"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Sympathy for the Devil

Since I wrote about Carl Pavano last week, he . . . well, you know. (Whatever. Anybody can win with more than one legitimate major league starter on their roster! Where’s the fun in that?). I wasn’t home that day and didn’t get to join in the discussion in the comments, but there was some good, thoughtful debate going on, and I wanted to follow up. First of all, several people pointed out, and I agree, that in sports too much is made of machismo and “playing through pain”. Not to say that moments like Kirk Gibson’s legendary World Series homer aren’t admirable,* or even inspirationalbut there’s no shame in prioritizing your long-term health over a baseball game, either.

But several people raised another interesting point: if you really believed that, for example, Carl Pavano is a gutless liar (and to be clear, I’m not saying he isjust using it as a hypothetical), can you turn around and root for him this year? [Insert obligatory joke about how he probably won’t pitch again til 2008 anyway. Pause for laughter]. It’s hardly a new issue, just part of a broader question: how do we decide who to root for? Is it anybody on our team, no matter who they are or what they’ve doneup to, as someone jokingly put it, Charles Mansonor is there a line? If there is, where does it fall for you?

I think most of us would agree that it’s not hard to hope someone plays well, and helps the team, without caring for them personally (not that we really know them personally, of course). This is true in almost any field of entertainment; great musicians aren’t necessarily great human beings, but that doesn’t hurt their music. I love the Rolling Stones – circa Exile on Main Street, not the scary Super Bowl Halftime Show animatronic wax figures – but I would not encourage a friend to marry Keith Richards.

Things that might bother us in our personal lives hardly faze us when it comes to the team. Something like infidelity, for example, seems like clearly none of our business. (You pretty much have to look at it that way, because if adultery in professional athletes really bothers you . . . I’ve got some bad news). And it seems like some pro athlete’s busted for a DUI every other weekgranted, a lot of that is the Cincinnati Bengalsbut without downplaying the seriousness of drunk driving, that’s also an issue most fans seem able to overlook. But what about the Phillies’ Brett Myers, who was arrested last year for smacking his wife in the middle of the street? For me, it gets a little trickier here. The Phillies had every right to do it, but I still can’t help wondering what kind of message it sends to sign Myers to a three-year extension.

With anything more serious than that, I think it’s safe to assume the legal system would take over and make rooting besides the pointe.g. former reliever Ugueth Urbina, probably best remembered here from his time with the Red Sox, who was recently convicted in Venezuela of attacking five workers with a machete and pouring gasoline on them; he received fourteen years in prison. I should note here that Urbina and his lawyers have raised questions about the motives of his accusers and the fairness of the trial itself, and plan to appeal. I don’t know what really happened, though I will say that the more you read about Urbina’s life, the less likely you are to consider Venezuela as a possible tourist destination. But let’s say for the sake of argument that he’s guilty as charged, gets time off for good behavior, and is signed by the Yanks to replace the tattered remnants of post-Torre Scott Proctor. Umpires give him a huge strike zone, batters don’t even dream of crowding the plate, and he pitches well. Do you care about the machete?

Since we’re on a tour of athlete misbehavior, I should probably mention steroids. This is a bit different, I think, because it’s directly related to baseball performancenot a personal, off-the-field issue. This one actually is our business. But frankly, I’m too sick of the topic to give it a full write-up at the moment; everyone and their cousin is ganging up to attack Barry Bonds, which unfortunately has taken all the fun out of bashing him.

So, what do you guys think? Where, if at all, do you draw the line? Do you root for the uniform regardless, or do the individual players’ actions have an impact? What would a player have to do for you to stop supporting them? Ultimately all of this is a personal call, and I don’t think there’s really a right answerI’m not trying to argue a point so much as get a discussion going. Bonus question for parents: I’ve never really been concerned about whether or not athletes are “role models” or not, but then, I don’t have any kids. Did that change your point of view?

*Note: I should probably have mentioned Curt Schilling’s goddamn ankle here, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Sorry.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver