Unforced Errors
Finally Done With A-Rod

(Photo by Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News)

In 2007, when 11-year-old me opened up an issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine, eagerly turning to the middle to see who was on that week’s pullout poster, and was greeted by Alex Rodriguez, holding his bat, gazing at the path of a home run. I put the poster on my wall, below Derek Jeter, above Mike Mussina. It stayed there for five years. 

Yesterday I tore it down and threw it in the trash. After years of admiring, then merely observing, then barely tolerating A-Rod, I was finally done. 

Of course, many people would have taken down the poster a long time ago. But when A-Rod’s postseason troubles became a citywide punching bag, I kept my cool. It was a small sample size. Just bad luck. What’re you gonna do? When A-Rod began struggling the past few years, I didn’t overreact. You can’t be the best in the game forever. Have to take the bad with the good. Even when A-rod admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs during his years with the Texas Rangers, I didn’t go nuts. We had seen steroids before, and he hadn’t taken anything in a Yankee uniform. To me, A-Rod was like the dorky kid at school who everyone bullied. It seemed like he was just a scapegoat for the issues of a while team. And regardless, he’s one of the best ballplayers in history.  Sure, he was annoying, but he couldn’t be that bad, right?

Wrong. 

According to a report by the Miami New Times that followed a three-month investigation, Alex Rodriguez had purchased PED’s since 2009 from a sketchy Miami clinic called Biogenesis, meaning a Rangers uniform was not the only one he cheated in. His name is listed alongside the already-busted former Yankee Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers, and Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals in the personal files of Anthony Bosch, the man in charge of the operation. The evidence makes his 2009 admission of steroid use shocking. From his apologetic press conference:

I’m finally beginning to grow up. I’m pretty tired of being stupid and selfish, you know, about myself. The truth needed to come out a long time ago. I’m glad it’s coming out today.”

The Miami New Times didn’t just report that A-Rod cheated on the ball field. They reported that he lied to me and every baseball fan. He said he had cleaned himself up. He said he was done. He wasn’t. And after years of avoiding it, I’m finally jumping on the “I hate A-Rod” bandwagon.

I hate his smug, arrogant personality. I hate how he smacks his bat into the ground when he pops out. And most of all (I’m cringing just thinking about it), I vehemently despise the face he puts on when he strikes out, pursing his lips together, yanking his chin up, putting his bat under his shoulder as he coolly unstraps his batting gloves on his way back to the dugout. It’s like he’s saying, “I don’t even care. I know I’ll be breaking the bank whether I strike out or not.” Watching A-Rod strike out is the most gut-wrenching thing a Yankee fan can suffer through. 

And the worst part is, it’s true. Though the Yankees got the undisputed best player in baseball when they traded for and subsequently signed A-Rod, there’s no doubt that he is worth far, far less than the money he is currently earning. The Yankees are trying to void his contract, but their chances are slim. With Scott Boras as your agent, the language is usually pretty tight. 

Tearing down my A-Rod poster in my room means the end of an era. It means that I finally have given up on my favorite team’s biggest investment ever. But, at least from what I’ve heard, hating A-Rod can be pretty fun. 

Youkilis Picks Out His Clothes, Fans Eagerly Watch

Kevin Youkilis could play for the Yankees. 

The fact still boggles my mind. I’ve been ruminating over it the past few days, wondering why a player who made his living hating the Yankees for years, who I have so despised through season after season, could suddenly suit up in pinstripes and call the Bronx home. It’s a thoroughly unthinkable scenario. 

And yet it has become possible, even probable. The Yankees, according to reports, have offered Youkilis a one-year, $12 million deal that would put him at the hot corner in place of Alex Rodriguez, who will be sidelined possibly until the All-Star Game and beyond as he recovers from hip surgery. 

The possible signing, which may not happen if Youkilis choses to play for the Cleveland Indians and Terry Francona, his former manager in Boston, is another reminder of the truth of a classic cliché. Baseball’s not a game, it’s a business. 

I hate hearing that phrase, and not just because a friend of mine said it as an excuse for trashing my fantasy team a few years back. I hate it because it reminds me of the cruel reality that Jerry Seinfeld so expertly pointed out. When you cheer on sports, you’re cheering for laundry. Players come and players go. If a player moves to a new city, his old fans abandon him. As Seinfeld said, “This is the same human being in a different shirt. They hate him now!” Kevin Youkilis was once so beloved in Boston that fans would utter a personalized tribal “Youk” yell when he stepped to the plate, as Yankee fans dubbed him Kevin Useless. But now Youkilis is changing his shirt, and the roles may well be reversed. 

The worst part is that I, and millions of others, will go right along with it. It might take some time, but if Youkilis signs with the Yankees, I’ll begin to ignore his questionable bald-headed goatee, his annoying batting stance, where he raises his bat above his head with both hands only to retreat to a traditional stance when the ball is pitched, his alleged skirmishes with others in the Red Sox clubhouse before subsequently being traded to Chicago. I’ll root for him, because I like his shirt. Because that’s the way baseball is. 

scutaromarco:

Robinson Cano @RobinsonCano

Very proud day for me, I just became a US citizen, God bless America!

Robinson Cano @RobinsonCano

This is while I was being sworn in

Impatient Firings Keep Popping Up

I wouldn’t say that the season went exactly the way I hoped it would. 

The Yankees fell short of winning their World Series, as a shocking inability to score runs plagued them throughout a four-game ALCS sweep. This New York Post cover explained just how many felt after the crushing blow to the franchise. 

But, as the Miami Marlins reminded us today, this season could have been a lot worse. 

Miami, fresh off a massive re-branding of their franchise which included an ugly new logo, intolerable color scheme, and unnecessarily wacky new blue and green stadium, only to wind up at the bottom of the NL East, admitted that it was wrong in hiring the outspoken and unpredictable Ozzie Guillen as its manager, firing him yesterday after just one season with three years left on his contract. 

Guillen isn’t this season’s only one-and-done manager; it’s hard to forget the Bobby Valentine fiasco in Boston, as the Red Sox gave him the boot the day after the season ended following an embarrassing year for the franchise. The two are just the latest examples of how coaches have been given a hefty, and often inappropriate, amount of criticism for their failure to produce immediate results. Valentine and Guillen were readily available scapegoats in the face of teams gone haywire. 

Of course, the case of Guillen is hard to defend. Four games into his career with the Marlins, he was suspended for five games after he told Time magazine that he loved Fidel Castro. His notoriously big mouth would be a problem from then on, including an in-game verbal skirmish with Bryce Harper later in the year, and he didn’t seem to do much to inspire his players. 

In Boston, Valentine was treated not as just a bad manager, but as a demon, a concocter of clubhouse discourse, fighting among the coaching staff, and embarrassing losses on the field. He became the most hated man in the city. Naturally, he needed to be removed, and was swiftly fired. Red Sox fans rejoiced. The managers office had been purged. 

But was Valentine deserving of the blame? Though he is the one who delivers the lineup card before the game, the rest is played out by his athletes, many of whom were not invested in the game before Valentine took office. When he was hired, Valentine promised to take an aggressive stance on the team’s problems, and now that that hasn’t worked, shouldn’t the front office take the blame for hiring him on that fact?

Guillen’s firing brings out similar skepticism. The Marlins were a pretty bad team anyway, and judging from the decisions they made before Ozzie could do anything, they didn’t really know what they were doing. Would firing Ozzie, and thereby creating managerial instability, really help the team all that much?

Guillen and Valentine both did a horrible job with their teams last season. But one year is often not enough to measure the quality of a coach. Vince Lombardi and Mike Krzyzewski, two of the most legendary coaches in sports, struggled mightily through their first few seasons. In today’s sports environment, they almost surely would have been fired. What would have happened to Packers football and Duke basketball if their coaches were kicked out after their first year?

I’m not saying Bobby Valentine is a legendary manager. I’m just asking GM’s to think twice before they are quick to fire their coaches. Implementing a winning philosophy takes time, and we will never know what Valentine could have done. 

Rally Towel Gimmick Is Getting Old

This year’s MLB postseason contains a variety of teams, players, ballparks and fans. Each postseason series has taken on its own identity, and each stadium has been seen at its best during the exciting week. 

But one fixture is present in nearly all of the postseason ballparks. Once used by only a few teames during their playoff matchups, it has become a fixture of the MLB postseason. 

In every key moment, fans from Baltimore to San Francisco are wielding brightly colored rags, twirling them above their heads with intensity during key moments of the game. Rally towels are present in baseball now more than ever before.

Originally contained to places like Philadelphia, the rally towel epidemic has spread to Great American Ballpark in Cincinatti, Comerica Park in Detroit, and Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And it must be stopped as soon as possible.

I’m not sure why the rally towel was ever introduced to baseball. It looks slightly cool to see fifty thousand of them waving around in a key moment of the game, but I can’t help but feel like rally towels are just a gimmick, something that (with the notable exception of the Steelers’ Terrible Towel) is borrowed for the postseason because everyone else is doing it. 

The Yankees, I am proud to point out, have yet to follow the trend, and are one of a select few that elected not to do so. The Braves (as far as I could tell) omitted towel twirling for their wild-card game against the Cardinals, and the Nationals have yet to play their first game at home in the postseason (though something tells me that when they do, white towels will be everywhere). [UPTADE: The Nats did break out rally towels for their postseason series, though they were red, not white.] But besides that, every other team in the postseason thinks rally towels are cool. 

In reality, they make the teams look bad. Rally towels look like a team is trying too hard to create a raucous atmosphere. The rally towels are a cheap and easy way to make a crowd appear more passionate than it is. And because of this, a rally-toweled crowd looks like it needs to find passion through a gimmick instead of from the heart. 

At least that’s how it seems to me. If teams want to add their own unique fan item (The Braves had foam hammers at the end of last season) that can be charming. But it dosen’t work when every other ballpark is following suit. 

So please, fans, put down the towels and clap your hands like normal people. Let’s forget this ever happened. 

Well, I just finished my history. I probably did a lackluster job. After these hours of scribbling and quarreling and erasing, I can barely tell the difference between Maryland and Ohio. Now I’ve got to get started on my Calc work, which I’m already behind on. I feel sick and tired, and just want to sleep when I know I can’t.

But the Yankees won, and the Orioles lost. What more could you ask for?

This is a special experience to play with Jeter and the Yankees. When I am an old man I will look back and say ‘What an experience it was to play on this team.’ … That is what I envision what it will be like when I am close to dying.

The one and only Ichiro, showing his love for the Yankees like only he can in a New York Post article. Yet another instance where Ichiro’s acts of baseball statesmanship never cease to mystify. 

Hearing that Ichiro had been traded (at his request) to the Yankees in late July was probably the best news I’ve heard all year. During a season where the Yankees are constantly criticized (with good reason) for their reliance on power hitting and inability to “manufacture a run,” Ichiro, champion of the infield single, stolen base, and well-placed bunt, is a beacon of hope. Seeing him gracefully round second on his way to a seventh-inning triple in an August game against Texas was truly awe-inspiring to watch. 

This was not helped by the jeers of the pugnacious man sitting behind me who couldn’t stop yelling about how Ichiro was “over the hill.” and “a waste of money” (even though Seattle is paying the bulk of his salary). The guy’s argument had some basis in fact. Ichiro’s numbers have dropped (he’s hitting .282 this year) and he is found at the bottom of the Yankee order if he is there at all. (The fact that he was hitting third in Seattle’s lineup shows why he wanted out.) Some of the classic kinks in his swing, as inefficient as they were mesmerizing, were removed at the start of this year. 

But he’s Ichiro! The man who begins his elaborate pre-game stretching routine hours beforehand in the clubhouse, then continues to bend over between nearly every pitch, even at the plate. The man who dresses impeccably for press conferences, and will never speak a word of English during them. The man who does everything in his life right-handed, except batting, so he can be that much closer to first base on a ground ball. I will never get tired of seeing Ichiro pull out his sleeve as he takes his stance, especially now that the sleeve is pinstriped. Ichiro is a living legend, a man who trancends the game of baseball. 

When I am close to dying, I will remember quivering with pride when I saw Ichiro play for my favorite team. 

Yankee Fans:

Please, for the love of Pete, stop waving at the center field camera while talking to your friends on your cell phone during the game. It’s extremely annoying, and a waste of a jillion-dollar seat.

Thank you. 

All Star Game Turns Ugly

These past few days have been rough. 

The All-Star Break is a somber time in my year, and not only because it contains the anniversary of the trashing of my beloved fantasy baseball team by some friends a few years back. The All-Star Break is the only time all year where no meaningful baseball is played for four hopeless days, when the steady daily dosage of baseball is cut off, and withdrawal symptoms ensue.

Of course, there is some baseball being played during this empty time in the middle of July, though it is of a strange and unusual sort. It comes in the form of the All-Star Game, and this year’s, like all the others I can remember, failed to cure my withdrawal symptoms, or even abate them. The All-Star Game was another snoozefest. 

The break basically consisted of a massive buildup for an 8-nothing National League rout, filled with manufactured story lines and product placement for various types of deodorant, shaving cream, and dependable long-lasting full-size pickup trucks. A few of the things that annoyed me:

No one would stop talking about Bryce Harper.

I understand that Bryce Harper is a special baseball player. I understand that he may be the future of the game, the centerpiece of a rising wave of young stars. But why do I feel like the name of the game was changed to The 2012 All-Star Game Featuring Bryce Harper The Youngest Position Player In All-Star History? The guy didn’t even make the original roster; he was just a fill-in for the injured Gioncarlo Stanton. Maybe it’s just because he’s all we are able to talk about, but the number of times I heard his name this week bugs me.

The R. A. Dickey controversy.

One of the major manufactured uproars leading up to the All-Star game was the issue of the starting pitcher for the National League. Many expected that the retired Tony La Russa, who managed the team following his World Series win with the Cardinals last year, would start R. A. Dickey of the Mets in the game, considering his 12-1 record. But La Russa instead chose to start Matt Cain of the Giants, citing his concern that catcher Buster Posey would have trouble catching Dickey’s notorious knuckleball. People were baffled. Protests arose pleading Dickey’s right to start the game. Why? All La Russa did was decide who was to pitch two innings instead of one in a meaningless game. La Russa is out of the game already, why criticize him? The Dickey thing was blown out of proportion. 

Royals fans booing Robinson Cano at the Home Run Derby. 

This one is really annoying. When Robinson Cano took his stance for the Home Run Derby in Kansas City, he was bombarded with boos from fans who thought he, as captain of the AL team, should have chosen Royals DH Billy Butler to the Derby squad. Facing vociferous heckling throughout, Cano failed to hie a single home run. It was an unnecessarily vicious response to a matter of little consequence. Who knew Royals fans were so short-tempered? Cano, the most swagalicious player in baseball, wasn’t affected, (He shrugged it off, Kanye style, on Twitter.) But those around him, including his father throwing him pitches, were probably a little shaken up. The worst part is that the boos were probably used to draw attention to the fans more than anything else. The most used shot of an angry fan features a man booing, giving two thumbs down, and looking at the jumbotron in center to make sure he is on TV. I understand that the Royals are out of the postseason by the All-Star Game every year, but is the Home Run Derby really the best place to take out their anger?

Granted, the All-star Game has some appealing aspects. It’s neat to see a lineup card with Curtis Granderson batting ninth. But when the game becomes a giant hullabaloo, it becomes intolerable. In the future, let’s just let the All-Star Game come to us.

Clemens Not Guilty, Trial Finally Ends

The verdict was about to be announced. 

The celebrity defendant’s legacy hangs in the balance. Witnesses have been called, their bits of testimony dissected and analyzed to the fullest extent by the news media, the two most important being the defendant’s alleged accomplice and one of his closest friends. The public awaits a decision that could affirm or destroy the defendant’s legacy forever. 

The man’s charge? Lying to Congress about cheating in a baseball game. 

Wait, what?

Today, former pitcher Roger Clemens got the verdict he was looking for, not guilty on two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements, and one count of obstructing Congress, charges surrounding his 2008 testimony in which he assured a congressional committee that he had never taken performance-enhancing drugs to extend his immortal career.

Clemens was the latest baseball player to be tried for lying to Congress about steroids, following Barry Bonds, who got off with one confiction of obstruction of justice last year. It makes me wonder. Why are disputes about cheating in sport winding up in courthouses?

Those prosecuting Roger Clemens were worrying about Andy Pettite backing off on his testimony, or the credibility of the testimony of Brian MacNamee, Clemens’s former trainer who claims to have administered the drugs. ESPN sportscasters are talking about the best strategies for the lawyers in the courtroom. And we are left wondering how a case of a player being given an unfair advantage in a game of baseball could have snowballed into a high-stakes legal battle with jail time on the line. 

To me, federal courts are no place to setle sports disputes. The lawyers in the Clemens trial were appealing to a jury of twelve randomly selected people, many of whom probably knew little about baseball and of Clemens beforehand. And whatever decision the jury came to, it wouldn’t affect how Clemens was treated by Major League Baseball, just how he would be treated by the United States legal system. There has to be a better way to make sure athletes cheated.

And there is. Leagues like MLB should empower their own court system. Just recently, Lance Armstrong was accused of doping by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. This means that he could be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, a reasonable punishment if the accusations are true. But why is it only doping cyclists that get tried in this way? Roger Clemens could have been tried by Major League Baseball and judged by a committe that knew exactly what it was dealing with. And Clemens’s sentence would deal with the dismissal of his play on the diamond, not jail time. 

Public courts do a great job in everyday circumstances. But when it comes to athletes, we should let their bosses handle their punishment for breaking the rules.