Monthly Archive for March, 2009

Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero? (Part II)

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” – The Witches of Macbeth

This started as an essay called Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero. I had noble intensions for it; I was going to compare A-Rod to Macbeth. I would have matched A-Rod’s time in Seattle to Macbeth’s glory as a military hero. I would have talked about how Scott Boras was his Lady Macbeth, encouraging him to take the money from Texas (or slay King Duncan). I would have argued that once A-Rod did go to Texas, his insecurities about the circumstance led him to steroids, and eventually the living hell that is New York and its media. Kind of like Macbeth’s raging paranoia on the throne. I didn’t have a match for the fortune telling witches, but otherwise the whole thing was going to be beautiful. Then I remembered this was a blog, not a high school essay.

(If it were a high school essay, the thesis would read something like this: So and So defines the tragic hero as a sympathetic protagonist who is undone by his own flaws or mistakes. Baseball player Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod), is a tragic hero because a blind, overwhelming desire to be loved by everybody has caused him to make some significant mistakes and hurt his reputation. The main example of this is his use of steroids.)

So I’ll just pose this as a question: Is Alex Rodriguez a tragic hero, well-intended at first but undone by one catastrophic flaw? Maybe. He’s certainly a wounded hero, hardly the knight in shining polyester who sat above even the great Jeter and Garciaparra on the triumvirate of convention-shattering shortstops in the 90s.

Where he’s gained status as an all-time great hitter, he seems to have lost it as a champion of the sport. First, he took the money with Texas. Then he got himself shipped to New York and did the honorable thing for his pal Jeter by shifting over to third base. The rest I don’t need to get into –the regular season dominance and postseason struggles are fresh in all our minds. The clubhouse dramas and marriage problems, and now the steroids are fresh too.

But what’s guided all this behavior? I think back about the excerpt I started with in the last post, from the poet Cody Walker:

When I was younger I wanted to be a baseball player. But I can’t remember whether I loved baseball, or whether I just wanted everyone to love me. A confession, then: I still want everyone to love me—blindly, entirely, without sense or reason.

Which motivates Alex Rodriguez? His love for baseball, or his desire to be loved? The answer is probably a lot more complicated than either choice. Money fits in there somewhere too, and a whole litany of subtle factors I probably couldn’t understand. But more than greed or competitive lust for victory, it feels to me that Rodriguez has been guided by an unquenchable desire to be loved, praised, adored.

If his tragic flaw (or at least self-damaging one) really is an addiction to Praise, Adulation, and Worship, then maybe it all makes sense. Maybe his crucial error was somehow letting his own sense of humanity get intertwined to unrealistic notions of heroism. Maybe it was the high off all that admiration that so skewed his understanding of consequence. Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Will heroism itself be the undoing of Alex Rodriguez?

Part III coming when it comes…

Poem Of The Week: Invisibility

A nice little poem by Renato Rosaldo that hits on the ordinary/legendary theme I’ve been hitting on with this A-Rod stuff lately:

We celebrate their days,
eat hot dogs, love baseball,
but they say we were born to weed,
change diapers, carry crates in the grey of dawn
while they sleep. Awake, they look at us without seeing.

We see ourselves clearly, know ourselves
precisely, without parades and picnics.
To survive, we must.

I’m one of the invisible living among the notable.
Day after day I hear doors shut,
stumble over slurs, and bump into the man
who nods yes, yes, but isn’t listening.

Alex Rodriguez: Tragic Hero? (Part I)

When I was younger I wanted to be a baseball player. But I can’t remember whether I loved baseball, or whether I just wanted everyone to love me. A confession, then: I still want everyone to love me—blindly, entirely, without sense or reason.

-Cody Walker

Most of the people I love and respect say they are happy to live out their lives in anonymity. To make some money, have a family or not have a family, pursue their interests, and not be bothered with history or legacy. I love and respect them. I love and respect that about them. But here’s a confession: I’m not like that. I understand that the best I can probably expect is to be remembered for a few generations by my family as something more than a mere historical fact. Many of my ancestors haven’t even gotten that much. But I can’t help wanting more.

Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I have this certain pressing interest in legacy. I wouldn’t call it an obsession; I certainly wouldn’t call it a blind desire to be loved or adored. It’s just a nagging desire to be respected. I want to affect the way somebody reads the world, and I want them to appreciate me for it. I want to write something so good that it makes other writers think for a passing minute about just giving up, the way I have a thousand times. And when I’m dead, I want those slight changes in perceptions I caused, the moments of doubt and inspiration I stirred, to bond as some sort of collective body – a legacy.

I realize the sentiment is totally narcissistic and hollow. I know that ‘success’ as a writer or anything else won’t be the panacea that answers for all my existential insecurities. Plus, the logic is terrible. When I’m dead, I won’t know whether or not somebody is reading me, loving me, hating me. And if dead Eric Nusbaum were able to tell, I doubt he would care much.

So I deal with it. I push my silly glorious fantasies off to the corner and shut them out and try to live in the moment and do the best I can. It’s not terribly hard. We all wrestle with our stupid demons.

I think as children we all want to be loved like that. We want to be astronauts because astronauts pilot space ships, but also because they sit shotgun in open convertibles and wave their way down parade routes. We want to be movie stars because movie stars get to see their faces on billboards and big screens. We want to be President and see our names alongside Washington’s, Lincoln’s, Kennedy’s. And we want to be baseball players. Not merely to hit home runs, but to circle the bases and look up at the lights and out at the crowd. We want to collect our own cards.

But most of us move on. Our interests change, our talents leave us in the wake of people who are soon to come up short themselves. And that’s how life goes for the 99.9% of which you and I are probably a part. We may or may not still want everyone to love us, but regardless we realize they probably won’t. The love of a few people is a lot better than none, and perhaps more meaningful than the love of everybody.

Except that’s only 99.9%. Somebody out there never has to give up on those dreams, never has to settle. It’s just math. Somebody has to walk on the moon, win an Oscar, deliver the State of the Union, greet his team in the dugout with hugs and high fives. What about that guy? Does he ever adjust like the rest of us? Does the adulation merely carry him, like a wave, to oblivious success? Or is it like a drug? Perhaps he comes to need glory and depend on it for nourishment. Perhaps he doesn’t just want to be loved – blindly, entirely, without sense or reason, but his very existence hinges on it.

And what if that guy played third base for the New York Yankees?

This will continue, in much less self-indulgent fashion, over the course of the week.

Weekend Reading: Gaping Sinkholes And El Duderino Edition

The horrifying near-death of a Portland Oregon area girl has resulted in perhaps the funniest baseball related headline I’ve ever read. The lead ain’t half bad either:

Ground Swallows Girl As She Plays Baseball

A 9-year-old girl playing baseball on city land Wednesday was suddenly swallowed by a sink hole and was rescued by the children playing with her.

The child’s grandmother said it’s a miracle her granddaughter is alive after she fell through the top of an old septic or cesspool system in a vacant lot owned by the city of Portland.No one knew it was there and the city filled the hole Thursday afternoon. City workers said the hole was anywhere from 16 to 20 feet deep.What seemed like a carefree game of baseball Wednesday turned scary for three children when Paje Wiklund, 9, disappeared under the ground as she was running to first base.

Meanwhile, ESPN The Mag has a nice profile on the gaping sinkhole that may or may not exist inside Manny Ramirez’s head. As usual, the story’s best insight comes from Russell Branyan:

When Manny talks to mere mortal hitters, his advice can be as frustrating as it is enlightening. “When I was playing with him in Cleveland,” says Branyan, “Manny was trying to help me, and he asked, ‘Why do you swing at inside fastballs when you can’t hit them?’ I’m thinking, Because I’m geared up, and by the time I realize it’s an inside fastball, it’s too late to stop. And Manny would say, like it was easy, ‘I don’t swing at that pitch unless I’ve got two strikes. And then I just try to foul it off.’ So, basically, he’s playing a different game.”

One time, Ramirez laid it all out for Branyan, gave him the whole hitting equation. “He told me that he put 70 percent of his weight on his back foot and 40 percent of his weight on his front foot. And even though I knew the numbers didn’t add up, I thought for a second, I’ve got to try that.”

And most importantly, Josh Wilker at Cardboard Gods shines a light on the internet’s newest sensation: Big Lebowski Baseball Cards:

I may well have this wrong, but I believe the project got its start at Achiever Card Blog and Cheese and Beer and then got a boost from the photoshop master at Punk Rock Paint along with other contributions from Tastes Like Dirt and White Sox Cards.

Anyway, if anybody sees an Arthur Digby Sellers card sitting around, please let me know. I’m in the market.

Do It For Kent Hrbek

First, an opportunity to exercise your democratic power as citizens of the internet:

Paul Shirley, modern basketball’s somewhat less entertaining version of Jim Bouton  has a post up at ESPN asking for votes on which band’s album he should review. I have absolutely no interest in reading a Paul Shirley music review, and his list has more than one band I like, but for the sake of P&P solidarity, I beseech you to go vote for  The Hold Steady. First off, they are inaugural members of the Baseball Mixtape (click the discrete player in the bottom left corner of your screen). Second, they are really good. Third, how I was introduced to them: My friend Yo Alex brought me to a free outdoor concert at which singer Craig Finn emerged for the encore stumbling drunk and wearing a Minnesota Twins jersey. He told an incoherent story about going fishing with his all time favorite player, Kent Hrbek, then explained that the jersey he was wearing was a game-worn Hrbek original. Then he drank some more, I think. Anyway, make sure you go vote.

Second, a baseball-math comic for your viewing pleasure:

(Thank you Toothpaste For Dinner)

Rejection Notice: Strunk and White Edition

Arrived in my inbox this afternoon, courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers:

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in the Broadcast Assistant position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although your resume’ [stray apostrophe], educational and work experience was quite impressive [this whole clause is severely wounded … gushing blood], we selected a candidate whose background more closely matched the Department’s needs. We will however, retain your resume [stray apostrophe] on file should a future need arise where we may utilize your expertise.

You may want to occasionally peruse our website at www. [random space in url] for available employment opportunities, [unnecessary coma] and apply again at that time.

On behalf of the Los Angeles Dodgers we wish you success with [should be in] your career pursuits.

Style and grammar errors are marked for your convenience.  At least when I applied to be a receptionist for the Yankees they had the courtesy not to get back to me.

Mixtape Update: Dropkick Murphys- Tessie

I resisted putting this song on there because somehow it has come to represent everything obnoxious about the Red Sox. But there’s nothing I can do to avoid the fact that like some women from Boston, it was easily available for free download. So Tessie, welcome to the Mixtape. Make sure you check out the Mixtape page, the sidebar, or the stealthy music player in the bottom left hand corner of your screen.

Barry Bonds: Guilty Or Guilty?

Dayn Perry had an excellent post this morning, “The Case Against the Case Against Barry Bonds.” In terms easy for a legal novice like me to understand, he explains the main elements of the federal case and simultaneously cuts it to shreds. He also seamlessly uses the phrase “many-tentacled:”

Barry Bonds’ terminally looming jury trial has been postponed, perhaps until the fall. At some point, though, he’ll probably be dragged in front of his peers on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. All of it, of course, traces back to the many-tentacled BALCO scandal, which has been too much with us for the better part of a decade. But it’s going to end soon, and this will almost certainly be the closing scene: Bonds’ walking out of the federal courthouse in San Francisco a free man.

Maybe I found the post so informative because I haven’t followed the Bonds case much. I’ve been burnt out on steroid and PED stories, and anyway the jury in my head convicted Barry Bonds about five years ago. Perry’s post leaves me asking an important question. Who cares? Aside from the purely legal aspect (Bonds probably broke the law), I don’t see how the outcome of this trial does anything to significantly affect his legacy. He’s guilty in the public conscience, and it will take a hell of a lot more than some court decision for him to regain his footing. It will take a lot of humility, some profuse apologies, and maybe a little bit of groveling. None of those are going to happen here.

The example I can’t help but turn to (noting the difference between killing someone and cheating a little) is OJ Simpson. Most people think OJ did it. Obviously that brings up a lot of racial implications i, but Bonds can easily be substituted for Roger Clemens or Rafael Pameiro who their own legal swamps, and the question doesn’t change. A major sports star betrays the public’s trust, refuses to own up, and devolves into some kind of sad parody of his former existence.

How long before Barry Bonds coauthors If I Juiced: The Mystery Novel? How long before Bobby Estalella, the career .216 hitter who owned up to his own steroid use, is held as a model of dignity beside his former teammate?

Poem of the Week: ‘Slug the Umpire’

This week’s poem is an anonymous piece published by the Chicago Tribune in 1886. Back in those days, it was common for newspapers to include baseball poetry. In fact, the one baseball poem you’ve heard of, Casey At The Bat, came to existence that way. It was written by a sportswriter, Ernest Thayer, and my best guess is that Slug The Umpire was as well. Either way, it’s a fun read, and brought to you compliments of Jim Bouton who piqued my interest by quoting a couple lines in his review of that Bruce Weber umpire book I made fun of last week.

Mother, may I slug the umpire
May I slug him right away?
So he cannot be here, Mother
When the clubs begin to play?

Let me clasp his throat, dear mother,
In a dear delightful grip
With one hand and with the other
Bat him several in the lip.

Let me climb his frame, dear mother,
While the happy people shout;
I’ll not kill him, dearest mother
I will only knock him out.

Let me mop the ground up, Mother,
With his person, dearest do;
If the ground can stand it, Mother
I don’t see why you can’t, too.

Mother may I slug the umpire,
Slug him right between the eyes?
If you let me do it, Mother
You shall have the champion prize.

Clubhouse Humor

On Saturday I went to a panel discussion on the ‘comic imagination.’ It was pretty funny. Joining me in the audience was a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer who covered baseball in the 1980s for the NY Times. In a discussion of context, he mentioned that in clubhouses, you can pretty much say anything to anybody. In sports (incoming pun intended), nothing is out of bounds.

To back up his point he shared this anecdote, a batting practice exchange between former Pittsburgh teammates Bill Madlock and Lee Mazzilli as they prepared to face off in a Spring Training game. Madlock was with the Dodgers and Mazzilli with the Mets:

Madlock: So Lee, I’m new here and you know this town. You have a girl lined up for me tonight right?

Mazzilli: I’m not a miracle worker, Bill

Madlock: Aww come on, You’ve got to know somebody.

Mazzilli: Well, there’s always my wife I guess.

Madlock: Nah no thanks, I had your wife last spring, looking for something new.

It’s worth noting, I think, that Lee Mazzilli and his wife Dani, appear to have a wonderful marriage and family