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Wednesday, May 06, 2009
For all of the things I've written, reading the A-Rod book is not without its enjoyable moments. I may later assemble some random ones in a post, but I want to share this one while it's fresh. From the field notes of Mariners' scout Roger Jongewaard after surveying Alex Rodriguez, high school senior:
Premium prospect with potential to be an impact player . . . Darren Dreifort would be a good pick but Rodriguez is better!
Not to be too hard on Jongewaard -- scouting has to be an unbelievably tough racket, and hindsight is 20/20, but it's the exclamation point that gets me. Like he felt he had to add when saying something so audacious as Rodriguez > Dreifort.
Pete Toms sends along a story about a Princeton pitcher poised to go in the second or third round of the draft. He's a business student, and there's a discussion about his choices:
Hale, a 21-year-old junior from Marietta, Georgia, majoring in operations research and financial engineering, said he’s already decided that he’d rather play minor-league baseball than return to Princeton and a possible career on Wall Street.
Amazingly, nowhere is it mentioned that being a baseball player is amazingly cool, while working on Wall Street sucks by every human-based measure.
A little over 48 hours since the book's release, and people are starting to pick the nits. I'm not sure I care about the "was he in Milwaukee or was he in Detroit" kind of nits that hell of a lot, but if there are tons and tons of them, it suggests that the commercial motive that led to the rush to get this book out far outweighed any pretense of good, accurate reporting and the development of the themes Roberts has pretended to care about so much.
Via Whitlock, who continues to lay waste to Selena Roberts, comes a quote from Roberts herself from last night's Jim Rome show which pretty much explains why I've been writing what I've been writing since last Thursday:
"You give people a litmus test, Jim . . . You say to them, you go back to them over and over again and you say, 'Is it consistent what they're saying to me? Have they changed at all? Do they have a credibility issue? Is there anything in their past that might make me wary of this person?' "
If that's the test, how can anyone presume that she's shooting straight?
As I mentioned over at NBC this morning, I now have the book, and have started reading it. It's not exactly a dense read, so it shouldn't take too long. I should have my reactions to it up by Friday at the latest.
My NBC colleague Mike Celizic on Zack Greinke, in a column entitled "Finally, baseball gives us as hero to admire":
Finally, baseball has a fresh young superstar nobody can throw so much as a pebble at, a kid who is the perfect antidote for Manny B. Manny and A-Fraud and everything else that drives you nuts about sports . . .
I don't begrudge Celizic's enthusiasm for Greinke for a moment (or Posnanski's or the many others who have weighed in in recent days). The challenges he has overcome were formidable and the talents he has displayed are supreme. If Greinke quit playing baseball today he'd be someone we'd talk about for years, and as we sit here today we wouldn't have a bad thing to say about the guy.
But if we've learned anything over the past decade -- and should have learned over the past century -- it's that ballplayers are mere men. Some drink too much. Some are racists. Some do drugs. Some don't treat women very well. Some battle all manner of personal demons, the likes of which, if we knew them, would make us think of them as anything but the fine young men the sporting press would have us believe. They do one or two extraordinarily difficult things outrageously well, and they provide us with tons of entertainment, but they are just men, for all of the good and bad that entails.
The thing about it, though, is we rarely know this stuff when players are breaking out like Greinke is now. It almost always comes later. As Bill James said in his comments about Doc Gooden in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract:
When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is as well as a supreme talent. Never pay any attention to those articles or those descriptions. Albert Pujols is going through this now . . . people who didn't know Albert Pujols from Jack the Ripper six months ago and have never talked to him more than six feet from his locker are writing very sincerely about what an exceptional young man he is . . . Sportswriters, despite their cynicism or because of it, desperately want to believe in athletes as heroes, and will project their hopes onto anyone who offers a blank slate. The problem with this is that, when the player turns out to be human and fallible, people feel betrayed. It is a disservice to athletes to try to make them more than they really are.
We may have to wait forever for Albert Pujols to exhibit some fallibility, but I have this feeling that he's merely the exception that proves the rule.
Before Greinke's canonization, Alex Rodriguez was pegged to be the man to restore honor to the game by sanitizing the home run crown. Before A-Rod, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were the game's heroic saviors. I recall an article from the late 80s talking about how Barry Bonds was the perfect antidote to the nastiness that the Strawberry-Gooden Mets unleashed into the public consciousness, and as James noted, Gooden was once thought of a fine young man poised to breathe fresh air into the game himself. I'm sure we could trace that trail back to the deadball era if we wanted to.
But let's not blaze a trail into the future with this, OK? Let's let amazing ballplayers be just that: amazing ballplayers. Let us take note of the hurdles that guys like Zack Greinke has overcome, but let us not ascribe larger heroic qualities to such men simply because they play ball. "Hero" is too strong and baggage-laden a word anyway. As James notes, it places a heavy burden on young men, and these guys are under such scrutiny day-in and day-out that they really don't need it. What's more, the term hero it necessarily assumes its opposite -- villain -- and demands that we search them out too. You know, to restore balance to the universe and everything. Often -- as in the case of A-Rod and Gooden and Bonds and all of the others -- they're the same people, just older. I have no reason to think that will be Zack Greinke's fate one day, but I have no reason not to think it either, so why do we even want to tempt it? Lord knows that if Zack Greinke does fall one day it will be bad enough without having all of us hero worshipers around to comment on it.
Hero creation, worship, and subsequently, destruction has long been a part of baseball. But it's not an essential part, and in my mind not a desirable part. Why don't we try to dispense with that whole game and see what happens? I have this feeling we may be pleasantly surprised at the results.
One of the cool things about baseball is that despite how small our world has become, how nationalized, standardized, commoditized and sanitized everything insists on being, there are still healthy pockets of localization. Things teams do and things that fans think that don't instantly make the mainstream. It's far less prevalent than it used to be, of course, but there still remains a fair amount of the healthy, color-enhancing provincialism about the game that I hope doesn't go away any time soon.
Example: Despite all of the retro trends and the opinions of nationalized opinion spewers like me, there are folks in Milwaukee who really want the old baseball glove logo to disappear:
Look around Milwaukee. Look around Miller Park. What do you see? Most likely you see the greatest baseball logo in Major League Baseball, the Brewers old ball and glove logo the team wore regularly from 1978-1993. Nowadays, the Brewers break out throw back uniforms from that era for every Friday home game. As cool as that logo is, it's time to retire it. Here's why. It's time to move forward, respect the past and build the future.
The estimable Brew Crew Ball feels the same way.
I love the old blue and gold jerseys and wish the Brewers went with the old mitt logo full time, because that's still what I think of when I think "Brewers." But ultimately neither the marketers, the networks, the trendsetters or even people like me get to define what the Brewers are all about. Brewers fans get to do that, and for some of them at least, the old ways aren't anything to which they want to return.
Apologies once again for the lack of ATH this morning. I hate not getting to it. Barring power outages, catastrophes, and/or restraining orders from Selena Roberts' publishers, it'll be back in the morning. As for now:
My daily spewing about the Roberts-A-Rod book is up over at NBC.
The next time I say something snarky about the Braves' Greg Norton, please, someone, remind me to shut the hell up.
Longtime readers know that, from time to time, I have to give ATH a miss during the season. Usually it happens when various strains of B.S. infect my life the night before, which was the case last night. Apologies, but such is life when you're essentially moonlighting.
Regular blogging will resume later this morning.