Question 2 from last week’s quiz (follow up post coming soon) has overcome me:
2. Least enviable inferior big league brother. Example: Wilton Guerrero
There are so many answers, so many sets of siblings in sports, and so many tales to tell about the better and the worse. In a way it’s the same old story. Blood and friendship and rivalry: the ancient recipe for brotherhood and sisterhood and everything that comes with them.
So I took my fascination to Google, starting with the man in the quiz question. I remember Wilton Guerrero vaguely from his stint with the Dodgers. He was notable for two things in particular. The first was being the older brother of superstar Vladmir Guerrero. The second was shattering his bat, then scrambling like a child at an Easter egg hunt to pick up the famously corked pieces.
There is little in the way of detailed biographical information about former second baseman Wilton Guerrero available online. He is no longer in the news, except for the occasional mention in a story about his brother (brother, mom visit Vlad Guerrero in Angel clubhouse etc.). Wikipedia says Wilton plays ball in the Dominican these days, but even that claim goes unsourced.
The Google search results for Wilton Guerrero at first glance seem unexceptional. There is his Baseball Reference page, some memorabilia, the Wikipedia entry. But the fifth item down changes all that. It’s a forum link to a website called DR1.com. The title is at once ominous and intriguing and totally shocking:
Will Wilton Guerrero Be Killed?
Wait just a minute. Have I missed something? Apparently not. A quick scan of the forum discussion reveals that there is another Wilton Guerrero out there. He too hails from the Peravia province of the DR and he too is a public figure. In fact, this second Wilton Guerrero is a hard-charging senator in the nation’s leading party, the PLD.
From everything I have read, Senator Wilton Guerrero is an ass kicker. Think Eliot Spitzer before the hooker. He is a bulldog, targeting primarily the corruption of the Dominican government by mostly Colombian drug cartels. In September of 2008, Senator Guerrero announced that drug gangs had placed a 10,000 Peso ($280K) price on his head. But he wasn’t backing down, he told his constituents. He wouldn’t be ruled by fear. Ten months later, he is still crusading.
In a lot of ways, Senator Guerrero is more like the Guerrero brother with whom he does not share a name. Both the Senator and Vladmir Guerrero do things their way and both get away with it. They are aggressive and confident and aren’t afraid of anything. Drug gang threats get spat upon. High and tight fastballs get launched into the left field bleachers. Whether a batters’ box or a legislative committee room, these men are masters of their domains. In their fields, these are important men.
Wilton Guerrero the second baseman is not an important man these days. Beyond the scope of his family and his community he is basically forgotten. Where his brother and the senator have charged through life as if success was a foregone conclusion, Wilton stumbled through his short big league career.
He was a meek and powerless player from the get-go. At 5-11 and just 145 pounds, he looked buried in his uniform, as if the jersey might swallow him up at any moment. And never did Wilton Guerrero seem as child-like as that June afternoon, leading off a game against St. Louis, breaking his bat, and then scrambling after the shards. It was 1997, his rookie season, and he had already resorted to a desperate act.
But was Wilton Guerrero really that bad at baseball? Next to superstar Vladmir, it’s hard to turn many heads as a light-hitting utility man. Mental errors and the corked bat and a generally lackadaisical style didn’t help much either. But he retired a .282 hitter, with innings logged at every defensive position but pitcher and catcher. Seems like he was at least somewhat useful – like maybe if he had a reputation for scrap and instead of signing from the Dominican Republic, he was drafted in the 87th round, he might have stuck around longer.
Wilton obviously wasn’t drafted. Rather, he was just the lesser brother, the walking mistake (the Dodgers signed him but passed on Vlad), the symbol of unfilled potential. Lincoln said that “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Wilton Guerrero is all shadow to us now.
And maybe that isn’t fair. Maybe we should consider the tree in a broader sense. Because what do we know about Wilton Guerrero the man? Maybe he’s a great father or husband or son. Maybe he volunteers in the community. Maybe he doesn’t. In this world of ours, making it from an impoverished Dominican town to the major leagues is a pretty miraculous achievement; making it form anywhere to the Major Leagues is. But as the brother of Vladmir (or namesake of a Senator I guess?), the standards get changed.
The failed brother in sports is hardly a failure at all. The Wilton Guerreros and Billy Ripkens of the world are placed in this unmanageable context. Instead of being compared to Joe Marginal Infielder, they are lined up with Joe Hall of Famer. That’s tough and it doesn’t take into account the whole notion that glory in sports is at least on one level artificial. Perhaps the Wiltons and the Billys have had happier lives because they didn’t spend long careers in the big leagues. Perhaps they are up at night thinking about it to this day.
Regardless, there are few things in life more ephemeral than glory. Even if your glory is small in the context of your superstar brother, even if your glory is the size of a shard that flew off your corked bat in 1997, it is something to be savored.