Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: a-rod

Imaginary Conversation With: A-Rod

(A-ROD is staring me down in the middle of Times Square)

A-ROD: …

ME: …

A-ROD: …

ME: …

A-ROD: … well? Aren’t you going to congratulate me?

ME: On what?

A-ROD: (scoffs) Number 600.

ME: No.

A-ROD: Why not?

ME: Because I don’t care.

A-ROD: I thought you loved baseball!

ME: I do.

A-ROD: This is a big deal!

ME: No, that—(points at guy on a unicycle who is juggling bowling pins on fire with a huge snake wrapped around his neck)—is a big deal.

(you’ll have to imagine the fire, snake parts)

A-ROD: Whoa. How do you think he does that?

ME: Practice—

A-ROD: (completely ignoring me, bellowing) HEY GUY! HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

(dude ignores him)

A-ROD: (nonplussed, smiling) What’s his problem?

ME: He seems a little busy—

A-ROD: (louder this time) HEY DUDE! HOW. DO. YOU. DO. THAT?

(GUY ON UNICYCLE JUGGLING FLAMING BOWLING PINS starts to wobble, does not look at A-Rod as he starts to talk)

GUY ON UNICYCLE JUGGLING FLAMING BOWLING PINS: Looks like we… (whoosh, whoosh) … have an excited little boy … (whoosh, whoosh) … in our audience today. Where are you from, little boy?

A-ROD: (completely unaware that he’s being spoken to)

ME: Alex! It’s rude not to answer someone when they’re talking to you. Tell the man where you’re from.

A-ROD: (sheepish) I’m from, uh, New York City, sir.

GUY ON UNICYCLE JUGGLING FLAMING BOWLING PINS: (smiles, eyes still concentrating on task) New York City? Do you hear that, ladies and gentleman? From right here! And tell me, little boy, what do you want to be when you grow up?

A-ROD: (shy)

ME: (in a low, reassuring voice) Go ahead, Alex. Answer the man’s question.

A-ROD: I want to play baseball!

GUY ON UNICYCLE JUGGLING FLAMING BOWLING PINS: A baseball player! That’s great! Mets or Yankees?

A-ROD: (gaining confidence) … Yankees, sir.

GUY ON UNICYCLE JUGGLING FLAMING BOWLING PINS: The Yankees! Now tell me, who’s your favorite player?

A-ROD: (quietly) Derek Jeter.

GUY ON UNICYCLE JUGGLING FLAMING BOWLING PINS: Derek Jeter! He’s my favorite too! But I also like Jorge Posada. And Mariano Rivera. And Mark Teixeira. And CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes. What a team!

A-ROD: (almost a whisper) Yeah they’re good

(There is a commotion as all the pins fall to the ground and there is screaming because they’re still on fire)

GUY ON UNICYCLE NO LONGER JUGGLING PINS: Holy shit, you’re Alex Rodriguez.

A-ROD: Yep.

GUY ON UNICYCLE NO LONGER JUGGLING PINS: You hit 600 yet?

A-ROD: (beaming) Yes! I did it yesterday. (pause) Can I have your snake?

GUY DESCENDING UNICYCLE: No way, he’s a part of my act. This is how I make my living, bro.

A-ROD: Would you take… (reaches into pocket, counts cash, counts it again) $5,000?

GUY WHO JUST SOLD SNAKE: Yes. Yes I would.

(In a clean motion, swipes cash from A-Rod and drapes snake around his neck)

GUY MOVING AWAY QUICKLY: Feed it hamsters… or chicken… once a week… (he picks up the unicycle and bolts)

A-ROD: Sucker.

ME: What?

A-ROD: Those were counterfeit bills.

ME: You carry fake money around?

A-ROD: Oh sure. Everyone thinks it’s real. How do you think I got this suit?

(it is a nice suit)

ME: Wow. What a dick.

A-ROD: I’m not as dumb as everyone thinks I am.

A-ROD: Let’s go to the M&M’s store.

ME: I don’t think they’ll let you bring that in—

A-ROD: I said (him and the snake look me straight in the eyes) let’s go to the M&M’s store

ME: (terrified) … okay …

(NYPD officer approaches)

COP: Hey you got a permit for that thing?

A-ROD: You bet.

(He reaches into his wallet and winks at me before turning to the cop and “paying him off.” Afterward we go say hi to the Naked Cowboy [they’re apparently friends] and go to the M&M’s store, where A-Rod gets sick of the snake and hands it to me and bolts. I’m the guy who has it when the cops show up and they’re about to arrest me for it when the Naked Cowboy—with whom they’re familiar—backs up my crazy story. He then demands $20, which he double-checks against the light because he “know(s) A-Rod’s game.” He says if I give him $5 more he’ll sing “America.” I decline, and he starts singing it anyway.)

Chris Bosh, -$28 Million Man; David Stern, Superstar

I guess Chris Bosh doesn’t need that $27 million summer house in Southampton. The now-former Raptors’ centerish dude has taken $28 million fewer dollars than he would have made playing (presumably) with LeBron James in Cleveland to play (presumably) with Dwyane Wade in Miami. And thus the free market system has told you something about the relative value of two American cities to one Christopher Wesson Bosh, of Dallas, Texas.

Of course, this wasn’t a perfect example of market forces working their magic. The Raptors could pay Bosh the most, and any other team looking to sign him could pay him $28 million less. The Raptors and Cavs had agreed for Bosh to sign the higher contract and then work out a trade. He didn’t, so they didn’t, and now he’s going to Miami.

All of this makes you wonder how much money would be flying around if there was no salary cap. The NBA system is designed to give superstars incentives to stay on their longtime teams, presumably because David Stern has found that it makes the league more marketable. He’s taken the Michael Jordan effect and spread it leaguewide: Have one recognizable great player on each team, and people will tune in even if they don’t know anyone else on the roster. Best of all, make the league such an enticing draw for advertisers that the best players—the ones whose pay is actually being capped by the limits on maximum contracts—don’t actively bark about their pay being limited, and instead work toward endorsement deals. The league’s increasingly squeaky-clean image—promoted by NBA Cares commercials and enforced by Stern & Co.’s zero-tolerance approach to physical nonsense, on or off the court—helps make these endorsements a reality. It’s the After Artest era, one in which Ron-Ron himself almost single-handedly wins Game 7 of the NBA finals and thanks his therapist on national television.

It’s almost impossible believe that with all the money that’s floating around now that the owners are threatening to lock out the players after next season, and it’s even worse when you know they’d be throwing out even more if they could. You don’t think LeBron would hold out for a contract bigger than Alex Rodriguez’s $300 million deal? LeBron has scheduled a prime-time hour on ESPN to announce his decision. Childhood vanity or innate vanity, it’s still vanity, and by the manner in which teams are falling all over LeBron to procure his services, there’s no reason to think someone wouldn’t nudged an offer at least into spitting distance of A-Rod’s deal. And yet the owners are going to tell you they’re losing money, which they may in fact be doing. There are rumors that they’ve spent so much this offseason because they know they won’t have to pay up, as they are expected to ask for an across-the-board salary cut, owing mostly to dwindling attendance. Knowing David Stern, they’re likely to get it. Mr. Stern doesn’t lose, even if the owners are making an embarrassingly poor case for themselves right now.

Their counterpoint could be that these are simply the costs of doing business, but they’re not. “Doing business” and building a championship team are not, unfortunately for sports fans, the same thing. Profitability has an easily identifiable blueprint: pay as little as possible for players, win as many games as possible and, whatever you do, make the playoffs. Exactly how far you make it in the playoffs doesn’t matter all that much to the bottom line. At some point you are going to run up against someone else’s vanity project, and to plan to beat that team (not the same as actually beating them), takes money out of your pocket at the height of your moneymaking powers. People don’t want to hear it, but if you follow that blueprint, you’ll make money.

Yet rich people continue to buy sports teams and pile money into them, and you don’t become rich enough to become an owner without being a shrewd moneysmith. At some point, owning a sports team could be classified as little more than a vanity project, which would explain owners’ inability to keep their public statements in line with the actions of their teams. They claim to not want to lose money, but most of them are already losing money when compared to how much they could be making if they were, for lack of a better term, “all business.” So what they’re really complaining about is a movement down a sliding scale on which they’ve willingly jumped. I’m not that sympathetic.

At the same time, the NBA’s system does, at least in theory, strike a nice balance between the rabidly free-market system of Major League Baseball and the proscribed, socialistic payout system of the NFL. Baseball embraced the “watch the money” ethos early on, content to sell as many Yankees hats as it can and crush the dreams of every Kansas City kid; the NFL has far too many players to pay to allow any one team or group to monopolize the talent pool. In the NBA, you can do it if you’re lucky, good and plan well. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh won’t be teaming up in Miami, but they could have. The resulting arrangement should leave title-contending teams in Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, Orlando and Boston… and that’s just in the East. Three of those teams are led by No. 1 overall draft picks, which shows how much you need the ball to bounce your way, but that’s no less capricious than, say, relying on Tom Brady to turn into a Hall of Famer. Sometimes it’s about money, sometimes it’s about skill, and sometimes it’s about luck.

So when looking at Chris Bosh’s decision to leave $28 million on the table and go to Cleveland, I wouldn’t sweat about the money. He’s not a good or bad person for doing what he did, he’s just a guy in search of something at the nexus of comfort, vanity, and fulfillment. Or to put it another way: “There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.” That’s Moby-Dick; I’m still on that. LeBron’s the white whale, sure, but the only thing that comes up more in Moby-Dick than Moby Dick himself is God, created the system that led to the noble pursuit in which Ishmael was engaged and over which virtually everyone onboard obsessed.

I think Melville would have liked David Stern.

•••

Apropos of nothing, I was going to post a clip from last night’s Louie, featuring Ricky Gervais, that is in no way, shape or form safe for work. However, the still shot for the YouTube video is of Louis C.K.’s butt, so I’ll just post the link. If you want to watch it, go here. Do this.

Is A-Rod Really “Clutch” Now?

Did Johnny Damon give the Yankees their 27th title with an alert baserunning play? Sure, CC and A-Rod and Teixeira and Posada and even Brad Lidge helped a little bit, but the Damon play might be the one to have secured the hardware for the Stanks. We’ll never know how Lidge would have pitching if Damon was on second base instead of third—when, stealing second base, he simply continued to a third base unoccupied because of the “Teixeira shift”—and whether the series would have actually been any different because of it. But if this series ends as we all think it’s going to end, this is the moment from which we can create stories. The Yankees seeing an opportunity and, after nine long years, taking it.

The series not over, but it’s close. For the Phillies to win, they’ll need something of a repeat performance from Cliff Lee, for Pedro Martinez to avoid for a second time the possibility of Yankee onslaught at the new Stadium, and for Cole Hamels to finally show up for the postseason. The Yankees will have to concurrently implode, with A.J. Burnett turning in one of his vintage Fenway performances, Andy Pettitte turning in one of his vintage Game 6 performances, and CC turning in one of his vintage playoff performances. Even then, it might not be enough. The ball has been bouncing against the Yankees for nine years. At some point, they have to get the breaks. On top of that, they have the better team. It’s not impossible for the Phillies to catch up, but it’s unlikely. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

It probably didn’t escape anyone’s notice that the guy who got the game winning hit last night was A-Rod, a guy who was excoriated for not being “clutch” so many times that he had a pro bono defense league among “sabermetricians” who otherwise hated him. They’d cite small playoff sample sizes, as if there was any excuse for the highest-paid baseball being so bad he was dropped from the lineup in the 2006 ALDS against Detroit. Michael Schur, aka Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan, has been Tweeting comparison stats all postseason that usually show A-Rod’s numbers to be comparable to his former buddy Derek Jeter. That’s well and dandy, but those numbers include this year’s playoffs; without this year’s explosion, A-Rod’s numbers are pedestrian or worse. Fans who pointed out that A-Rod failed in the clutch were simply pointing out the obvious.

Now that he’s turned it around, Will Leitch says “R.I.P, A-Rod Isn’t Clutch Meme.” First of all, I’m loathe to discuss any meme not involving Keyboard Cat. Second of all, calling it a “meme” implies it’s something silly and frivolous (It wasn’t. He hadn’t hit in the playoffs. It was true. God forbid someone watch something as dreadfully important as baseball and say the most obvious thing to pop into their heads). Third, the point Leitch, Schur and others make isn’t that anyone is clutch: players are simply good or they’re not. It’s a fair point. But A-Rod’s emergence now doesn’t obscure his very real failures in the past, the same way Barry Bonds’ monster 2002 postseason doesn’t obscure his performances in years prior. The difference is that A-Rod will probably win this year, and to a great many people, that will be all that matters. He’ll have his title. If we really want to speak truth to power, let’s not forget why the “meme” was started now that it’s dead.

Of course, as John Elway shows, winning once might be all that matters, and A-Rod is finally poised to do just that.

A-Rod

I’ve probably written more about Alex Rodriguez than I have about any other athlete (last winter’s entry here). He has been everything a sportswriter could ask for: outgoing, vain, naive, foolish, and a hundred other celebrity adjectives. He’s been proud of all of them, even as his on-the-field performance—you know, his job—has suffered at the times it’s needed most. The stats tell part of the story. Until this year, he has been ordinary in the playoffs: not as bad as his critics say, but nothing befitting one of the best players in the game. Three years ago, he was benched against the Detroit Tigers when he was supposed to be carrying the Yankees past an inferior team. At the beginning of this year, he was outed as an incurable narcissist and steroid user in a book by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts. It was the best thing that could have happened to him.

For years, A-Rod had been embarassing himself in increasingly ridiculous ways, and this March, the bubble finally burst. Short of being convicted of any sort of crime, the public’s love affair with the A-Rod foibles was over. People like intrigue, but they don’t cheaters (or what they consider cheaters, at any rate). So A-Rod fell into the background like only he could: he stopped talking, and started dating Kate Hudson. Only in A-Rod-Land can you start dating Goldie Hawn’s daughter and somehow become less interesting, but that’s exactly what happened.

Instead of being the incurable narcissist with the cerebral, psychologist wife whom he tried to please, he started a frivolous relationship with someone who actually appeared to like him. For all A-Rod’s popularity, he has always seemed very alone, trying to fill the significant gaps in his life with newspaper headlines and the plaudits of the baseball aristocracy. His bizarre fascination with cooler-than-thou Derek Jeter was odd, unsurprising evidence of this.

With a relaxed, simmed down A-Rod tearing up everything he sees at the plate, the rapport between him and Jeter has mellowed significantly. Every time something happens that’s good for the Yankees, it’s the two of them clapping and hollering on in lockstep. That is, unless it’s another one of A-Rod’s home runs. Then it’s only Jeter, clapping away on the top step for a teammate he finally respects.

It’s hard to talk about A-Rod without talking about Jeter, and I suspect that Jeter realizes how much he needs Rodriguez these days. Jeter is still a great player, playing at a Hall of Fame level, but the needy, nervy A-Rod threatens to suck the life out of a Yankees team with brutal efficiency. It’s possible and likely that the Yankees’ new additions have kept the clubhouse “loose,” and with Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia working their magic, A-Rod feels like he’s just part of the club of elites instead of bearing the weight of the Yankees season on his shoulders. If Jeter was impervious before, maybe he was oblivious to how much the toll took not on Rodriguez, but the team as a whole. For the first time, it appears they genuinely like each other.

Make no mistake: if the Yankees win this title, it will be A-Rod’s World Series. Jeter will get “one for the thumb,” but the talk will all be about Rodriguez. He’s done so much to lead them there so far it’s almost inspiring to think that he might be able to keep it up. Just as Barry Bonds transcended his October woes to turn in a signature postseason, it appears A-Rod is going the same. The difference is that Bonds did it through methods that ultimately made him a villain (and perhaps not incidentally, he lost). A-Rod did it the other way: by finally becoming the good guy.

Just Another Friendly Reminder…

To check out our new Red Sox blog, Me and Pedro Down By the Schoolyard.

Also, if you haven’t read my A-Rod essay, The Huckster, this will be my last shout-out for it.

And just for fun, we’ll dig into the vault for an old column of mine from the Queens Chronicle, apropos during election season.

You can’t make this up

A-Rod gives money to Giuliani… who leads all the way up to when it matters… and then Giuliani tanks. It’s just so perfect.

If you haven’t yet, read my essay, The Huckster, about A-Rod’s failure of personality, here.

The Huckster

My essay The Huckster is now up on Last Exit Magazine.

If you like the stuff up there, please sign up for their mailing list. They promise not to spam you, and more of my stuff will be on there in the future.

Fun With Obvious Contradictions

Here are two nuggets from Harvey Araton’s piece on A-Rod, the latest excoriation by a Times writer on “player as businessman” in the age of players as business men (it’s astonishing that they can’t wrap their heads around this):

Take this for what it is worth from the player who talked the talk but wouldn’t take the Yankees’ postseason calls for the privilege of handsomely compensating and (we could argue) eventually overpaying him after another playoff failure.

So the Yankees overpaid A-Rod. That would be good for A-Rod, right?

Rodriguez has long been a money magnet and serial attention grabber, but now we are supposed to believe that Boras alone bungled Rodriguez’s second free agency fling?

Wait… now team Boras/A-Rod bungled the negotiations?

Which is it? Did A-Rod bungle the negotiations, or is he overpaid? If he is overpaid, then it would seem he did not bungle the negotiations. That they did not go as smoothly as the Yankees would have liked is too bad for them and their reactionary fans in the press and beyond, who used the two-week window of A-Rod’s potential free agency as a time to bash the crap out of a guy who merely won two MVPs for the franchise. Even I joked that he came crawling back, but it was a joke — the guy is making $275 million as a base, the richest contract in sports history. A-Rod got his contract and the Yankees got their third baseman. What is everybody so upset about?

A-Rod Wins MVP In One Hour

This is wrong. The Globe’s Jason Tuohey makes a case for David Ortiz as AL MVP over A-Rod, who will certainly win it when the results are announced at 2 p.m. But it’s plain wrong. Ortiz certainly had a better year than most people thought, and possibly his best year ever, but that has nothing to do with Alex Rodriguez, who also possibly had his best year ever. There’s a dynamic here similar to Brady/Manning, in that critics see A-Rod and Ortiz as complementary players. If one is undervalued, then the other must be overvalued. Of course, it’s ludicrous, just as it is for people to think that whatever Tom Brady does reflects on Peyton Manning. David Ortiz is a great player but A-Rod was a little bit better.

George Vecsey And The Yankees Character Assassination Machine

The Yankees character assassination machine continues. Just when you thought the lackeys of this organization couldn’t be any more embarrassingly myopic, George Vecsey writes an article entitled “Yanks Should Treat Rodriguez the Way He Treated Them.” The absolutely phony premise of the article — that A-Rod hurt the Yankees’ feelings, so the Yankees should move on — belies the fact that the Yankees are a particularly ruthless baseball organization. When things are going well, the plaudits never stop, from inside the organization and out. When they’re not, the Yankees are quick to point the blame at the players or coaches for underperforming, making sure to emphasize that losing is a character defect, not a side-effect of giving one’s best in gamesmanship and coming up short.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what Michael Kay, the Yankees television broadcaster, had to say about Joe Torre on Torre’s way out of town:

There are things about Joe Torre, if I wanted to come out and say, would show how cold and calculated he really is… Joe Torre is for Joe Torre. … The graveyard of Yankees coaches is loaded with bones of coaches Joe Torre did nothing about.

Is that so, Michael? Well, that’s just a classy move on your part. Joe Torre hurt your feelings by leaving the Yankees, so you need to start completely unfounded rumors to tarnish the four-time World Champion manager. Well, done! You should be proud of yourself.

Now Vecsey somehow tries to similarly indict Rodriguez, basically saying A-Rod should have expressed fealty to the Yankees by not attempting to maximize his value on the open market. That A-Rod’s ploy didn’t work is irrelevant: baseball is a business, the Yankees are in the business of winning, and A-Rod gives any team a great, great chance of winning. That’s why he’s going to command money no matter where he goes, even back to New York. The Yankees haven’t forgotten his 54 home runs, even if Vecsey has. He writes:

He is an enigmatic figure in their clubhouse, clearly not a player who improves his team.

Such an embarrassing quote is worthy of his equally embarrassing brother. Calling A-Rod a player “not a player who improves his team” is possibly the most unbelievably stupid statement I have read in The New York Times.

In fairness, he probably means “in the clubhouse,” but A-Rod’s job is to play baseball, not rah-rah his teammates. Mike Mussina never gets called out for his surly ways, but he’s not the iconoclast that A-Rod is. A-Rod wants to be the best player ever and the biggest name ever, and the Yankees fancy themselves the greatest organization and biggest name in sports, and both are ruthless in search of their goals. As I’ve written before, it’s a match made in heaven. How is this not obvious? To make the claim, as Vecsey, Kay and others have, that certain players are big enough to hurt the Yankees’ feelings is to undercut the entire foundation on which the Yankees empire stands. That notion is that the Yankees are so big that no one can touch them, even the Red Sox, in wake of two titles in four years. Remember Hank Steinbrenner? He said that the Red Sox “would never be the Yankees,” even after the titles. And he’s right. You’ll notice that he’s not saying anything any more. He knows he can win with A-Rod, and win the negotiation, and others will do the dirty work. And he will win the negotiation. Why? Because the Yankees always win in the end. Admitting A-Rod hurt their feelings would make them losers, and that’s not what this organization is all about, is it, George?