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.

Hall of Fame should do away with cap logos on plaques

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As mentioned earlier, Brandy Halladay, wife of the late pitcher Roy Halladay, says he will not wear a cap with the logo of either of the two teams he played for during his 16-year career. Instead, he will wear a generic baseball cap. Brandy said, “He was a Major League Baseball player and that’s how we want him to be remembered.”

In the time since this news was reported, Blue Jays and Phillies fans have been arguing with each other and the takes are flying. Take, for example, this article by Bob Ford on Philly.com. It’s titled, “Roy Halladay would have wanted his Hall of Fame plaque to have a Phillies hat.” In August 2016, Halladay was asked which team’s cap he would prefer to wear if he got into Cooperstown. Halladay said, “I’d go as a Blue Jay.” He continued, “I wanted to retire here, too, just because I felt like this is the bulk of my career.”

Brandy hasn’t said why her family has decided to have her late husband wear neither team’s logo on the cap in his plaque, but the territoriality displayed by each city’s fans might be part of the reasoning. Ultimately, I believe she made the right call and it shows why the Hall of Fame should do away with logos on plaques entirely.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 1936, a time when players spent an overwhelming majority of their careers — if not their entire careers — with one team. Take, for example, the class of five inducted in the Hall’s inaugural year: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, and Walter Johnson. Cobb played for the Tigers for 22 of his 24 seasons. Wagner spent 18 of his 21 seasons with the Pirates. Mathewson pitched for the Giants in 16 and a half of his 17 seasons. Johnson spent all 21 years with the Senators. Ruth was famously sold by the Red Sox to the Yankees and he still spent 15 of his 22 seasons in New York. There were rarely debates about which cap a Hall of Famer should wear in his plaque.

It is increasingly rare for a player nowadays to stick with one team for most or all of his career due to the advent of free agency and the frequency of trades. Hall of Fame candidate Curt Schilling, for example, pitched for five teams and the team he spent the most time with — the Phillies — is arguably No. 3 on the list of cap priorities behind the Red Sox and Diamondbacks. Fellow Hall candidate Manny Ramírez spent equal time with the Indians and Red Sox and also had three really good seasons with the Dodgers. Whenever a player who spent significant time with multiple teams is inducted into the Hall of Fame, the “which cap will he wear?” conversation comes up and inevitably pits fans of one team against the others. That’s not what the Hall of Fame should be about; it should be about celebrating the storied careers and the types of men these players are or were, no matter which team or how many teams he pitched for.

When you get to the core of it, the logo on the cap is just an advertisement, anyway. The Phillies and Blue Jays are businesses. Our human nature as fans — our territoriality, our loyalty, our sense of belonging — causes us to want to claim the superiority of one business and its associated laundry over another. Most of the time, this doesn’t seem out of place, but Halladay is a unique case as he made significant contributions to two franchises and was voted in posthumously, so he can’t speak for himself (he did in 2016, as mentioned). Brandy shouldn’t have to worry about upsetting one fan base or another picking a logo for her late husband, and she shouldn’t have to be second-guessed by fans who feel spurned. The Hall of Fame should follow Brandy’s lead and, going forward, induct all of its players without cap logos on their plaques.