For now, what is important is a spokesperson in the Commissioner’s office has confirmed to me they are sticking by their statement from Wednesday, “We take this very seriously and have been investigating this matter since the initial allegation. As part of the investigation, the Commissioner’s Office will interview Mr. Rodriguez.” This is not a public relations stunt by Major League Baseball.
Of course they are upset. Major League Baseball needs to know the facts and depending on what the facts actually are, they need to make sure nothing illegal happened. As Buster Olney outlined in his article:
Two lawyers who work within the sport indicated that MLB would have specific concerns to investigate:
• Was Alex Rodriguez connected in any way to the cocaine allegedly used at the poker event?
• Did he incur a level of debt that would make him more vulnerable to gamblers?
• In the midst of the card playing, was he involved, in any way, in betting on baseball?
Beyond the answers to these questions, there’s a deeper question about baseball which is hard to adequately answer when these type of problems surface. Should professional ballplayers be called hero’s? Should we expect more from ballplayers than we would from our neighbor across the street?
Most people will say no. But the problem with this is when it comes time for the fourth grade biography report many kids always choose one of these non-heroes: Elston Howard, Joe Dimaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Billy Martin, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Children distinguish them as being special, worthy of admiration.
The tension between wanting a hero and just wanting a 4 WAR position player is what makes baseball so unique, so special. On one hand, Rodriguez (before going on the DL), had a batting line for the Yankees of 366/.485/.852. Perhaps all judgment on Rodriguez should end there?
Unlike other sports, with baseball, we live with these guys every day during the summer — when they fail us we feel it more keenly. Baseball is not just a weekend event, the ins and outs of the game happen every day, we live it.
Tony La Russa has been in baseball longer than I have been alive. Basically, I’ve known about La Russa since the first day I became a baseball fan. So, when he’s arrested on a drunken driving charge, it matters more because he’s a part of what baseball is to me.
What happens to baseball players, the good the bad and the ugly, is just a cross-section of what is happening in all areas of society. The report of a high stakes poker game turning ugly and someone openly using cocaine is not different than what you could find in a several million dollar house anywhere in the country. But the difference, the unanswerable question is: do we expect more from our superstars?
On Thursday morning I went for a run with a good friend and she told me, “My son switched sports this year because the drugs on the team were getting out of control. He doesn’t want to associate with that group of kids anymore.” We talked about how difficult it is to keep track of teenagers and make sure they pick the right friends. I said goodbye, grabbed my coffee and bought a New York Times. I do this every day. As always, I went straight to the sports section. Thursday I read, “Alex Rodriguez to be asked about poker games.”
The officials announced Wednesday that they would ask for the meeting after Star Magazine reported that Rodriguez “played in an underground, illegal poker game where cocaine was openly used, and even organized his own high-stakes game, which ended with thugs threatening players.”
Really? Fourth graders know it’s important for them to distance themselves from bad influences. Teenagers can sense when it’s time to pick new friends. But Alex Rodriguez? Let him do what he wants.
As a parent you ask your child, “Tell me the truth, did you draw on the wall with sidewalk chalk?” You do this because you want to teach them they shouldn’t lie. As a parent you teach your son he shouldn’t hit his sister when he’s angry. You do this because you want him to know it’s never okay to be violent towards someone when he’s angry. As a parent, on a Friday night in August, you let your kids stay up until midnight to watch Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run in the fifteenth inning to beat the Boston Red Sox. You do this because you want to share these moments together and hopefully, just maybe, by seeing a person they’ll love a game.
Maybe we don’t need to worship Rodriguez, or any baseball player for that matter. Maybe we shouldn’t even care about his personal life, so long as he keeps it legal, but we have to care about the integrity of the game, the problem is, it’s entwined with baseball players.