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Must-Click Link: Alex Rodriguzez: the slugger with a thousand faces

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Bryan Curtis has a great story about Alex Rodriguez over at Grantland. It’s not about his playing as much about his image. An image that, for 20 years, baseball writers have been trying to shoehorn into classic baseball stereotypes, mostly unsuccessfully:

It’d be nice to think we treat each new ballplayer who comes along like a beautiful, unique snowflake. But sportswriters are comparative mythologists at heart. What we’re really doing is wedging ballplayers into archetypes that have been around long before they were born: The Natural, The Overweight But Jolly Slugger, The Veteran on His Last Legs.

No one in recent baseball history has been fitted for more of these archetypes than A-Rod.

Curtis takes us through various dramas and iterations of A-Rod’s career and reminds us of how he was thought of at different times by the sporting press. He was the young Wholesome Superstar, the Greedy Mercenary, the Celebrity, the Charlatan, the Cheater, The Monster and now, to some degree, The Man Who Would Be Redeemed.

As Curtis correctly notes, it’s not often that baseball players get more than one or two of these stereotypes applied to them. Barry Bonds stuck with Surly Jerk. Occasionally you get the Odball or Eccentric. There are a lot of Role Players. Most stars go from Wholesome Superstar to Grizzled Veteran. It’s not all that hard for baseball media, which isn’t all that creative most of the time, to be honest, to keep those players in their proper little narrative boxes and to make them dance in their stories and columns.

But not A-Rod. He has worn all manner of faces in his career. Part of this can be chalked up to what seems to be, if you believe some of the better stories about him, some basic insecurity that inspires him to try to please people or play roles he thinks he’s supposed to play. Part of this is because he has done some remarkable and some inexplicable things. Part of it is because, well, he’s a human being who, like most of us — but unlike most athletes, who tend to be more disciplined than normal folks — is just kind of making it all up as he goes along.

I think the volatility of the A-Rod narrative over the years that Curtis describes has a lot to do with baseball writers getting irked at A-Rod more than they get irked at any other player. He screws up their narratives. No one in the media business likes to appear as if they don’t know what’s going on and what’s supposed to happen next, but A-Rod flummoxes those who would play Authority. Sometimes, they even admit it:

“I’ll tell you this,” [Bill] Madden said. “After Bonds passed Aaron, nobody was rooting harder for A-Rod than I was. We needed a clean home run champion after Bonds.”

Then, the fall. “Disappointment is the best way to put it,” Madden said. “Utter disappointment. It’s just too bad this guy couldn’t be what he was supposed to be.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that quote. Starting with the idea that A-Rod was “supposed to be” something. Like he was a part of a predetermined drama rather than a person with free will and foibles. But it explains oh so very much about the coverage Rodriguez has received over the years. And oh so very much about how a media, which likes to tell you that it calls things like it sees them, actually sees them.

The Orioles considered boycotting Tuesday night’s game over the Rogers Centre turf

Rogers Centre
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We’ve observed before that the new turf in Rogers’ Centre is slow and several players who have played on it so far this year have complained about it being too cushy and thick and slow. But those all seemed like mild complaints of the “eh, what can you do?” variety. After all, both teams have to play on it.

But the Orioles were a bit more displeased than all of that. From Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun:

The turf is definitely different than anything we’ve seen. And experts say that it will start to play more normally and more true after it has settled in. But for now, look for this to be an issue for teams. Be it an actual one they talk about or, at the very least, something that gets in their heads.

Kris Bryant is still mulling a grievance against the Cubs

Kris Bryant
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Jon Heyman writes today about Kris Bryant and the decision he faces regarding filing a grievance against the Cubs over what most people reasonably assume was their manipulation of his service time. Legal manipulation but manipulation all the same.

Heyman notes the dilemma Bryant is in: he hears that Bryant is displeased with his treatment and would like to establish some sort of precedent that would prevent later players being subjected to the same service time games, but he is also just breaking in with his new team and probably doesn’t want to rock the boat or inject negativity into a relationship that, on the baseball side, is looking nice and healthy. It’s a tough spot for the kid, of course, and as Heyman notes, it’s that dynamic that has kept this from every being litigated in the past.

But that aside, I’m still skeptical about a grievance. Yes, Bryant and his lawyer might have some hay to make about whether the Cubs acted in good faith in his case, but I’m not sure how that, to use Heyman’s words describing Bryant’s desire, could possibly establish “a rules clarification regarding the permissibility of delaying MLB-ready players over the service time issue.” Any rule that would change this state of affairs would have to be so wide-ranging that it would affect everyone, and the only way that really could happen, it seems, is via collective bargaining.

Arbitrations have, in the past, established some major “yes/no” decisions, such as the invalidity of the reserve clause. But The work of setting up rules is done via the collective bargaining agreement. If Bryant were to take this to an arbitration, it’s possible he could have a couple of weeks service time restored. But then the greater work of dealing with these matters would fall to the union rank and file. And to date they have shown very little willingness to fight for this sort of thing. And I doubt they’ll fight for it the next time around either.

Someone sure as heck didn’t like the Barry Bonds decision

Barry Bonds
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Juliet Macur’s latest column in the New York Times is quite the thing. It’s her reaction to the decision in the Barry Bonds appeal. And it’s not exactly nuanced.

Actually, it’s fifteen paragraphs of sour grapes. Straight-forward unhappiness that Bonds had his conviction overturned without any attempt to wrestle with the actual legal context in which it occurred. It’s a bitter and angry recital of some of the worst elements of Bonds’ general milieu — shrunken testicles, the cream and the clear and ex-girlfriends — that has had nothing to do with the case as it has existed in the past four years. All delivered with a grating sarcasm barely concealing her anger.

And make no mistake, she seems angry about those bad Barry Bonds things having nothing to do with the case. Angry that an appeals court has dealt with a matter of law that was before it and not with the parts of the case that were over and done with in 2011 after the jury rendered its verdict. It’s the column equivalent of someone standing and screaming “BUT HE’S A BAD PERSON! DOESN’T EVERYONE SEE THAT?!”

Well, yes, everyone does see that. Even people like me, who spend all damn day defending PED guys sees that. Barry Bonds does have a pretty clear history of being a jerk, at least back when he played. He’s been called a bad guy by many who were in the position to make that judgment. He certainly used PEDs and I strongly suspect that he lied about it under oath. The government couldn’t prove that because they literally had no witnesess who would or could say he did, but that only means that he was acquitted. Not that he didn’t lie.

But he was acquitted. And the one charge of which he was convicted was legally unsound and not supported by evidence. And the appeals court properly overturned it, not because Barry Bonds isn’t a jerk, but because Barry Bonds is a citizen who is due the same legal process you, me and everyone else is. Unless Macur is advocating for the notion that everyone she considers to be a jerk or a liar be convicted of crimes regardless of the evidence, her column makes no sense and has no purpose. Indeed, it’s no different than some San Francisco Giants fan arguing that Bonds shouldn’t have been convicted because Giants fans like him.

Of course, there is a difference between Macur and a Giants fan. Fans can be excused if, at times anyway, they forget that rooting interests aren’t the same as reasonable assessments of any set of facts at hand. That’s just what rooting passion does to people. Top columnists for the most important newspaper in the country should not be so excused, however. And the fact that Macur’s column even saw the light of day makes one wonder if anyone over there is minding the store.

A couple of weeks in and, lo and behold, the games are shorter

Adjusting gloves
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Bob Nightengale and some folks at USA Today have broken it all down in the early going and find that the pace-of-play rules seem to be working:

We’re seeing quicker games. At a snappy pace. Games have been shortened by eight minutes from a year ago, according to USA TODAY Sports’ research, reducing the average time of a nine-inning game to 2 hours, 54 minutes.

This could be the first time since 2004 the average time of game won’t increase from the preceding season.

At least we assume that the reason for the shorter games are the pace-of-play rules working. It’s hard to make that judgment with 100% certainty given all of the factors comprising a baseball game. But Nightengale talks to some players who provide anecdotal evidence that the rules are working. And it’d be silly to assume that they haven’t at least had some effect, if not more effect than any other single factor.

And they may have more effect in the future, Nightengale reminds us. So far, there have only been warning letters issued to lollygagging players. After May 1, fines will start being leveled.