SB Nation is doing ‘Theme Weeks’ since we are lacking in baseball news. This week’s them is all things Marvel.
In 2008, Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the release of ‘Iron Man’. Since then, they have released 22 movies and counting based around existing properties within the Marvel Universe. Much like MLB’s All-Star Game, the Avengers films are there to bring together the biggest and best heroes into a combined experience. There’s been plenty of articles trying to merge the two, creating all sorts of criteria in order to determine which figure from MLB’s present or past best suits a similar superhero. Is Lou Gehrig or Christy Mathewson baseball’s Captain America for their humility, decently and sense of fair play? Or do we call Mike Trout Iron Man for his apparently effortless genius on the field and ability to seemingly do everything well?
Being the incredibly detailed oriented writer and researcher that I am, I decided to build my MLB aligned team of MCU Avengers out of the most difficult and rigorous criteria of all: secret identities. That’s right! Who in baseball history has the most similar names to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!
(Yes, I know. You can flame me later in the comments section)
Below is the baseball Avengers based on the closest and most successful players I could find to their Cinematic Universe counterparts. Obviously some characters didn’t make the cut, since baseball is remarkably thin on players named Romanoff, Maximoff, Drax and Mantis. Then again, it’s still better than having to try and track down the 200 or so comics characters that have held Avengers membership at one point or another.
This is part one of three.
Seems easiest to start off with the heart and soul of the Avengers; Captain America. Despite not showing up until both the fourth film in the MCU and the fourth issue of The Avengers comic respectively, Steve Rogers has always been the heart and soul of the Avengers, his determination, courage and fundamental decency allowing him to overcome significantly more powerful foes in the end without compromising his beliefs.
MLB Counterpart: Steve Rogers
The only character that we have an exact named player as his counterpart is pitcher Steve Rogers. Rogers was a dominant pitcher through the 70s and the early 80s, the anchor of an often inconsistent Montreal Expos rotation that he fronted for his entire 13 year career. Similar to his counterpart Stieb in Toronto, Rogers suffered from pitching in a Canadian market and for a number of weak teams, which hurt the wider recognition of his talents and depressed the traditional counting stats of wins and losses. Over his career, he amassed a bWAR of 45.1, making him a solid member of the Hall of Very Good. <Editor note: Unlike the Marvel Steve Rogers, this Steve Rogers never used PEDs>
The point man and catalyst for the MCU was the original Iron Man; Tony Stark. The story of Iron Man is that of hubris. A weapons manufacturer crippled by his own weapon, who resolves to use his abilities to try and make up for the damage he’s inflicted on the world. Iron Man is both the brain and the id of the Avengers, as his actions ultimately bring forth enemies like Ultron into the world.
MLB Counterpart: Denny Stark
Well, if you want the id of a baseball player, Denny Stark fits it. A starting pitcher for six seasons between the Mariners and the Rockies, Denny managed just one quality season in 2002, when he went 11 and 4 over 20 starts. Even in that season, he walked too many and struck out too few, managing to strand enough runners to maintain a solid ERA+ of 120. The rest of his career, he was a gift to home run hitters and patient bats as his terrible control consistently caused him to rake up more walks than strike outs. Interestingly, players named Stark are uniformly bad in MLB history. The three Starks would have played combine for less than 7 full seasons and a total bWAR of -2.9.
Marvel’s original Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde is the Incredible Hulk. Portrayed originally by Ed Norton Jr, Hulk’s first film was released in the same year as Iron Man. However, while both Kevin Feige and John Favreau always had the idea of Iron Man as a launching point for a possible wider universe, the Hulk wasn’t originally part of it due to the poor performance of the last Hulk movie by Ang Lee in 2003. Further creative issues with Norton hampered the film and it remains the lowest grossing MCU film, and many of the elements have been quietly retconned, including the replacement of Norton with Mark Ruffalo.
MLB Counterpart: Larry McLean (John Bannerson)
There aren’t any Banners in MLB history, so the closest I can find is Larry McLean, originally born John Bannerson, to take Bruce Banner’s spot. Larry was a giant of a man, 6ft 5in back at the turn of the century and played for 13 seasons bouncing between Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and New York. McLean was a native of Fredericton, NB and debuted for the Red Sox in 1901. He was an excellent defensive catcher, known to call a good game, and was a solid bat for his position. However, McLean was also an alcoholic who was prone to fits of rage when drunk. His professional career ended when he ended up brawling with Manager John McGraw and Scout Dick Kinsella in a hotel lobby. McLean died six years later, shot to death by a saloon manager who claimed McLean attacked him while drunk.
No, there hasn’t been a player named Odinson in the history of the MLB, so we’re going to have to go with his original secret identity Dr. Donald Blake. Used as a joke in the film as Dr. Selvig comes to collect Thor from the military, in the comics, Thor was originally Donald Blake, a medical doctor with a crippled leg, who discovered Mjolnir in a secret cave, imparting on to him the powers of Thor. It was retconned a few years later so that Thor was always Blake, sent to Midgard in that form to learn empathy and humility by Odin.
MLB Counterpart: Blake Snell
There’s a lot of Blake’s in MBL history, but the one most likely to have the best career is Blake Snell. Snell, a first round draft pick by Tampa Bay in 2011, made his MLB debut in 2016 and quickly established himself as the rotation number 2 behind Chris Archer. In 2018, the young starter exploded, posting a 21-5 record and an ERA+ of 217 on the way to winning the Cy Young award. Unfortunately, his follow up season in 2019 was injury riddled, although he continued to show elite strikeout rates in his shorten season. Ironically, Snell’s punchout pitch is most often his curveball, often nicknamed ‘the hammer’.