Barry Bonds won his sixth MVP award yesterday, easily beating out Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield. No other player in the history of the game has won the award more than three times. Yet instead of soaking in the magnitude of this achievement, there is a cloud of skepticism hanging over Bonds’ head. Has he been juiced up? Has he cheated? Columnists, start your soapboxes. (In fairness, Rob Neyer has a good appreciation of Bonds over at ESPN.)
Alex Rodriguez has not been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs like Bonds has, but the brightest star in the American League isn’t exactly the most popular kid on the block either. He makes too much money. He plays on a losing team. He’s selfish, a jerk. (Why can’t he be more like the saintly Derek Jeter?) How can a player on a last place team be the MVP? According to Allen Barra:
Americans are always embarrassed about the subject of the big money paid to professional athletes because, at heart, we know they’re paid that because it reflects how much more we care about them than the things we say are more important. The notion that the Texas Rangers and owner Hicks were bamboozled by Boras in the Rodriguez deal should have been dispelled long ago. First of all, with deferred payments and the interest that began accumulating on the Rangers’ money before Rodriguez was even paid his first salary, the sum the Rangers pay A-Rod every season surely comes to considerably less than $25 million.
Second, and more to the point, the Rangers didn’t exactly reach into their pockets to pay Rodriguez. They had the money for his contract because Fox Sports Net bought the 10-year cable rights to the Rangers and Dallas Stars hockey games for $250 million, and paid another $250 million for both teams’ local broadcast rights for 15 years, according to some sources (Forbes reported the latter deal at $300 million). The Rangers, presumably, got the lion’s share of that money. The TV deals boosted the value of the team, as reported in Forbes, by 16 percent, and the addition of A-Rod beefed up their revenues considerably. The Rangers jacked up their ticket prices by an average of 10 percent for Rodriguez’s first season, 2001, and finessed several new endorsement deals, including a sponsorship pact with Radio Shack.
The question that should have been asked three years ago was not “How can the Rangers afford to pay Alex Rodriguez $250 million?” but “Why don’t the Rangers use some of the money produced by those deals and the acquisition of Rodriguez to buy some pitching?”
Is Bonds even more disliked than A Rod? ESPN should run a poll asking that question. Barry Bonds surely must be on drugs, he’s beyond selfish, and one of the biggest jerks since Ted Williams.
What gives here? These are two of the greatest players in the history of the game and yet journalists and fans alike seem to spend more time running them down than admiring their achievements. Well I can’t tell you that either player is a personal favorite of mine, but I can tell you that I stand in awe of their accomplishments on the field. For me, that is enough. For those who choose to belittle Bonds and Rodriguez, all I can say is “You’re missing out on greatness.” And that’s your loss.