The word “simp” is having a bit of a resurgence right now thanks to TikTok but its linguistic roots go back at least to midcentury, when it was slang for someone who was a clueless dope, a shortened version of “simpleton.” “Simp” entered my vocabulary all the way back in 1994, when the November issue of Sassy magazine ran an article titled “Reese Is Not a Simp.” Sassy—if you didn’t know—was the definitive magazine for alterna-teen girls in the 90s, always happy to critique pop culture and tell you what bands to listen to that you wouldn’t hear on the radio, a little proto-Women’s Studies course you could buy on the shelves at the supermarket in every small town in America. Reese, of course, is Reese Witherspoon, who would grow up to be one of the highest-paid actresses in the world in addition to founding her own production company, clothing company, and becoming an international philanthropist and published author.
But at the time, Reese was just Reese, a 17-year-old recently off her film debut in 1991’s well-reviewed Man in the Moon, a bittersweet coming-of-age story set in 1950s Louisiana, and headed towards her next major role in the horribly-reviewed black comedy S.F.W. The writer’s contempt for the film is thinly veiled in the article, but a grudging admiration for the “Miss Teen USA”-looking Witherspoon creeps through as Reese lays out the kind of work she wants to do (good roles with great directors) and her plans to attend Stanford in the fall, and about her motivation in taking the role in the gritty S.F.W. in order to not get typecast as “apple pie and ice cream cones,” while her contemporaries—Winona Ryder, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore—swept up more dramatically nuanced and darker work.
That’s the thing about being Nice with a capital N, apple pies and ice cream cones. While it’s a good thing to be nice, as a defining characteristic, it’s not one that is overly valued in society. Jeff Bezos may use the blood of the proletariat as a nutrient-rich face mask, but at least he’s not a simp! In the 90s, we didn’t want our female role models to be simps; in today’s world, it’s perceived in certain parts of the internet as an equally undesirable trait in a man. At best, nice is seen as bland, generic, toothless; at worst, it seems to provoke people to poke at it, muss up its hair a little, bring it down to their level.
In a society that doesn’t place much of a premium on niceness, then, it is unfortunate that so much has been made of Evan White’s reported niceness; but then, it is impossible not to, because he is so nice it is his defining characteristic, to the point where opposing players comment on it.
How do you eject the nicest person on planet earth— Collin Theroux (@CollinTheroux) August 25, 2019
I stand with you. I got a clutch RBI single in a regional elimination game against Kentucky, and when I got to first base, Evan White looked at me and said “great swing there, man” and did it while being completely genuine. It kind of rattled me to be honest. Go M’s, go Evan https://t.co/bVRufhNyhI— Andy Cosgrove (@thekidcosgrove) August 16, 2020
The media (including us!) has played their role in it, but it’s important to note the Grand Nicening of Evan White goes all the way to the top of the org. On an episode of Mariners All-Access Brad Adam tells Evan White that Dipoto has said in the past the decision to offer White an extension was based 99 to 1 on his character to his talent. White, with eyes popping: “Maybe a LITTLE more talent?!”
Our ace @SeattleTimes photog @DeanRutz captured just how good of a dude @Mariners prospect Evan White is after he saw a fan drop his box of baseball cards and they scattered everywhere. pic.twitter.com/jlLUpt0OML— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 16, 2019
It is so well-known that Evan White is nice that Jon Heyman, who receives a mild electrical shock every time he says something positive about the Mariners, prefaced White’s character with praise before questioning the wisdom of signing White to a long-term deal:
Evan White is said to be a great kid and he’s obviously a really good defender, but to give $24M to someone who’s only played Double-A and hadn’t proven he could hit a breaking ball was a bit of a risk. He should be OK but is currently batting .114.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) August 15, 2020
Evan White doesn’t have the swaggering self-assurance of a Jarred Kelenic, nor the infectious personality and fence-destroying power of J-Rod, nor the megawatt smile and Golden Spikes pedigree of best friend KLew, who also goes by the nicknames “superstar” or “showtime.” White doesn’t even have a well-recognized nickname (despite our efforts to get White Claw off the ground), and his personality so far, aside from Mr. Nice Guy, seems to be “plays good defense.” Defense might win championships, but it’s not the sexiest hook to hang one’s personality hat on, and White’s bat has struggled out of the gate, cutting off that avenue as well.
What a treat it must have been for Evan White last night, then, to not have his game highlights be heroic picks at first, or another night of celebrating small victories (only one strikeout! On a pitch that was probably a ball!), but a couple of big, fat, noisy, decidedly un-nice highlights. First, there was this objectively terrible pitch from Ross Stripling, a 91 mph fastball that ended up eating too much plate that White redirected 382 feet to the opposite field at 101.8 mph:
That would give the Mariners the lead, which they held and cherished until the seventh inning, when they lovingly gave it back to the Dodgers. However White had developed an attachment to the little baby lead and did what he could to get it back, this time redirecting 95 in on his hands over the left-field fence:
That blast, which temporarily broke Statcast, went 413 feet and came off the bat at an even 107 mph. Evan White: so nice he wanted us all to make up the time Baez takes between pitches by redirecting the ball out of the ballpark as quickly as possible! What a guy.
At 17 years old, Reese Witherspoon wasn’t Tracy Flick or Elle Woods or June Carter Cash or Cheryl Strayed yet; she was a girl with some early success and the knowledge that although she did one thing well—apple pie and ice cream—she had much more to bring. And she had a plan for how to branch out, even though those branches might take her down some less-than-desirable roads, like playing Stephen Dorff’s love interest in a movie with a 12% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “Sometimes you have to do the wrong thing for the right reasons,” Witherspoon is quoted in the article, sounding pretty world-weary for 17. Growth is never linear—Witherspoon would struggle later in her career with the very typecasting she fought against early on—and sometimes downright ugly (looking at you, Hot Pursuit), but there’s a lot to be said for having a plan and sticking to it, making sure you get the dramatic roles as well as the girl next door ones, the Web Gems and the “that baseball had a family” retweets. And hey, if you can be nice along the way while executing your plan, more power to you. Maybe the world needs more simps.