Bartolo Colon’s “secret family” and the business of hero creation

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There’s a story in the New York Post today about Bartolo Colon. It’s not about his pitching or his hitting, however, it’s about a lawsuit filed against him for back child support for two children he apparently fathered out of wedlock. The details are private and the case is sealed. It’s only come to light because, for a time, Colon was acting as his own lawyer and was listed as “attorney of record,” so the Post found out about it, likely via some periodic search of court records for famous people I presume the tabloids do as a matter of course. The fact of Colon acting as his own attorney is probably worthy of  its own post at a later time — my God, that would be amazing to see — but let’s let that go for now.

The details of the case are not our business. If it were, family courts wouldn’t seal the files. The most we can say is that, if there is truth to allegation that Colon hasn’t paid his proper child support, it’s unfortunate and I hope that the court rectifies it. There are few things worse than a deadbeat dad. Beyond that generalized observation which may or may not apply to Colon, though, it’s a matter for the courts, Colon, his children, their mother and Colon’s wife and family. His wife, by the way, commented enough to say she was aware of it all but that beyond that it’s a private matter. And so it is.

Private matter or not, I get that such stories have sizzle. I get why the New York Post publishes such things. They gotta eat too. It appears to be a factual account. It involves a person in the public eye. It’s pretty standard tabloid fodder. But I am struck by the form the story takes. The form flows from this:

The revelation that Colon has a secret family is at odds with his on-field image as a lovable pitcher and the team’s heart and soul.

Affable hero Bartolo Colon caught up in “secret family” drama, undermining his public image! I read that and I wonder, again, for maybe the millionth time, why we do this. Why we are seemingly incapable of enjoying an athlete’s on-the-field exploits without assuming it says anything about his character. Why we assume that on-field image and off-field image are in any way related given that “playing professional sports” and “living real life” are totally different things.

Bad people can be entertaining athletes and artists. Good people can be bad performers. What one does at work and in private are different. Bartolo Colon hit a homer a couple of weeks ago. It was fun. He’s a big guy still playing at a high level at an advanced age and that incongruity is amusing and, in a certain light, inspiring. But it does not necessarily say a thing about who he is as a man. If he has been a deadbeat dad, the homer doesn’t make it better and some of us may view him more poorly as a result. At the same time, no matter what has gone on in his private life, Colon the ballplayer is not diminished, at least objectively speaking. We can choose to enjoy him less and, at some point, an off-the-field act can completely and necessarily obscure the image of a player. Serious crimes and violence, for example. But for the most part, athletic feats and personal conduct are distinct phenomena and we should neither elevate nor judge these people by using one as a defense or cudgel against the other.

If you feel otherwise — if you feel betrayed when a good athlete turns out to be a bad human or if you excuse bad behavior because of good athletic performance — you’ve made the choice to do that. You’ve bought in to the culture of hero creation and destruction the Post and other parts of the sporting press have lived off of for so long. You have decided to treat athletes differently than you’d treat anyone else, simply because they’re athletes. On some level, we’re all humans and we’re all going to have opinions and judgments about people, but they should be fair judgments, based on facts, not on assumptions that the famous must be considered differently.

You should stop doing that. We all should.

Don’t let Rob Manfred pass the buck

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Yesterday morning, in Ken Rosenthal’s article, Rob Manfred made it pretty clear what his aim is at the moment: throw blame on the union for the sign stealing scandal getting to the place it is. It was clear in both his words and Rosenthal’s words, actually:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Then, in his press conference yesterday, he went farther, saying that the union refused to allow a situation in which punishment might happen, going so far as to claim that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity.

The union, both in its official statement last night and in Tony Clark’s words to Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser earlier this afternoon, is basically saying Manfred is full of it:

“We were approached with respect to their intentions to not discipline players. Our legal role and responsibility is inherent in accepting that consideration, which is what we did.”

Which is to say, it was Rob Manfred, and not the union, which started from the presumption that there was immunity for Astros players. Manfred is the one who settled on that at the outset, and he’s now trying to make it look like the union was the side that insisted on it so that people who are mad will get mad at Tony Clark for defending the indefensible as opposed to getting mad at him for creating a situation in which there was no legal way to punish Astros players.

And, as we have noted many times already, he did create that situation.

It’s undisputed that Manfred never attempted to make rules or set forth discipline for players stealing signs. Indeed, he did the opposite of that, saying over two years ago that GMs and managers, not players, would be held responsible. If he wanted to discipline players now, he’d have a big problem because he specifically excluded them from discipline then. I’d argue it was a mistake for him to do that — he should’ve said, three years ago, that everyone’s butt would be on the line if the cheating continued — but he didn’t.

Some people I’ve spoken to are taking the position that the union is still to blame here. I’m sort of at a loss as to how that could be.

It is the union’s job to protect its members from arbitrary punishment by management. It is not the union’s job to say “hey, I know our workers were off the hook here based on the specific thing you said, but maybe we should give them some retroactive punishment anyway?” If someone in charge of a union proposed that, they’d be in dereliction of their duties and could be fired and/or sued. Probably should be, actually. A lot of people might be mad about that, and I know fully well that unions aren’t popular. But then again, neither are criminal defense attorneys, and they don’t go up to prosecutors and say “well, there isn’t a law against what my client did — in fact, the governor issued an order a couple of years ago saying that what he did wasn’t prohibited — but we’re all kind of mad about it, so why don’t we work together to find a way to put him in jail, eh?” It’d be insane.

That doesn’t make anyone feel better now. The players are certainly mad, with new ones every day finding a camera to yell at over all of this. I get it. What has happened is upsetting. It’s a situation in which some members of the union are at odds with other members. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.

They should take that anger, however, and channel it into telling their leader, Tony Clark, that they don’t want this to happen again. That, to the extent Rob Manfred now, belatedly, proposes new rules and new punishments for sign-stealing or other things, he should get on board with that. They should also — after the yelling dies down — maybe think a little bit about how, if the facts were slightly different here, they would never argue that Rob Manfred should have the power to impose retroactive or other non-previously-negotiated punishment on players.

Either way, neither they nor any of the rest of us should take Manfred’s bait and try to claim that what’s happening now is the union’s fault. If, for no other reason, than because he doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this whole scandal. Remember, he’s the guy who issued a report saying that, except for Alex Cora, it was only players involved despite knowing at the time he said it that the front office had hatched the scheme in the first place. Which, by the way, similarly sought to make the players out to be the only ones to blame while protecting people on management’s side. He’s not someone who can be trusted in any of this, frankly.

At the end of the day, this was a scheme perpetrated by both front office and uniformed personnel of the Houston Astros. To the extent nothing more can be done about that than already has been done, blame it on Rob Manfred’s failure of leadership. Not on the MLB Players Association.