Athletes should not be role models. Parents say it, teachers say it, writers say it, Charles Barkley says it. There are of course, dissenting voices who can (and should) bring up people like Roberto Clemente. While not all athletes are positive models for fans to grow up mimicking their character and personality traits, not all of them are bad people either. And in a society that is becoming more open in many ways – social media and the internet have made many formerly private acts a bit more public – a hard-and-fast rule isn’t going to apply to everyone.
Troy Lee Neel was selected by Cleveland in the ninth round of the 1986 draft, in January apparently, rather than the larger June draft. A first baseman and outfielder, Neel, a college player from Texas A&M, held his own but didn’t obliterate minor league pitching. After a 98 game stint in Colorado Springs – then a Cleveland affiliate – where he hit .281/.374/.396 the Tribe sent him off to the Oakland A’s for Larry Arndt. It worked out for the A’s: Arndt, who had appeared in two games for Oakland in 1989, hit just .251/.313/.326 as a 27-year-old in Triple A and doesn’t seem to have played professionally after that season.
Neel though, he played for three years in Oakland and put up a .280/.362/.475 line with 37 homers during his brief MLB career. That’s enough to trigger some interesting player comps. According to Baseball Reference his top similar players include Matt Adams (1), Chris Shelton (2), and Ryan Shealy (7). Actually, this might be a worse omen for Matt Adams.
After the 1994 season though Neel made a change: he moved to Japan. In six seasons abroad, Neel hit at least 25 homers four times, built up a .264/.378/.504 line, and was named the MVP of the 1996 Japan Series while a member of the champion Orix BlueWave. It seemed like the good times would never end. But end they did.
His personal life however has been a mess of multiple marriages, unpaid child support, and even being referred to as “the worst dead beat dad in ‘the history of Texas.’” He was eventually tracked down on the island of Vanuatu and brought to a semblance of justice for his crimes.
With another amateur draft in the books and College World Series stars (as well as high schoolers) already being put in the spotlight it’s important to remember that we are all just people and can find role models wherever we want. Maybe they are athletes, but just because someone is talented on the field doesn’t mean we have to emulate them.
What we can do regardless is look at what they did as a player. Neel had something of a promising start to his career in the big leagues and truly thrived in Japan. And he might look a little bit like Dave Coulier (who was in the prime of his career at about the same time) which is isn’t something we can just cut out of his story.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball ReferenceNext post: Waiting for Superman: The AL All-Star Shortstop Conundrum
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