smelled bad because of it. And, he wasn’t exactly a beacon of health.
But … a Major League player smoked cigarettes? I was aghast.
(Of course, once the curtain was peeled back as I grew older, it’s common knowledge about guys like Jim Leyland smoking in the dugout, John Kruk questioning whether baseball players are athletes or a great Sports Illustrated cover shot of Dick Allen with a heater while juggling. Not to mention that theoriginal baseball cards came in cigarette packs or that numerous ballplayers endorsed Chesterfield cigarettes back when. Ah, to be young and dumb.)
Learning more about Templeton as I grew older, he was a terrific talent who had some of it taken away by a substance abuse problem and then a bum knee. He played in San Diego for 10 years and was the centerpiece of the deal that sentOzzie Smith to St. Louis.
The Cardinals were forced into making the trade because of Templeton’s attitude, kind of like every team that’s ever cut Milton Bradley a paycheck.
Templeton was a two-time All-Star and once had the line “If I ain’t startin’ I ain’t departin'” attributed to him because he wasn’t selected to start the Midsummer Classic. (Turns out, he never said it, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?)
As we peel back the onion on the one they called “Jumpsteady” we see that Templeton was considered a supremely talented player but inside the numbers he wasn’t a very good shortstop.
He committed 384 errors in 16 seasons (an average of 24 per year) and once had 40 errors – 40!! – in a year. At the time, though, because he hit .271 and had a .304 on-base percentage over his career, he was considered an offensive threat. Thus, because he could play shortstop, he stayed there.
He won two Silver Sluggers as a shortstop – once when he hit .258 with two home runs and 35 RBI -and played 16 years in the majors. All in all, he didn’t have a bad career, but it’s the “What if?” that always nags at Templeton.
I remember going to Jack Murphy Stadium once and keeping my eyes on Templeton all game long to see if he would be smoking on the field. Alas, he didn’t. But it still didn’t change the wide-eyed feelings I had towards a professional athlete who smoked.
Maybe because he smoked, that was his gateway into harder stuff that might have caused his career arc to fall shorter than what his talent was supposed to produce.
Then again, maybe I’m just being naive.