A half hour ago I referenced Godwin’s Law and Smoltz’s law, which are rules designed to keep people from making inapposite or inappropriate comparisons. While I quibble with them — like I said, they place off-limits signs on certain areas of comparison for no compelling reason — I understand them. After all, they exist mostly to help keep you from making a fool out of yourself via bad analogies so it’s probably worth making your peace with them.
I think the same can probably be said of comparisons to Jackie Robinson.
To be clear: I don’t think anything should be off limits when it comes to the general discourse, so don’t go crazy on a guy simply because he compares something a current ballplayer faces to that which Jackie Robinson faced. But do understand that 90-95% of the time you make such comparisons to Jackie Robinson, your comparison is going to be a profoundly poor one that is going to cause you no small amount of trouble. And that’s even if your point isn’t about race (if it is about race, God help you).
That’s the lesson that a couple of Washington Nationals front office people are going to learn pretty soon, as they said the following about what Bryce Harper’s march to the major leagues entails to Tom Verducci in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Here’s Nats’ minor league coordinator Tony Tarasco:
“Jackie Robinson … You have to go back to Jackie Robinson to find anybody who goes through this much scrutiny. It wasn’t like this for [Stephen] Strasburg. Wasn’t like this for Alex Rodriguez.”
Here’s Nats’ director of player development Doug Harris:
“This is really unfair and it’s totally different, but if I can make a comparison to one guy that has been scrutinized like this, it would be Jackie Robinson. And it’s unfair because it was a different standard. He was under a microscope in an era when we didn’t have Internet, didn’t have cellphones … Now, Jackie Robinson had his life threatened. I’m not comparing Bryce to that. But as far as nonstop scrutiny? Absolutely. Day to day.”
I’m sure Bryce Harper faces a lot what with being so young and having such expectations placed on him. But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the Jackie Robinson comparison is a bit too much. And either way, these guys are going to probably get murdered by the chattering classes for invoking the name of Jackie Robinson with respect to this kid.