Over at the New York Times, retired baseball player Doug Glanville has an article that commemorates the new baseball Hall of Fame class. He spends most of the article discussing what it was like to bat against Randy Johnson. Not only is his explanation of what it was like to bat against Johnson fascinating (Glanville compares it to being at the base of a volcano), but his assertion that great talent raises the level of teammates and even opponents is likewise interesting.
Here are a couple of snippets from the article. First Glanville describes his relationship with exceptional talents:
In a strange way, I want to thank these great players, Johnson included. They were the best, but what gets lost sometimes is how much their greatness rubbed off on everyone. When you played against them, you knew you belonged. And if you ever beat them - one on one - that could inspire you to overcome anything, on the field or even after your baseball career was over.
He then goes on to mention one of his first games, which was against Johnson:
Johnson was returning from a back injury and regaining his strength. Even so, I could barely sleep the night before. But I hit a triple off him. It did not help anyone's fantasy team, it did not go in "The Baseball Encyclopedia," no champagne was popped, no national media outlet noticed, but that hit was one of the most important in my career. Because at a young age, I had a tangible baseball result to go with my faith in my ability.
Now, there are a lot of ways to understand this article. When discussing a one-on-one match up between a hitter and a pitcher, it's pretty easy to dismiss any cumulative result as a consequence of a small sample size of at bats. But, I want to explore the idea of superb talent raising the talent level of people around it.
I think it's pretty undeniable that a player's environment could have a negative or positive effect on his or her performance on the field. Measuring this is basically impossible because we can't know how, say, Bruce Miller will react to something in contrast to Eric Reid. So, in a way, Glanville's article might actually tell us more about him as a player than it does Randy Johnson. He seemed to be the type of player who wants to "rise to the challenge" or "overcome obstacles."
How might we map this onto football, however? I think one obvious way is to talk about the different nature of the sports. Glanville narrated a one-on-one battle that really isn't present in football. When Glanville is batting against Johnson, there is very little his teammates can do to assist (except maybe distract the pitcher at first base or something likewise marginal). Yet, in football, the coordinated nature of offenses and defenses requires precise and timely action from each player. Thus, the talent level of one player could raise the talent level of everybody else. The most obvious example to me is how exceptional QBs can throw receivers open. Tom Brady has surely made some mediocre players look excellent the last few years.
But what do you guys think? How else can we think about talent rubbing off in football? I've only mentioned how it might happen between teammates, but what about opponents?