The world of sports is littered with sad stories of failure—failure that has come as a result of a myriad of issues.
We’ve seen drugs rob athletes of everything as well, no example more poignant than the premature demise of Len Bias, who was drafted with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics but never had a chance to showcase his immense skills. A cocaine overdose took care of that.
On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve seen many promising athletes have their careers destroyed by injury. The gruesome knee injury of Shaun Livingston is a strong warning that despite the skill they might possess, athletes are not invincible.
Somewhere in the middle, between destroying their own career through a destructive lifestyle (gambling, excessive spending, drugs) and failing through no fault of their own (injury), are the athletes who, while successful, have no hope of reaching their full potential because of their own personal choices.
Pablo Sandoval, the third baseman for the San Francisco Giants, falls right into that category. Beloved by all in the Bay Area for his cheerful personality and love of the game, the man affectionately known as the “Kung Fu Panda” looks like just that: a panda—a big, out-of-shape one at that.
It’s a reality every fan knows and has sadly accepted. His prowess with the bat and nimbleness for his size have always gotten him a pass. After all, if the man is producing, who are we to say anything?
That pass he owns, however, is starting to get a bit dated. Sandoval’s weight is beginning to spiral out of control; he currently looks heftier than he ever has. Let's just say that the 240 pounds he is listed at is becoming more and more laughable.
Again, when he’s producing, it has been forgiven. Times like this, however, when his average has slipped to .257 and his on-base percentage a paltry .300, this is when the anger at his weight emerges.
The hypocrisy among the fans is almost as disturbing as the Panda’s own disdain for his health.
The worst part about it is that even when he is his typical hitting self, it is still only a fraction of the baseball player Sandoval can be.
He has been blessed with the softest of hands; few pick it as cleanly as the Panda over in the hot corner. Anything hit at him is likely to be turned into an out. That sounds nice, sure, but the most important thing about that sentence was “hit at him.”
The range he once possessed has almost completely deteriorated; it’s a wonder teams don’t bunt their way to victory, to be honest. He has created a mirage at third base, making the routine look great. Style has overtaken substance, but not as a personal choice; his weight has created the need for that.
The evidence was painfully clear in the Giants’ 4-3, 16-inning loss to the New York Mets Monday night. His counterpart, David Wright, has managed to do the opposite of the facade Sandoval has created. Whereas the Panda makes the routine look grand, Wright manages to make the toughest of plays look routine.
Sandoval’s disregard for his weight is costing him each time he sets foot on the baseball field. His past seasons, while good, could have been great. His current season, injury-riddled as it has been, has suffered as well. And if some fans expect the future to yield bigger and better things, they are mistaken.
Out-of-shape and overweight athletes tend to fizzle in the league. Their shelf life is markedly shorter than those of players who put the work in to keep themselves in shape. Unless Sandoval makes a concerted effort to get his weight in check, he will be added to the long list of athletes whose success story was marred by one troubling failure.