The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Tebow Promotion Raises Possibility of September MLB Call-up

Tim Tebow was promoted last week from a Low-A to a High-A level in the New York Mets’ minor-league organization, raising the question of whether the prospective outfielder was really progressing in his unusual pro baseball career or if this was just another part of the Mets’ publicity campaign involving the former football star.

When it was announced last fall that Tebow would be signing a contract to play for the Mets, there was a lot of conjecture that this was just another gimmick by the former Heisman Trophy winner and ex-NFL quarter back to keep his name in the headlines, since he has been out of the football spotlight.  After all, the 29-year-old popular figure hadn’t played baseball competitively since high school.  If he had been any other amateur player at that age, with virtually no experience, he wouldn’t have been considered by a professional team to take up a roster spot.

However, because of his athleticism, work ethic, and prior success in football, the Mets decided to give Tebow a look in the Arizona Fall League last November, a league normally designated for Major League Baseball’s top prospects.  He struggled in his first professional stint, hitting only .194 in 19 games.  Many thought his weak performance would trigger the end of his pursuit of a baseball career.

Yet the Mets extended their interest in Tebow by inviting him to spring training earlier this year.  The gimmick speculation shifted to the Mets, who were being accused of taking advantage of Tebow’s novelty in baseball.  Tebow baseball jerseys became one of the most popular sellers in the sports memorabilia market.  During Mets spring training in Florida, where he gained his popularity during his outstanding college career at the University of Florida, Tebow developed a baseball following for the first time and consequently helped the Mets sell more seats for their exhibition games.

Tebow broke spring training camp to join the Columbia Fireflies in the Low-A South Atlantic League.  He continued to pack the grandstands at his games.  Not surprisingly though, he continued to struggle at the plate, hitting .220 with three home runs and 23 RBI in 64 games.  He had trouble hitting left-handed pitching and struck out in over 25 percent of his plate appearances.

Yet the Mets organization recently saw fit to give Tebow a promotion to St. Lucie in the High-A Florida State League.  Their rationale?  The Sporting News reported that Mets front office brass said the promotion was more than just about the numbers.  They said they saw improvements in some of the less obvious performance indicators such as the exit velocity of the ball coming off his bat.

Perhaps the reality is the Mets organization wants to continue to capitalize on Tebow’s popularity.  Are they really prepping Tebow for a call-up to the big-league Mets in September, when major-league clubs are allowed to expand their active roster?  Would this just be another gimmick to pack the seats at Citi Field and maybe deflect attention away from an under-performing Mets team?  That’s not out of the realm of possibility.

In any case, major-league teams are no strangers to using stunts to promote the game.

St. Louis Browns maverick owner Bill Veeck used 3-foot 7-inch midget Eddie Gaedel to take an official at-bat in a major-league game in 1951.  Gaedel, who wore uniform number “1/8”, drew a walk in his pinch-hit appearance against the Detroit Tigers.

In 1980 the Chicago White Sox allowed 54-year-old Minnie Minoso to take at-bats in their last two games of the season, as a tribute to his career as an all-star outfielder for the ChiSox in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Actor Billy Crystal and singer Garth Brooks, both huge baseball enthusiasts, were allowed to take at-bats during actual major-league spring training games.

If Tebow was to actually play for the Mets, he would join a small list of elite athletes to have appeared in two major-league sports.  A few of the more prominent ones include Dave DeBusschere, Deion Sanders, and Bo Jackson.  DeBusschere played baseball for the Chicago White Sox and the NBA Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks.  Sanders played baseball for the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, while also playing for the NFL Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, and San Francisco 49ers.  Jackson played baseball for the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox and the NFL Oakland Raiders.  Like Tebow, baseball was the secondary sport for these exceptional athletes, but they at least had the advantage of having played at the college level prior to their professional diamond pursuits.

Whether Tebow eventually plays in a major-league game or not, just the discussion about him has already drawn considerable attention to the sport.  Baseball is often criticized for not having enough nationally-known stars like Derek Jeter and David Ortiz.  Tebow will never come close to achieving their status in baseball; but he does have a lot of people talking about it and pulling for him, and that’s valuable publicity for the sport.

NBA star Michael Jordan tried professional baseball in 1994 as an interlude to his Hall of Fame basketball career.  Then age 31, Jordan hit a meager .202 for Double-A Birmingham in the White Sox organization and wound up ending his pursuit by returning to his former NBA Chicago Bulls teammates.

Despite his lack of bona fide prospect status, don’t be surprised if Tebow is promoted again to the Double-A level and then ultimately called up by the Mets for a “cup of coffee” in September.  After all, he already has more minor-league home runs than Jordan (4 compared to 3).  And then he’ll get his own Topps baseball card that will forever memorialize his brief baseball journey.

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