This post is about two guys named Kevin. Mentioning either of their names would elicit an eye roll from most of you.
Kevin Brown and Kevin Costner are both associated with excess, wasted money, bad decisions and alienated fans. And yet the early part of both of their careers were terrific and it is a shame that their positives have been almost wiped out of our minds after the negatives.
What do you think about when you hear Kevin Brown? Chances are you would think of the fact that of all people HE was the first $100 million contract in baseball.
And after signing the bloated contract with the Dodgers he started demanding they pay his flights to visit his family in Georgia (as if 9 figures couldn’t get some plane tickets.)
And he was such a prickly guy that Sports Illustrated called him an ornery S.O.B. on their cover.
If you are a Yankee fan you might remember he was a major bust when traded to the Bronx for Jeff Weaver.
And of course he committed two unforgivable sins in New York:
He broke his own hand against a wall down the stretch in 2004.
And in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS he faced 9 batters, got only 4 of them out and was charged with 5 runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Red Sox… arguably the worst and most humiliating loss in the history of the team.
Yankee fans might remember how the Yankees couldn’t give him away that off season and he returned in 2005 to make 13 starts and post a 6.50 ERA before his body and career finally broke down.
Yankee fans might also remember how Joe Torre described him breaking down in his tell all book. And of course he is mentioned in the Mitchell Report.
Not a great legacy.
When was the last time anyone was excited to see a Kevin Costner movie?
When was the last time he was considered to be a bankable or likable star?
It’s been a while.
His appearances in films like Rumor Has It or Swing Vote or Mr. Brooks didn’t exactly light the world on fire.
And his career took an incredible nose dive with big bloated self aggrandizing epics like Waterworld and The Postman. (Seriously. If you haven’t see The Postman… it is one of the craziest monuments to a man’s ego that has ever been constructed. And yes I include the pyramids in that list.)
And maybe it all started to go wrong when he inexplicably was cast as Robin Hood in the unwatchable Robin Hood: Prince of Theives. Did nobody take note that Sir Robin of Loxsley was English?
He became a punch line of has-been stars and bloated Hollywood budgets.
Lest we forget, baseball fans, that he starred in two of the great baseball movies ever.
He was Crash F—ing Davis!
Bull Durham remains one of the classic sports movies of all time and it aged like a vintage wine. And a huge reason for its success is Costner’s funny, pained, macho, sensitive and sexy performance.
You believe he was good enough to make the show and could seduce just about any woman he wanted. You knew that Nuke owes his quick trip to the show to Crash. You believed that Annie would change her whole life for him. And no doubt he was going to be a great manager in Visalia.
And Field of Dreams is a film I do not apologize that I love.
And Costner is a big reason why it works.
He played some real crazy scenes in the film with 100% believability. Hearing the voices, seeing the ghosts of the ballplayers, meeting Burt Lancaster in the Minnesota town… those scenes would have been awful if you didn’t have Costner’s completely realistic performance.
I remember my dad said after seeing Field of Dreams “If I heard the voice, that’s exactly how I’d react.”
Beyond the baseball movies, he was great in Silverado and The Untouchables.
Yeah Dances with Wolves didn’t age well and his winning the Best Director Oscar over Martin Scorsese in GoodFellas is one of the great headscratchers in Hollywood history. But he was a big enough and loved star to get a film like that off the ground.
I happen to be a fan of JFK as well. Yeah his accent was strange, but who could forget his performance in it? Right down to “Back and to the left… Back and to the left.”
(Believe it or not there was a time when Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston were a pretty hot on screen couple. For my readers under the age of 25, consider your minds blown.)
So there was a reason why Costner got huge budgets and full creative control in those bloated turkeys in the past 15 years.
He was super cool for a while.
Six times Brown was an All Star, starting the 1992 game. Five times he ranked in the top ten in the Cy Young Award vote including being the runner up to John Smoltz in 1996 when he led the league with a 1.89 ERA.
He won another ERA title in 2000. In 1992 he was the first Texas Ranger in 18 years to win 20 games.
His 1996 was noteworthy because if the current trends in Cy Young voting were in vogue that year, Brown would probably have won. (He got 2 first place votes at the time.)
Smoltz had more wins (24 to Brown’s 17), more strikeouts (276 to Brown’s 159) and (253 2/3 to Brown’s 233).
But Brown’s ERA was 1.15 lower than Smoltz (1.89 to 2.94.) Brown’s ERA+ was a league best 217 to Smoltz’s 149. Brown also led the league in WHIP (.944 to Smoltz’s 1.001). And Smoltz had the benefit for playing for the 96 win defending World Champions while Brown was on the 80 win third place Florida Marlins.
He was a workhorse, often being among the league leaders in innings pitched and complete games. Twice he had the highest WAR for pitchers.
In 1997 he threw a no hitter against the Giants and then tossed a complete game victory to clinch the pennant for the Marlins. It was Brown on the mound when the Marlins celebrated in Atlanta. The Marlins went on to win the World Series.
Shipped off to San Diego, he won 18 games and helped propel the Padres to the World Series. In the post season he out dueled Randy Johnson in Game 1 of the Division Series. In his two starts in the 4 game victory over the Astros, Brown posted a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings, striking out 21.
In the NLCS, he out pitched another future Hall of Famer when his 3 hit shutout beat the Braves and Tom Glavine.
In the off season he signed the $100 million contract but actually lived up to it the first few years. He was an 18 game winner and logged 252 innings his first year with the Dodgers. In his second he pitched 230 innings with 5 complete games, winning his second ERA title. He remained healthy for only one season over the remaining five years of the contract including his disappointing year and a half in New York and his implosion late in 2004.
In 2002 he was the highest paid player in baseball and yet threw only 63 2/3 innings all year.
But hey! The Dodgers didn’t pick him at random for their $100 million offer!He put together a year that would have won a Cy Young award now. He won 17 or more games four times. He had a pair of ERA titles and a no hitter and some post season glory. In 1998, the Sporting News named him Pitcher of the Year.
That’s not an awful resume. And it shouldn’t be TOTALLY overshadowed by what happened in the last few years of his deal.
Too bad the great parts of his career happened in relative obscurity in Texas, Florida and San Diego and the disappointments were in Los Angeles and New York.
But Brown is a Kevin worth saluting for the good in his career.
Same with Costner.