Outraged at A-Rod? Take a look in the mirror, friend

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Every time something like the A-Rod mess goes down there is a parade of outrage. From fans, from columnists, from talk radio hosts. You know what I’m talking about. Here’s a great, nearly-incoherent example from Scott Miller of CBS Sports.com. You’re going to have to bring your A-game if you want to out-outrage Miller. He calls A-Rod sub-human. For starters. Unless he’s merely putting on faux outrage for the page views, Miller is truly upset here and that anger is coming from someplace deep down inside. For what it’s worth, he has never struck me as someone who fakes things for page views.

I used to sit back for hours and mock this kind of sentiment but I’m not all that inclined to do that as much as I used to. Instead I’m more interested in trying to understand it. Because really, I have a tremendously difficult time understanding where such ire and vitriol at some nearly total stranger of an athlete comes from.

Here’s where I am right now: It’s not a matter of new school vs. old school. It’s not a matter of smart vs. not-so-smart. It’s simply a matter of there being two kinds of sports fans: those who hold players to a higher moral standard than people in general, and those who don’t. That’s it.

If you think of ballplayers as heroes or examples or believe that they are somehow obligated to be better than every other schlub on the planet — or if you were taught to think that as a child and still hold on to some of that whether you realize it or not — you’re outraged. If, on the other hand, you didn’t — if you saw them from even the youngest age as just people who are good at something weird and interesting and immensely entertaining — you can’t be outraged. Outrage makes no sense.

I certainly fall in that latter camp. I liked sports just as much as the next kid growing up and certainly love baseball now, but never in my life did I think of athletes as heroes or role models. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t handed baseball by my father or some other person I did look up to. It was introduced to me in a couple of places and I grabbed hold, but sports were not and are not any part of the lingua franca of my relationship with my parents or elders. At least not in such a way where anyone whose opinion I valued ever said to me, in effect, “look at that star athlete, my what a fine example he is.” In turn, to the extent my kids have gotten into sports I’ve never said such things to them, either literally or implicitly via the way I talk about or interact with athletes.

I realize I may be in the minority in this respect. Very recently I had a fairly spirited dispute with another baseball writer about these issues and — after we threw barbs at each other for a bit — we dug into the matter more. It seems he comes at things from a slightly different place. He has children who are really getting into baseball now. They have thrown themselves into it with abandon, to the point where they do get legitimately upset  when things go bad for players they like and uplifted when things go well. It’s probably a fantastic ride for them and I would guess that my counterpart’s bonding over sports with his children is on a totally different level than mine is. But, at the same time, it does require some veneration of the athlete to make it work, doesn’t it? And, in turn, if the athlete does not live up to the ideal, it almost necessitates some negative emotional response. The sort of which we see in these outraged sentiments from fans, the media, whoever. I’ve seen if from my counterpart recently, and it almost certainly has to come from some sense that these ballplayers are disappointing him or his children or both.

For my part, I can’t muster any of that. I don’t think A-Rod is subhuman simply because he lied and cheated. Indeed, that makes me think of him as quite human indeed, as human beings tend to act like that an awful lot. He’s only subhuman if you thought of him as something greater before.  Likewise, I can’t muster what is, in effect, “think of the children” rhetoric because neither me as a child nor my children now see these athletes as anyone special that need give us special consideration.  We love what they do when they are performing, but we don’t think of them as anyone who owes us special moral or ethical duties. That’s what parents and teachers and honest-to-goodness role models are for. Athletes are no different than actors or astronauts in this regard. People who do amazing things but whom we shouldn’t expect to be better people merely because of their station.

Does that mean that I don’t have opinions when an athlete falls short of some ideal? Of course not. It’s simply a matter of proportion. I can say, quite comfortably, when one of them does something bad that they have behaved poorly. Lied. Cheated. Broken the law. What have you. But I’m no more likely to get sent into an emotional tizzy over it than I am if I learned that some actor got busted for drugs or some singer slept around. I don’t approve, but I also let it go pretty quickly. I have my own moral and ethical life to worry about and that’s hard enough. Please just act/sing/play for my enjoyment, entertainer. I may critique your performance if you do it poorly, but the act is all I require of you personally. It’s different if one’s directly affected by the poor behavior in question — other players and teammates have a right to be truly angry if their personal trust or their livelihood was jeopardized by the A-Rods of the world — but I’ve not been harmed by them unless I let them harm me by giving them too much trust to begin with.

You may say that this is a sad viewpoint. That I’m a cynic. Some sort of disappointed, disaffected or jilted former idealist. I assure you I’m not. The thought of treating athletes as special people worthy and deserving of my trust and thus capable of breaking it has simply never been part of my life and never will be. Others, like Scott Miller and my correspondent of a couple of days ago come at it differently. Good for them, good for me.

With this framework in mind you can probably divide up all of the people who offer opinions on this stuff into those two camps pretty easily, actually. I can’t think of any other differences in understanding that better account for it.

And That Happened . . . Classic!

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Due to the All-Star break, we now bring you a special “Classic” version of “And That Happened.” The following originally ran in the HardballTalk Tribune, the former print edition of this publication, on July 17 1949. Here are the scores. Here are the highlights: 

Reds 7, Dodgers 6: I haven’t seen Reds rally like this since Mao kicked Chiang Kai-shek’s butt over to Formosa! Brooklyn built a 4-1 lead after seven innings, but then Preacher Roe began to falter and Cincinnati clawed back. After a run on a fielder’s choice, Virgil Stallcup knocked in two with a single in the eighth to things at four. They’d trade runs and it was tied at five after nine, but Walker Cooper’s two-run homer in the top of the 10th gave the game to the visitors. This is a terrible Cincinnati team overall — you’re more likely to get a hit from a Red on the Hollywood 10 list than from one who plays in Crosley Field — but they really put it together yesterday afternoon.

Braves 9, Cubs 1: Pete Reiser tripled and knocked in three. I was thinking of ole Pistol Pete just four days ago when the owners got together and agreed to build warning paths before each fence in the outfield. Nice move, but it’s a few years too late for Pete, even if he’s still grinding it out. Meanwhile, Johnny Sain went the distance, allowing one run on six hits. Spahn won the day before. Consulting the forecast for the doubleheader in Cincinnati tomorrow now and . . . ugh, it looks sunny. I like the Reds’ chances. 

Indians 7, Athletics 3: Jim Hegan hit a three-run home run to lead the Tribe’s offense, but I’m more taken with what happened with their pitching. Steve Gromek got the “start” for the Indians, but he’s more often used as a relief pitcher. He pitched only an inning and a third, after which three other relievers — Mike Garcia, Gene Bearden and Satchel Paige — finished out the game. Seems like a kinda loopy thing to do, but it worked. I wonder if manager Lou Boudreau is trying out some sort of new strategy in which he just uses bullpen arms every few games for some reason? I’ll call it “Boudreu-ing.” I’m sure it won’t catch on.

White Sox 5, Senators 1: Cass Michaels hit a two-run double and a two-run single and Chisox starter Bob Kuzava allowed only an unearned run in a complete game. You won’t see a performance from Senators this bad until the real ones get together to ratify that “NATO” treaty next week. Don’t do it, fellas! Sure, NATO is great in theory — I’m all for stopping those Russkies before they can even get going — but this joint-defense thingamajig is TOTALLY dependent upon everyone agreeing its good and showing confidence in it! If even one country — one backwards banana republic that elects some tinpot wannabe dictator somehow — starts to undermine it, the thing will unravel and Russia’s power will grow immensely! This report hopes to God it doesn’t happen in his lifetime, but what about down the line? Hopefully the US of A will keep all of these other shaky members in line and backing their commitments.

Red Sox 11, Tigers 1: The Bosox beat the tar out of Virgil Trucks and Marv Grissom, with Williams, Doerr, Zarilla and Tebbetts each hitting homers and driving in multiple runs. The Tigers — as close to two games back of the Yankees in the American league a couple of times this year — need to get their pitching on track or else they’re gonna plummet faster than James Forrestal did in Bethesda.

Too soon?

Phillies 4, Cardinals 2: Willie Jones homered and singled in a run and the Phillies scored two more on an error and a wild pitch. Guess the catcher was more crossed-up by Harry Brecheen’s screwball than the Phillies were. Despite the win, the Phillies are struggling lately and remain 6.5 back in the National League. A month ago they were only two games out. That injury to first baseman Eddie Waitkus (15-day DL, shot in the goddamn chest by obsessed fan Ruth Steinhagen) is really starting to affect them.

Browns 4, Yankees 2: 3,481 fans showed up for this one, which isn’t bad for a Browns game! They only played six innings here because of bad weather. It may have been the greatest game so far this season for the 25-55 Browns. As for the Yankees, yes, they’ve been doing OK, but rookie manager Casey Stengel is no Joe McCarthy, and I’d wager that last year’s third place finish is a more likely result this year than them staying in first place. The Red Sox are too strong and I think Boston will take the pennant. To be honest, those two clubs should investigate a big trade — Williams for DiMaggio — that helps unload each team’s biggest problem on the other. Do it Yawkey and MacPhail! 

Pirates 9, Giants 0; Pirates 7, Giants 6: From 30 feet away the Giants look like they have an OK lineup. From 10 feet away it looks like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away. At least that’s how it was in Game 1 of this twin bill when Bob Chenes shut ’em out. Wally Westlake — who hit two longballs — and the rest of the Pirates lineup beat Giants starter Clint Hartung’s teeth out and then kicked him in the stomach for mumbling. Game two was a closer affair. The Giants still couldn’t find a way to win but when you play extra innings you lose more slowly. The Giants were in first place for a time this year, but not anymore. Now they’re in the deep water. It’s dark and unclear and the taste of the salt is in their mouths. By the time the second game of the twin bill was over it was getting dark on the streets of the big city, with the rain-clouded lights of the stores soaked up by the black street.