I hope he's joking. I really hope he's joking. According to the Arizona Daily Star, Cubs closer Ryan Dempster claims he's training to become a ninja. A 'chuck-spinning, throwing-star-hurling, silent-footsteps-sneakin' master of Japan's darkest martial art.
You know, like the mutant turtles in the comic books.
This can't end well. Can't possibly end well. And don't get me wrong: I understand where Dempster is coming from. He's 29 years old, which makes him my contemporary. A fellow child of the '80s. And who, pray tell, were the ultimate icons of pop culture badassedry in the decade that brought us the McDLT and New Coke?
That's right: ninjas.
Ninjas dominated Hollywood. They dominated video games. They were fast, mysterious, stealthy, deadly.
Magical and powerful and wraithlike, commanding -- no, demanding -- fear and respect. Plus awe.
Michael Dudikoff, American Ninja, cut a swath of destruction on the silver screen. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became a national phenomenon. The NES classic "Baseball Stars" featured the Ninja BlackSox, a speedy, all-ninja-all-the-time ballclub. In Data East's "Bad Dudes," ninjas kidnapped Ronald Reagan.
Problem was, it was all a lie. A mass delusion. In real life, ninjas aren't bad dudes at all. They're pretty much worthless, as useful as nunchucks in a gunfight. A goofy anachronism. When cops rescue hostages, do they send in ninjas? No. They send in a SWAT team. Did ninjas invade Grenada, go 15-1 under Mike Ditka, beat down Ivan Drago? Uh-uh.
I learned the awful truth firsthand while watching one of the early Ultimate Fighting events, back when it was still a mix of contrasting combat styles, and not a bunch of buff guys grappling in their underwear.
Out came a ninja. I expected backflips and smoke bombs. I figured he would throw his MMA opponent 20 feet into the air, then teleport up to deliver a spinning piledriver. No dice. The other guy pinned Mr. Ninja to the ground and beat his face bloody. I was stunned. I was 13. And no longer naive. The lesson? Ninjas are like praying to Zeus for more rain: a nice idea, but completely stupid in the face of modernity.
Anyway, somebody needs to tell Dempster. Put down the 'chucks. Take off the black mask. You've been had. And if you still want to add something mysterious and Japanese to your arsenal, try learning the Gyroball.
Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.