Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez
The two undisputed top players in the game of baseball —living and active, that is—are currently making headlines so big they’re spilling over from the sports pages into hard news. Alex Rodriguez, primadonna extraordinaire, has created Shakespearean-level drama out of who he’ll play with and for how much money, while Barry Curmudgeon Bonds is the centerpiece of a legal drama not entirely of his own making.
First allow me to dispense with the opinion, held by some pundits as well as those who don’t follow baseball, that these matters are worthless trivia, meant to distract the populace from more important goings-on, like the wholesale takeover of our government by The Nitwit and Company. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m perfectly capable of following baseball drama and governmental dysfunction at the same time—hell, I’m even keeping up with the status of various ongoing wars, the Writers Strike, and the coup in Pakistan.
Second, I beg to differ with those who see baseball drama as trivial. Particularly in the current situations, these issues are surrounded by cultural assumptions and reactions that reveal a good deal about our society, frequently raising universal moral and ethical questions.
The Continuing Saga of A-Rod, Boras, and the Steinbrenners
I’ve long suspected A-Rod of being a passive kinda guy, almost a nebbish, easily manipulated by those he sees as more powerful than himself. He’s been stupidly following the advice of his über-agent, Scott Boras; to understand A-Rod, then, it’s necessary to know something about the man who represents him.
The title of a recent New Yorker profile of Boras by Ben McGrath—The Extortionist—says it all. Boras, named the game’s most influential non-player by Baseball America, is almost single-minded about what he goes after for his clients: megabucks, period. He doesn’t take the long view of a player’s career, or consider with which team he might be most comfortable, or even the player’s own wants and needs. Money is Scott Boras’s only god.
In addition, Boras freely dispenses advice to his clients; since it’s based on promoting a dollar-worthy image, this advice is frequently detrimental to the player’s ultimate well-being. To cite just one example, Boras was responsible, according to McGrath, for goading A-Rod into making denigrating remarks to Esquire about Derek Jeter and other Yankees before he even got to Spring training, thereby poisoning his relationship with his teammates from the get-go.
Now comes the recent negotiations Boras conducted at season’s end with the Steinbrenner Sons, who’d just dumped the loyal Joe Torre, revealing, to put it mildly, a distinct lack of heart (and in baseball, above all, Ya Gotta Have Heart). Boras stormed in demanding a raise in A-Rod’s salary, already the highest in the history of the game, and that is surely responsible for generating at least some resentment among A-Rod’s teammates. The New Bronx Order said bye-bye, Alex—we don’t need you quite that much.
Boras announced, or made A-Rod announce, his imminent departure from the Yankees at the very moment the Red Sox were celebrating their World Series victory. While there’s no love to be lost between the Bronx and Boston rivals, stealing their thunder was seen by just about everyone in baseball as the lowest form of attention-grabbing behavior. Even the usually mild-mannered sports writer Peter Gammon was incensed, and let it rip when reporters pestered him for a comment on A-Rod right there in Fenway Park. The timing of the announcement did not enhance A-Rod’s already snarky reputation.
As I’ve posted elsewhere in this blog, it’s possible that A-Rod’s presence on the Yankees created discord that was partially responsible for their post-season meltdown. Management might have weighed A-Rod’s stunning performance against his vibes and found the scales coming out even. Apparently other teams felt the same. For awhile there was buzz that Joe Torre would bring Alex with him to the LA Dodgers, but it soon died down.
Next thing we know, Alex Rodriguez works out a deal with the Steinbrenners all by himself, with Scott Boras nowhere in sight. A-Rod humbly declared, I want to be a Yankee, music to the Steinbrenners’s ears, and the deal was done in a matter of hours. A-Rod was happy. The Steinbrenners were happy. I suspect Captain Jeter and the boys might be somewhat ambivalent, but they no doubt look forward to A-Rod’s home runs and RBI’s. Scott Boras claimed to be happy, but if you believe that I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you real cheap.
While some pundits theorized that the whole drama, including A-Rod’s bold move, was secretly orchestrated by Boras, most sports analysts dismiss any conspiracy theories and see this as a stunning blow to Scott Boras and his reputation as Agent Almighty. Halleluiah! Boras’s comedown is a thoroughly positive development for baseball.
For taking bold action on his own, Alex Rodriguez won my respect for the first time since he joined the Bronx Bombers. I hope this action represents a move away from his appallingly passive behavior.
The Continuing Saga of Barry Bonds as Poster Boy for Steroids
To be completely honest, I don’t have a solid, strong opinion about the steroid controversy, and since I don’t get paid for sports writing, I don’t have to. The thing is, I see both sides to this. Dave Zirin ranted on Alter-Net about the ludicrous spectacle of steroid investigations while all around us Rome is burning (my earlier allusions to sports drama as trivia), and some of what he said makes sense. On the other hand, it’s patently unfair for a player to outdo everyone else with Mother’s Little Helpers.
I don’t much like Barry Bonds, even though I campaigned to include him in the All-Star game last summer. I think he’s made more trouble for the Giants then he’s worth—in fact, his situation and A-Rod’s share some remarkable similarities. I didn’t gain much respect for him either when he played dumb about steroid use. If he’d admitted using them, the way Jason Giambi did, he wouldn’t be in so much trouble now.
I’ll say one thing for him, though: He sure seems to have inspired undying loyalty in at least one person, Mr. Gregg Anderson. I admire the hell outta that guy for doing jail time rather than snitch on a friend. But that’s another story: some say he was unjustly jailed, and he might sue over it.
One thing’s for certain: Barry Bonds’s baseball career is over. I had my doubts that any team would want him even before the indictment, but with it his fate is sealed.