A couple of items to attend to before getting into the article:
1) Thank you for the well-wishes in the BB community following my last post. My daughter was born Thursday, February 5, at 8:32 a.m. EST. She has a tremendous set of lungs and long fingers. I think she’s going to be a singer-songwriter, maybe a prodigy like Alicia Keys.
2) Cliff, Alex and Diane have done a kickass job here following the A-Rod story and keeping everything strong.
3) I’m back on schedule now. Welcome to Spring Training!
I’ve been watching Tim Roth’s new show on FOX, “Lie To Me.” The premise: Roth, as Dr. Lightman, heads a private company that assists in federal criminal cases, using scientific studies in body language and facial expressions to determine whether a suspect is lying. At various points in an episode, still photos of Sarah Palin, O.J. Simpson, etc., are shown to demonstrate how in real life, facial expressions can communicate emotion and in turn, veracity or falsehood of statements.
Far-fetched? Depends on your point of view. Provocative? Certainly.
In the three weeks since the show premiered, the A-Rod situation has blown up, and I’ve begun thinking about the show more and more, and yesterday’s press conference gave a perfect opportunity to role play and try to apply some of the science to breaking down what was a brilliantly staged spectacle.
“Hard to Believe” was the headline on ESPN.com. It’s a great headline because of the many ways it can be interpreted. Hard to believe A-Rod was being honest? Jayson Stark thinks so, as illustrated below in Diane Firstman’s excerpt. Hard to believe A-Rod read his statements so stiffly, as if he’d never rehearsed them? Hard to believe that he never mentioned the word “steroids” at all? Hard to believe that when asked if he considered what he did to be cheating, he dodged the answer and didn’t say anything definitive? (More on this later.) Hard to believe that he’s still trying to pull the “young and naïve” argument on us, and that he’s blaming his curiosity on not receiving higher education? Hard to believe he sold out his cousin? Hard to believe that he’s the scapegoat of the 104 players who tested positive in 2003? Hard to believe that Gene Orza of the MLBPA sold him out? Hard to believe that Bud Selig doesn’t want to take accountability for the state of the game breaking down, resurrecting itself, and breaking down again on his watch? Hard to believe A-Rod had no clue what Jamie Moyer said earlier this week? Hard to believe that this wasn’t a classic case of the media putting an athlete on a pedestal only to tear him down after learning of his transgressions? Hard to believe that a few callers dialed into Mike Francesa’s show and Michael Kay’s show yesterday afternoon buying into the Bill Madden theory that the Yankees should eat the remaining $270 million of his contract?
Putting on my Dr. Lightman hat, based on the visuals on the ESPN.com front page, “Hard to Believe” tells me that ESPN is pushing the agenda that A-Rod lied yesterday. In quadrant one (upper left), we have the patented A-Rod look to the left and smirk, like he’s above it all. In quadrant two (upper right), he has his lip scrunched, as if he’s justifying the “young and naïve” argument. In quadrant three (lower left), his lips are pursed, signifying a cocky attitude. What up, playa? And in quadrant four (lower right), his head down in faux shame.
More significant to me as I re-watched the press conference, were the cutaways to the Yankee players and coaches in attendance. I focused on Andy Pettitte, Tony Pena, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, and how they reacted during A-Rod’s opening statement. Of the four, Pettitte appeared to be the most genuinely sympathetic, empathetic and engaged — most likely because he went through the same thing nearly a year ago to the date. (Conveniently, news of his being questioned in the Roger Clemens probe was released shortly after the A-Rod presser.) Both Jeter and Posada looked like they’d have rather been anywhere else. It was Peña, though, who encapsulated the raw emotion of the moment. He had the look of a disgusted parent, his face communicating that he was personally betrayed and disappointed.
When A-Rod unleashed the 33-second pause — yes, I stopped to count it — before thanking his teammates for their support, YES went to a quick shot of the group mentioned above. While Pettitte, Peña, Jeter and Posada were frozen in their earlier positions, Mariano Rivera appeared to be in deep concentration, with a frown. It looked like he was thinking, “What the f— was that,” or he was holding back a yawn. I couldn’t tell.
Later, in answering WABC’s Scott Clark, when A-Rod issued his apology to the group, the cumulative look communicated, “OK. We’re here because we have to be. Isn’t that enough?”
In the analysis of the event on various channels, I don’t believe enough was made of this nonverbal communication. The post-conference reaction, however, was telling in a different way. Bob Holtzman’s piece for ESPN touched on the Yankees’ recognition of the event, but his premise was that the members of the Yankee brass didn’t show a great deal of support. I never heard Brian Cashman sound as frustrated as he did when he said, “He’s our player, he’s our player for the next nine years, and we’ll take ownership of the situation.”
What would Dr. Lightman believe? Most likely, that A-Rod tried to fool us. Again.
Maybe A-Rod is afraid of the truth, as Bob Klapisch suggests.
Maybe that’s why we’re left with more questions after his 33-minute presser on Tuesday. We’ve apologized for him and tried to delve into his psychology so much over the past five years and continuously run around in circles.
If A-Rod is not afraid of the truth and if he did not lie to us yesterday — or to himself — he’s got a few things to consider:
1) Throwing some of the ego that drove him to take PEDs toward the MLBPA in effort to get the other 103 names released. The documents should have been destroyed and weren’t. If I was in his place, saying I was young and stupid seven years ago, I’d try to act older and more cynical now and try to find out if I was set up. If I was so concerned about my image and apparently desperate to vindicate myself, I would be as aggressive in this pursuit as I would be swinging at a 2-0 fastball down the middle.
2) Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks didn’t accept A-Rod’s apology in a 25-minute conversation the two had yesterday, according to an ESPN report. Maybe Selena Roberts would be more forgiving if he extended an apology to her for the way he’s treated her since the story’s publication. A-Rod acknowledged that he’s spoken to her since the alleged incident at his home in Miami, but since follow-up questions were disallowed, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff couldn’t ask him if he apologized to her.
BESTS AND WORSTS
Worst piece of instructions: No follow-up questions. This is not surprising, given how all professional teams and leagues want to control the flow of information as closely as they do.
Best question: The first question, from ESPN Radio in Tampa, asking A-Rod if he’d have admitted to testing positive had the Selena Roberts story had not been published.
Worst question: George King, asking A-Rod to name his cousin. A-Rod handled that diplomatically.
Best means of self-promotion: A-Rod saying, “I don’t want to use this as a forum to discuss what I plan to do…” and then launching into his foundation with Don Hooton, whose son died of complications resulting from steroid use.
Best answer: “I was looking for people to blame, and I keep looking at myself at the end of the day,” in response to Newsday’s Kat O’Brien, who asked if he had seen other players take PEDs during the “loosey goosey” era he described to Peter Gammons.
Worst answer: In successive questions, A-Rod said he didn’t know if he took “Boley” the right way in order for it to affect him properly; and in describing why he wasn’t more conscientious in researching what he was putting into his body, retreated to the position that he was 24 or 25 and therefore “young and naïve,” and not skeptical or calculated in his actions.
A-Rod is held to ridiculous and perhaps unattainable standards, both on and off the field. Perhaps the contract is the reason. It struck me that the reaction of many in the press was one of extreme cynicism — more so than usual. They took it personally, as if A-Rod lit a pipe-bomb inside the soap box and blew it to smithereens. The corps of 200-plus in attendance and the other types claiming punditry have made it clear that nothing A-Rod does or says will be good enough no matter how contrite he attempts to be, despite the fact that he has been more forthcoming about his PED use than any star player implicated in the scandal to date. He explained what he was sorry for, which was more than Jason Giambi did four years ago. He explained how he took the drugs. However lame some of the explanations were, he did put some useful information on the table.
Overall, in the reaction phase, I thought there was a general feeling of, “We’re tired of talking about this. We know it’s not going away, but can we please try to focus on our team and what’s going to happen on the field?”
Did we learn anything from the exercise? I think so. Reading the comments here and elsewhere, we learned that A-Rod remains a divisive figure among not only Yankee fans, but baseball fans in general. And eventually, while this story and A-Rod’s place in it will not go away, neither will baseball. We’ll still love the game despite the foibles of the professionals who play it.
That is no lie.
Until next week …