Success In Sports Is All About Expectations

Todd SalemContributor IIIOctober 1, 2010

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the San Diego Padres is congratulated by teammate Yorvit Torrealba #8 after Gonzalez hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 2nd inning against  the Cincinnati Reds during their MLB game on September 26, 2010 at PETCO Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The Padres are probably going to miss the playoffs. They can only tie the Giants for the NL West crown, and that is if they get a sweep this last weekend. They are also two back of the Braves for the Wild Card with the Braves hosting a Phillies team of back-ups. San Diego has roughly a seven percent chance of making it to the playoffs. And yet, I don't hesitate to say that the 2010 San Diego Padres have been a huge success. 

Prior to the season, this team was supposed to battle for worst record in the league. They were going to be awful. Their offense still was, but that's besides the point. They ended up having the best pitching in baseball, the best bullpen by far, and will end between 10 and 20 games over .500. To put it another way, this team has WAY overachieved. Yet some people might have a problem with calling a team that misses the playoffs a success. I am not one of these people. To me, success is all about what was expected of you. 

The same can be said of the Toronto Bluejays, who are already eliminated from playoff contention, and yet overachieved so much. A team that was predicted to finish last, be worse than the Orioles this year, ends up finishing over .500 in the toughest division in sports can be called nothing but a success. World Series title be damned. 

The greatest examples of success vs. failed expectations in sports are with draft picks. Where a player is drafted has so much to do with how successful they will be. Obviously someone like Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow will not be a success. He has no discernible quarterback talent. He might have the ability to become a successful priest, but perhaps not, because he seems obnoxious and too preachy about religion. But anyways, if Sam Bradford starts for the Rams for 10 years but never makes a pro bowl, was he a success? Most people would say no, he would be a bit of a disappointment. However, if Colt McCoy has the same career, I think he would be looked upon as a great success. It is all about expectations.

This is never more evident than in basketball. Sometimes determining the success of someone's career is easy. Mateen Cleaves was a star of stars in college basketball during the '90s. He led his Michigan State Spartans to a national title in fact. However, he never played more than mop up minutes in the NBA. His professional basketball career, by any measurements, was not successful. But it is not always that simple.

My favorite example of determining success is Kenyon Martin. He currently plays for the Denver Nuggets. He plays well, he is a solid contributor to their team and the organization. He has been a starter for them for a number of years. His numbers are not outrageous but he never seemed like that type of player. He is a defensive forward who helps in many different ways. For someone to play in the NBA for over a decade, makes millions upon millions of dollars, and be reasonably good, they must be a success. But then you forget that Kenyon Martin was the number one overall selection when he was drafted out of college. Number One. The first pick in a draft is supposed to carry a franchise to multiple titles and win scoring titles and go down in history. Kenyon Martin has done none of those things and never will. He, by standards of where he was drafted, should be described as somewhat of a disappointment. There is no way around it.

Another of my favorite examples of success from the basketball ranks is Chris Webber. He is one of the 50 most talented players in NBA history. This is not even up for debate. He is one of the best passing forwards to ever play. Also, not debatable. He made a ton of money. Let that speak for itself. Some other descriptions of Chris Webber are as follows: he never won a championship; his career was derailed and cut short by numerous injuries; although he was one of the 50 most talented players to ever live, he was by no means one of the 50 best players to ever play. This, as was the first statement, is not up for debate. It is simply a fact. Do all these things make Chris Webber a success or a failure? Ideally, we would just say 'somewhere in between.' But that is taking the easy way out.

Ken Griffey Jr., unlike Chris Webber, is definitely one of the 50 greatest players ever to play his sport. He is a sure-fire Hall of Fame member five years from now. His numbers are astronomical and sit up beside the legends of the game. But wasn't he supposed to be more? Aren't people sad and disappointed now when someone mentions Griffey? "Imagine if he didn't get hurt." "What if he could just have stayed healthy in Cincinnati?" Without the injuries Griffey Jr. is the greatest player of the last half century. Now, he is simply one of the best of his generation. Without the setbacks, Griffey Jr. is the world home run hitting champion (until/if Alex Rodriguez passes whatever number would have been set.) Ken Griffey Jr. had a successful career, but is it not also a bit of a disappointment? Can it be both?

In the other camp remains players such as Terrell Davis, Priest Holmes, Paul Pierce, and Roy Halladay. This list is miles long. It is of players who so clearly and defiantly surpassed all expectations. Whether they were drafted late, not drafted at all, or just turned out to be really, really, really good, no one on this list could be described as anything but a complete success. However, few of them would be described as being more talented than Chris Webber, or a better player than Ken Griffey Jr. It is all about what was expected of them.

The Padres have 88 wins right now, on the outside looking in. On the opposite side of the coin are the Boston Red Sox. They have 87 wins right now, having roughly the same exact season as the Padres, and will also miss the playoffs. However, this Red Sox season has been a huge disappointment. Because of injuries and letdowns (i.e. John Lackey) it could be termed a complete failure. Many picked them to win the AL East and the World Series this year. They won't come close. Two teams, having almost the same exact record, both will finish in the same place: behind their division's winner and directly behind the Wild Card winner. Yet one was a huge success, the other a huge failure.

I believe it was Peter Parker's grandfather who said it best. "With great power comes great responsibility." With tremendous talent and hope, comes even higher expectations. Someone is a success if they live up to, or surpass expectations. On the other side of the coin, someone can be deemed a failure if they come short of what was expected of them. Whether that is fair or not is probably another column by itself. Obviously each team, organization, and player determine on their own how they feel about their year and careers. I have a feeling someone like Chris Webber is very happy with his NBA life and how it turned out, even if history is not.

When it comes down to it, the individual is free to decide whether they are pleased with their output. Except for Curtis Enis. We decide for him, and we are not pleased.