SB Nation is doing ‘Theme Weeks’ since we are lacking in baseball news. This week’s them is all things Marvel.
This is part three of three.
In the MCU, many changes were made from the source materials in adapting them from the comics to the movies. One of the most convoluted is that of Vision. The Avengers Mansion butler, Edwin Jarvis was converted into Howard Stark’s chauffeur and later Tony Stark’s AI assistant. Jarvis was subsumed by the security AI protocol ULTRON, who has a new bio-organic android body made for himself to inhabit in order to escape the limitations of his robotic form and to harness the power of the Mind Stone. Jarvis returns to steal the form and is created as Vision, the new Avenger.
MLB Counterpart: Pat Jarvis
Surprisingly, Vision isn’t a popular MLB name, but there are several Jarvis’. The most significant one is Pat Jarvis, a starting pitcher with an 8 year career between Atlanta and Montreal. Between his rookie season in 1966 and 1970, Jarvis was one of the better starting pitchers in baseball, including his 1970 season in which he went 16-16 and threw 254 innings. However, the high inning counts as well as his pedestrian strike out numbers caught up with Jarvis after that year. In his final three seasons, ‘The Little Bulldog’ managed just 300 innings and his control faltered, even after a move to the pen and a final come back attempt with Montreal before the end of his career following the 1973 season.
Steven Strange was a unique figure when he was introduced in 1963. Comics had moved away from magicians and wizards in the 40s and 50s, and even magic based characters like Doctor Fate and The Spectre’s powers were presented closer to traditional superpowers than magic. Strange cast spells, used magical artifacts and traveled between mystic realms. It was perfectly timed to capitalize on the explosion of interest in fantasy fiction, aligned with psychedelic artwork, and renewed interest in mysticism and astrology. Strange was one of the earliest script treatments by Marvel, but long viewed as unfilmable until the advances in CGI allowed the opportunities to make the kind of sense bending environments featured in the comics.
MLB Counterpart: Doug Strange
Doug Strange was a much traveled utility infielder, playing for six different teams during his 9 seasons in the majors. Originally appearing with Detroit, Strange ended up being traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1991. His minor league numbers were good, but as a utility player, he barely hit and was blocked by their dynamic infield of Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Rey Sanchez and Steve Buechele. Traded to Texas, Strange has his best year as their starting second baseman. His bat fell off in 1994 as Jeff Frye took over the starting role and Strange moved to Seattle as a utility player. He had a resurgence in Montreal in 1997, mostly at third base. He finished his career next season with Pittsburgh and joined their front office in 2002, currently serving as a Special Assistant to the GM.
Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s sidekick from back in the days of Timely Comics, was depicted as being killed at the end of the war while attempting to disarm a rocket aimed for the US. Captain America was hurled into the freezing waters of the North Atlantic and found in suspended animation for the next 20 years. For years, there was an aphorism in comics that only three characters were ever beyond comics trend to bring people back from the dead: Jason Todd, Uncle Ben Parker and Bucky Barnes. Ironically, in all three cases, there were brought back in various ways in 2006. Ed Brubaker’s ‘Winter Soldier’ brought Bucky back as a Soviet assassin, having him retroactively intersect with various events over the years in comics, like Wolverine’s Weapon X transformation. The MCU does the same, placing the blame for Tony Stark’s parents at the hands of Barnes. Another change is that Barnes is the defacto leader of the Howling Commandos after Captain America, replacing Nick Fury from his canon role.
MLB Counterpart: Ross Barnes
There are a lot of Barnes in MLB history, but fitting for a character who comes from Marvel’s earliest days, it was fitting to choose one of baseball’s earliest professional players, Ross Barnes. Barnes career started alongside Albert Spaulding with the Rockford Forest Citys, but in 1971, he signed with the Boston Red Stockings, one of the first teams of baseball’s National Association. Playing primarily second and shortstop, Barnes was an excellent fielder, considered one of the finest defenders in the game. He was also the most dominant hitters at the start of his career, averaging over 400 in his first four seasons, leading the league in doubles, triples, walks and stolen bases. Unfortunately, in 1877, Barnes fell ill with what was called an ‘ague’, believed now to possibly be meningitis. Ross’ speed and power evaporated and his average dropped 150 points in attempted comebacks in 1879 and 1881 before finally retiring. Barnes generated 28 bWAR in just 500 games played and is considered to be one of the most unheralded players of the pre-20th century.
Like Hulk, James Rhodes is one of the few roles to be recast in the MCU and to be majorly revamped due to the actors involved. Unlike Norton’s Hulk, where under-performance at the box office and the actor’s protest to the final cut ended a solo sequel, War Machine never got off the ground after Terrence Howard’s behaviour on the set alienated director John Favreau and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance of Tony Stark eclipsed his. Howard was actually paid more for Iron Man than Downey and Marvel’s choice in casting him was with the idea that War Machine might be one of the first spin offs. His veteran replacement Don Cheadle wasn’t considered popular enough to lead a big budget solo film, and War Machine role was expanded in the Avengers films instead.
MLB Counterpart: Arthur Rhodes
Arthur Rhodes is one of the best examples of why every parent should teach any child with pitching talent to throw left handed. A second round pick for Baltimore, Rhodes spent 9 seasons with the Orioles, converted from a starter in 1995 to the bullpen. He’d go on to play for 8 teams over 20 seasons as a largely effective lefty reliever, including several strong seasons with Seattle and with Cincinnati late in his career. Rhodes possesses two unique elements to his career. In the summer of 2011, Texas released Rhodes on August 8th. He signed with St. Louis three days later, and when they faced Texas in the World Series. Rhodes was not only eligible to win a ring regardless of whatever team won the series, but he was just the second player in MLB history to play for a winning team against a team he’s played for earlier in the season. Rhodes retired in 2015 and holds the all-time lead in holds.
In the mid to late 60s, Marvel began to focus on expanding out their heroes beyond white heroes. While the politics of the Marvel office were certainly liberal for the time, Stan Lee admitted that the decision was based just as much as expanding readership into communities of colour. Readers of colour in the earliest conventions made it clear that they wanted characters they could identify with, prompting an editorial push for new heroes or colour and woman across their books. Falcon was considered to be an ideal contrast to Captain America; both having grown up poor, but in Sam Wilson’s case, taking the wrong path into crime before renouncing it and trying to redeem his past working as a social worker in poor communities in New York. The MCU followed similar elements, using Sam as a way to bridge both the generational divide and that of privilege, fully realizing his views on the modern nation. In both versions, Sam would become the heir to Steve Rogers, inheriting the mantle of Captain America.
MLB Counterpart: Hack Wilson
Our final Avenger is Hall of Famer Hack Wilson. Wilson perhaps best represents the kind of talent that could only excel in old school baseball. Hack was bizarrely built, with a massive barrel chest but short legs, tiny feet and large head representative of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He destroyed lower leagues at the plate, married a woman 12 years his senior and was signed by John McGrew for the New York Giants in 1023. Wilson showed some talent with the Giants but ultimately underperformed, which many blamed on his drinking. He was acquired on waivers by the Chicago Cubs and had five dominant seasons, during which he established the National League record for home runs in a season at 56 which would stand for 68 years until broken by McGuire and Sosa in 1998. Wilson still has the all time single season record in RBIs, established in 1930 with 191. After moving to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Wilson’s drinking started to finally catch up with him and his skills deteriorated rapidly and he was out of baseball following the 1934 season. Wilson’s drinking was an open secret. Sports writer Shirley Povich once observed that Wilson was ‘built along the lines of a beer keg, and was not wholly unfamiliar with its contents.’ A half century after his death, along side Jimmie Foxx, Hack Wilson would be the other player that Jimmy Dugan in ‘A League of Their Own’ was based off of.