Hypocrisy is a fashionable vice, and all fashionable vices pass for virtue.—Moliere
I am the proud owner of a blue iPod mini that I received as a Christmas present in 2004. Now every time I use it, I feel like Josh Baskin toiling away on his turn-of-the-century Macintosh. The reason for this being that I’m reluctant to invest in a new iPod until I know for sure that an even better one won’t hit the shelves 40 minutes later.
Similarly, I’ve been biting my tongue on the almost comical sequence of Yankees plights because I know it’s only a matter of time before a new chapter is added to the ever-growing anthology of controversy.
Seeing as in the last month, the Yankees have been seated in steroid use, an unflattering tell-all from their ex-skipper, and financial scam victimization, I’m feeling confident that there are not a lot of available scandals left that can plague them.
This means I can take advantage of this media respite to express my disapprobation at the Holy Grail of baseball stories.
(Actually, I was just waiting for A-Rod to get to the second half of his sentence before I started writing.)
Although some have lambasted A-Rod’s inexplicable self-imposed insistence on digging the biggest hole in the history of life, I for one was grateful for his unerring aversion to lucid articulation.
When A-Rod’s pregnant pause turned out to be of the Nadya Suleman persuasion, I was appreciably thankful for the bought time. The 791 minutes (or ~37 seconds) in between addressing his teammates and thanking them afforded me the opportunity to do my taxes, catch up on some correspondence, and establish democracy in a third world country.
Not to mention that A-Rod’s second foray into the art of making absolutely no sense at all, ensured at least another four days of media frenzy, which meant that my first chance to weigh in on the story isn’t falling squarely in the “old news” depot. So again, thanks, Alex.
I’ve spent the last two weeks combating the rampant Facebook frenzy documenting the polarizing nature of the story. Maybe polarizing isn’t the best word, actually, since that would suggest there’s more than three people on my humble pole-abode.
As one buddy pointed out in an email, “You certainly didn’t choose the easy route when you elected to become an online superhero defending all things pinstripe. You should at least get free fountain drinks for all the hard work.”
The chief problem with spearheading the Crusade Against Haters is that my client is guilty. A-Rod did indeed admit to using steroids, so to speak. (Perhaps the most beautifully candid line in this whole sordid ordeal is Cashman’s hilarious, “I don’t think that Alex is very good at communicating, to be honest.” In the docket of historic understatements, file that one alongside the penetrating questioning from the reporter at the 1956 World Series, “Mr. Larsen, was that the best game you ever pitched?”)
But despite the damning evidence, I’m finding the entire treatment of “A-Roid” ludicrously unsavory. And unjustly divisive. Evidently, you’re either with him or against him, and that amounts to being either for steroids or against them. And even more over reactionary, that means you’re either righteously upstanding or morally despicable.
It’s amazing how swiftly I’m dismissed when I purport the unfairness of it all.
“He brought it all on himself,” I was told last night. “The media isn’t killing him. He did it himself.” I thought about this. My buddy’s right. The news isn’t reporting anything that isn’t true, more or less. But then I thought about something else.
This past election has demonstrated many things about this country, not least of which is that the power of journalism is otherworldly and more profoundly powerful than we had ever thought. When America became outrageously obsessive about two men, when we spat vitriol at each other while debating the merits of each candidate, what did we use as our supporting points?
The simple fact is that everything we knew about O and Mac, was what was presented to us in the media. Unless you’re Cindy or Michelle, you know nothing more than what you’ve read online. And this makes the media so dangerously influential that it’s ignorant to dismiss its role in shaping our perceptions of people we know nothing about.
How can this be fair?
The inception of the whole brutal scandal is firmly entrenched in unfairness. He took an anonymous test, was contractually guaranteed confidentiality. He felt safe in this arrangement, especially since steroids at the time weren’t a punishable offense in Major League Baseball.
Then his, and only his, name was leaked allegedly by four sources that have not been made public. Does it bother anyone else that the results of an anonymous test from six years ago can be illegally obtained and fed to the media like Mason Verger was fed to the hogs, but yet the names of those who got the proverbial ball rolling are more mysteriously obscured than Deep Throat? Not to mention the 103 other ‘guilty’ players on the list who I have to assume are sweating like dyslexics who’d like to solve the puzzle, Pat.
So for the world to get up in arms upon hearing it called ‘unfair’ is–quite frankly–inane.
What’s worse, it’s flagrantly hypocritical and insidiously unnerving.
The same public that’s gasping in horror and indignant with disappointment, the same public that’s weeping with no tears over the apparent demise of the game…is the same society that celebrated baseball’s resurrection in the late '90s.
It’s the same fan base that indulged in the excitement and basked in the glare when the sport rose up like a phoenix at the hands of McGwire and Sosa. The same moralists who ignored what we all knew in our heart of hearts what was behind the great HR race in 1998.
Steroids, for all intents and purposes, didn’t just fortify the juicers’ stats. It fortified our emotional investment in the sport. Does that make its criminal implications justifiable? No. But it makes it unassailably pharisaical for us to sharply condemn the same behavior now. It’s like that scene in Encino Man, when Sean Astin tries to get rid of the caveman and Pauly Shore launches into the high point of his career. By keeping it real:
“You’re the one who weazed off his gig the whole time…cuz you thought maybe he’d get you somewhere. Now the guy gets a little crusty and you’re gonna bag him.”
So, you know. There’s that. Think about it.
“It’s just that A-Rod was supposed to be the one who was above it,” my buddy argued last night. ”We all wanted him to be the guy who broke the home run record cleanly.”
And in the docket of historic cock-and-bull stories, that line was filed right next to the same buddy’s assertion that he’d “rather go 18-1 and lose the Super Bowl than 14-6 and win.”
You gotta be freaking kidding me. A bleeding heart Red Sox fan like this guy doesn’t want A-Rod breaking the HR record any more than he wants to see Manny in pinstripes.
And something tells me this isn’t an attitude monopolized solely by Boston freaks. The highest paid player in baseball who plays for the most hated team in the league. Yeah, I know, everyone was really pulling for him. Much in the same way I’m enthusiastically rallying behind mercury poisoning.
As far as the consensus goes, this couldn’t have happened to a better athlete. How hard had it been for the vast majority to ever concede A-Rod’s irrefutable talent? No one liked giving props to the guy who not only had his obscene salary working against him, but worse, his uniform.
That quandary has since evaporated, leaving everyone with the liberating freedom to bash the man whose MLB franchise cap was always in the shadow of Damocles’ sword.
More than ever, the past few weeks have demonstrated the inconsistency hallmarking the so-called value sets that the public has shielded itself with. A-Rod’s admission of guilt and apology was, in essence, the most perfectly crafted move. He confessed. He apologized. And he did so early in the game.
And before the crazed critics unleash their fury, consider a month ago when our beloved Commander-in-Chief made a regrettable first round draft pick for the Treaurer spot.
The guy slated to manage the nation’s bank is revealed to be your garden variety tax evader. Obama took swift accountability: “I screwed up.” At most, I rolled my eyes at the whole thing. But the public response to this was sheer absurdity.
“What a breath of fresh air. Thank you President Obama for admitting your mistakes and having the guts to admit it on national TV. In my books, you are off to a good start!”
I’ve gotten somewhat used to the chemical dependence on double standards, from the $170 million dropped on the Opening Day party to the minor peccadilloes in our Prez’s past and even current time, that would equate to an open season field day if they were done by anyone else. It’s standard operating procedure for America. But that doesn’t give us carte blanche to practice hypocrisy at every corner of rousing media hype.
If we’re ready to not only forgive Obama, but lionize his culpability, than we should disseminate the same forgiveness for someone with a less nationally consequential snafu.
But the fact is, it truly is immaterial what comes out of A-Rod’s mouth at this point.
The unwavering truth is that there is absolutely no combination of words he could string together that wouldn’t dig him into a deeper hole. Hell, Tony Robbins armed with a lantern and GPS system, couldn’t guide A-Rod outta this mess.
It’s particularly interesting to observe how harshly he’s being come down upon for each and every attempt to offer an explanation for why he took drugs. “I can’t believe he continues to blame it on the culture!” “Excuses, excuses! You broke the goddamn law, buddy! Shut the f up!”
But maybe we should consider the possibly that The Culture Defense isn’t some nebulous justification and deflection. Why? Because A-Rod is not the first, and won’t be the last, to paint the picture of the culture that facilitated steroid use.
From Mike Schmidt, HOFer:
“A term I think that has been overused a lot, and definitely by Alex, is ‘culture’ — culture of the era that you played in,” Schmidt said. “We had a culture when I played and a culture in the years when Babe Ruth played. In the ’60s, there was a culture. It’s that way in life. In hearing everybody, that was the culture of the mid-’90s and early 2000s and the temptation had to be tremendous for young men playing Major League Baseball back then. It’s part of the evolution of the sport of baseball. It’s unfortunate now.”
Exactly how many ballplayers are engendering this steroid zeitgeist…we can never be sure. But “defamation of the game” seems like a hefty charge to slap on A-Rod’s legacy considering the fact the Steroid Sensei himself has estimated 85 percent of the league to be juicing.
(Remember when that news first broke when “Juiced” hit the stands? Every sports fan was laughing so hard, we could have collectively drowned out the Daytona 500.)
And so our guffawing subsided when little by little, the former Bash Brother turned out to be, well, not wrong. (Nothing is quite so humbling as being in a position where this guy gets to say “I told you so.”)
Ken Caminiti. David Wells. Jose Canseco. All went on record estimating that at least half of the league uses steroids. Do I think it’s right to blame peer pressure? No. But I can understand what these athletes are getting at when they blame the times.
My dad, for example, is the picture of conservative Italian-Catholic: college accounting professor, barely drinks, perennially sporting a collared shirt–very reminiscent of the father in the Wonder Years. Then one day I’m looking for a chicken alarm clock in the basement and find a picture of him when he was 20–beads, flower patch on his bell bottoms, weird Jesus-like sandals.
That right there makes me more receptive to the Swept Up in The Culture defense. It happened to the greatest man in the world just as easily as it did the greatest ballplayers in the world.
After culture, A-Rod claimed the pressure to excel reared its ugly head. And once again, I don’t see why this remark is so detestable. Imagine you get recruited to be the Creative Director of your marketing agency, straight out of high school. You’re touted as this prodigy whiz kid. You’re also the most expensive employee on the payroll, and every single one of your older, experienced, less talented coworkers knows it.
And on the end of your first day on the job, after you’ve spent all afternoon under the scrutinizing glare of the envious cynics waiting for you to either fail or prove your worth, someone offers you something that will assuredly make you more creative, sharper, and more efficient. It’s undetectable, it’s nonpunishable. Maybe you take it, maybe you don’t. But try telling me that doesn’t make A-Rod’s seemingly flimsy excuses more comprehensible.
To be clear, I’m not advocating steroid abuse. What I AM taking issue with is the hypocritical attack on what I believe to be one of the greatest athletes ever. Was he only great because of the steroids? No. And everyone knows that. But everyone is also unduly thrilled to have this irrefutable confession on their side in their gleeful rejections of his talent.
A-Rod didn’t need drugs, but he did them anyway. Did Bill Belichick need to tape the Jets to beat them? No, but he did anyway. He lied about it, then got caught. And even though we all know sideline taping is going on in every NFL team, the Patriots were the ones branded with the scarlet C.
Was New England only good because they cheated? Of course not. But all the public needed was one cold, hard sin. Just one. And then we can ignore the nagging thought in our heads that maybe we hate the Pats because they’re good.
Spygate handed us our ace–it’s not that we’re bitter haters! It’s that they’re low-life cheaters! And as an added bonus, Spygate could be leveraged into a bigger shadow of doubt. Did the Pats ever really have a dynasty? Now we’ll never know, so throw some asterisks on those years, too.
It used to be that society sated its need for moral superiority by actively championing the underdog. But maybe that ideal has been replaced by demonizing juggernauts. It’s not enough for them to be taken down, they need to be stripped of their dignity and spirit.
We’ve come to embrace this belief that perfection is terrifying and that the sooner we can capitalize on its armor’s chinks, the better. But this mentality is derived from an empty tautology–the idea that if the greatest fall, then we somehow have something to gain.
The fact is, the failures and successes of someone else have absolutely zero effect on our own.
Which is why I don’t think A-Rod should be kept out of the Hall of Fame.
The opposition argues that A-Rod doesn’t deserve the honor of being celebrated alongside the likes of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. But baseball is a game of numbers, and it’s not graded on a curve. If A-Rod juiced every day from the second he hit puberty, if he hit 95 HRs in one season, and batted .469…does that have some kind of deflating effect on Ty Cobb’s BA?
The numbers punctuate the sport’s rich history. We can’t begin tempering these statistics with our own loose equations built on cultural impact. I think it was best said in Derek Zumsteg’s “The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball”:
“The argument about the integrity of records is overwrought. A record is only a story of what happened. A hitter on steroids hit those homeruns, just as a spitballer struck out those hitters and a bat corker got those extra hits. The statistics aren’t tainted; they just require us to remember their context, as has always been true. Every era’s statistics are skewed.”
Baseball during segregation. Oversized ballparks. Trick pitches. Would Lou Gehrig pile on the hitting stats like he had if he was facing today’s pitching aces? What about Gaylord Perry? Would he have even been a household name without his outlandishly illegal go-to pitch? Should he be booted from the Hall? Should Gehrig’s numbers be qualified with an asterisked footnote: “All white league”?
Bottom line: we only know of three years A-Rod juiced. Which means that the years he was presumably clean demonstrate that he was Hall of Fame caliber before he “cheated.” He belongs there. And furthermore, A-Rod’s still playing ball. If MLB doesn’t want to ban him from the sport, then Cooperstown shouldn’t ban him from the Hall.
(Speaking of, Pete Rose makes me sick.)
So, there it is. In the words of Will Ferrell post-debate in “Old School”: What happened? I think I blacked out.
Fifty more days til Opening Day in the Bronx and only 40 days til the first Yankee game (at Baltimore.) So enjoy the next month and a half, haters. You can use the Yanks’ electromagnetic attraction to controversy to stymie your own burgeoning insecurities. Marinate in another person’s mistake, and excoriate the “morally reprehensible” people who defend him.
Go ahead. It’ll be twice as vindicating when the Yankees are the 2009 Champions.