A-Rod is the “face of baseball” among people who aren’t really baseball fans

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Jayson Stark wrote a column not long ago asking readers to tell him who they think the “Face of Baseball” is. Today he has results of it, and the winner — with a plurality of the votes — is Alex Rodriguez.  But there’s some interesting fine print to be read on that:

Only 17 percent of fans who lived within 20 miles of a major league stadium picked A-Rod as their Face, compared to 25 percent of those who lived more than 100 miles away … But when we split the survey group into self-described “avid” fans versus “casual” fans, we found that casual fans who lived more than 20 miles from a big league stadium were more than twice as likely (30 percent) to choose A-Rod as their Face than avid fans who lived within 20 miles (15 percent).

And the survey, Stark notes, took place just before A-Rod made his return and was in the news all the time due to the Biogenesis stuff.

I realize that it’s not terribly scientific, but all of this flows pretty nicely with my hypothesis from yesterday which holds that A-Rod is not bigger than the game. He’s a headline and a face among those who don’t follow the game too closely. He leads non-sports news stories for non-sports reasons, just as a lot of off-the-field garbage is likely to seep into mainstream news. Put him back on the field, though, and he is comparatively diminished. Put him in front of hardcore baseball fans and they are quite adept at putting him in the proper perspective.

A-Rod is only a monster when he has time and space to be made into one. And when he is presented to (or by) people who are more interested int he soap opera elements of it all than the baseball elements of it all.

Alex Bregman shows how easy it is to manufacture “controversy” in baseball

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In most sports it takes legitimate trash talk to create off-day “controversy.” In baseball, it takes the weakest sauce. We saw how weak that sauce was yesterday.

Alex Bregman and the Houston Astros are going to face off against Nate Eovaldi and the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS tonight. It’s worth noting that earlier this season, they hit back-to-back-to-back home runs off of Eovaldi when he was pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Yesterday, in an act which was likely somewhat inspired by self-motivation, somewhat inspired by getting in Eovaldi’s head and somewhat inspired by a simple interest in having fun, Bregman took the video of those back-to-back-to-back homers off of Eovaldi and posted it to his Instagram:

Of course, since this is baseball, where even farting off-key can be construed as “showing up” the opposition or somehow disrespecting the game, it became a thing. Or at least people tried to make it become a thing.

Indeed, it took them a bit to find someone who would help them make it a thing, because Eovaldi himself didn’t care about it a bit, nor did Astros manager A.J. Hinch or Red Sox manager Alex Cora. Eventually, however, they hit pay dirt. Here’s Sox infielder Steve Pearce talking to WEEI.com:

“Wow. I don’t know why he would do that. We do our talking on the field. If he wants to run his mouth now we’ll see who is talking at the end of the series.”

My guess is that almost no one on the planet, Steve Pearce included, would care about this in a vacuum or if they allowed themselves to think through it for more than a second. Baseball culture, though — and let’s be clear about it, baseball media culture — has conditioned most of its players and participants to think that stuff like this is supposed to be controversial, so it actually takes effort not to start dancing to this kind of tune on auto-pilot.

Kudos to Hinch, Cora and Eolvaldi for exerting that effort and not dancing to it. To the press that automatically sought out comment on this and Pearce who dutifully gave it: hey, I get it. It’s hard to resist one’s conditioning. Maybe you’ll be able to resist it next time.