“American idol has taken over my whole life.” —Paula Abdul
I came across Paula Abdul, an obscure 20th century poet and her stinging criticism of American culture on Altavista yesterday and it floored me. As Americans, we are thoroughly inundated with idol worship and mythmaking by society. Nowhere is this more apparent than within American sport. In 2012, there were literally thousands of Tim Tebow jerseys sold. Just last week, the College Football Hall of Fame announced Danny Wuerffel would be inducted in 2013 and the National Basketball Association honored Kenneth Faried with the 2013 Good Citizen award. Are these three men positive examples for the youth of America? Probably, but stories like these are quixotic when the nefarious wear the crown of adoration.
Henry Rowengartner is firmly enshrined in the annals of sport idolatry and for good reason: He is a World Series champion, a Major League Rookie of the Year and notable Pepsi-Cola spokesperson.
I’m here to tell you that he is not a hero. Henry Rowengartner is a stain on our national conscience. I will not stand idly by as this monster serves as a guidepost for the impressionable adolescents of this country. Rowengartner’s reign atop his golden pedestal ends today.
Like any professional journalist, I will freely admit my bias towards Henry Rowengartner. As a young boy in small-town Kentucky, I was enamored with the story of middle school kid from suburbia being plucked out of the cheap seats to play big league ball. I, along with all of America was spellbound by each of the nine games in that magical 1993 season. We stood and cheered as one when the First Son taunted opposing pitchers from the bullpen. We stared in awe when the buck-toothed prepubescent noodle-armed a 95 mph sinking ball. And we all cried when Henry suffered that horrific injury in the National League Championship. We all danced after his hometown Cubbies rallied around the youngster’s misfortune to win the World Championship.
Henry wants us to believe that his legacy ended with the feel good-good story of the 1993 Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately for America and a once young boy from Kentucky, his story was just beginning.
1993’s twelve-year old Henry Rowengartner remerged six years later in western Michigan as high school senior “Kevin Myers.” Kevin (Henry), along with friends Chris “Oz” Ostreicher, Jim Levenstein, Paul Finch and Steve Stiffler gained notoriety for making a sophomoric “bet” to gain carnal understanding of the opposite sex before high school graduation. The four Michigan students courted a variety of quirky women, from an older woman in the community to the second tuba in the school band. Classmates of the mysterious transfer student, “Kevin” remember him differently. Henry developed an obsession with the prettiest girl in school, Vicky Lathum. As American as ‘Apple Pie’, Henry Rowengartner was not.
Henry’s charade continued through 2001, where a police citation for a noise violation placed Henry at a Michigan house party with Ostreicher, Levenstein, Finch and Stiffler. According to statements taken at the scene, the friends were in town on break following their first year of college. The five allegedly worked as a group of “painters”, although they only painted one house all summer. Henry eventually abandoned his friends to attend wild parties with Hollywood stars like Ben Affleck’s brother. When Levenstein rushed to the Emergency Room afflicted with a serious, yet unknown injury, Rowengartner was not there to prevent the accident.
By 2003, Henry’s gig was seemingly up. Levenstein married his high school sweetheart in a large American wedding in Michigan. Henry joined Stiffler and Finch in the wedding party but observers noted the growing rift between Henry and his friends. By all accounts, Rowengartner’s inclusion in the program was obligatory and forgettable. Of all of the friends, only Ostreicher was aware of Henry’s mysterious past. He was reportedly so upset about Henry’s double life he refused to be included in the program entirely.
While it is not in my nature to blindly speculate about personal matters, it is clear Henry Rowengartner is a demonstrative fraud and unworthy of our praise.
Mr. Rowengartner’s past is littered by a pattern of betrayal and deception. During his miracle run with the Cubs, Henry was rarely seen in public without his two ‘best’ friends, remembered only as ‘that pudgy ginger’ and ‘the other kid’. Although the duo were clearly would-be degenerates and destined for a life of mediocrity, Henry had no qualms with cutting them out of his life.
Then there was also Henry’s famous mentor, Chet “The Rocket” Steadman, best remembered as the face of Salisbury steaks worldwide. Steadman gave up a career in major league management to coach Rowengartner’s little league team and begin a family with Henry’s mother. Just like the others, Henry turned his back on Steadman to initiate his make-believe identity.
In his new life, Henry weaseled his way into the popular crowd, manipulating the weak minded Stiffler into hosting extravagant soirees so he could further his confidence charade. Henry leached onto the loyal but affable every-man, Jim Levenstein to lend him credibility. Just as he had done so many times in the past, Henry used those who trusted him the most to further his own ambition.
Henry’s greatest moral flaws are in full display when you consider the principal target of his deception: Vickie Lathum.
Henry understood that a girl as attractive as Lathum would never go for a washed up, teeny-bopping man-boy living on his step-father’s Salisbury steak money. He knew that in order to gain Lathum’s affection, he had to be someone else, no matter the cost.
At first glance, Rowengartner’s facade fails to rise above mere creepiness. On the surface, this is the classic story of “boy sees girl, boy weaves web of lies to impress girl, boy maintains said web to maintain the relationship.” Society has rewarded Drew Barrymore and Don Draper for greater sins than this. Upon further examination, Rowengartner’s dark plan is laid bare: bedding Lathum, the most beautiful girl in school, would win the juvenile ‘American Pie’ bet in grandiose style.
It wasn’t enough for Henry to win a World Series at the age of twelve. He wanted more. He needed more. His selfish, devious nature drove him to create his magnum opus: betray the trust of his closest friends and family, don a completely new identity, manipulate four ‘normal’ high school kids into making a seemingly arbitrary bet and crush their spirit by sleeping with the girl of their dreams. A true philistine indeed.
Despite his struggles at the plate, Henry Rowengartner is the Sultan of Slime. The Great Shambino. Babe Uncouth. To accept this type of behavior would revert our society to jungle law. While I may be finished throwing rocks at the golden pedestal we built for Henry Roengartner, it weighs heavy on my soul to destroy my childhood idol.
My hope is that together, as a society of fans we can grow through this cleansing ritual and start placing our trust an adoration with whom it belongs: members of Congress.