Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bad Boys?

Uppity folks are the big deal this week in sports, as (at least for the U.S.) the Olympics wind down as more an issue of attitude than performance, starring Bad Attitude Boy Bode Miller. If everything that they say is true, Miller's corporate sponsors should probably sue him for fraud--for passing himself as an Olympic athlete and the class of the 2006 Olympiad, then treating the whole thing as a three-week Spring Break in the Italian Alps. Of course, Bode could easily argue that these are the risks you take when you sponsor an athlete who lists "drinking" as part of his training regimen. You want an "edgy" eccentric athlete as your spokesperson, every once in a while you have to figure that the guy's gonna fall off that edge. Caveat emptor, as the Romans said.

Meanwhile, in baseball, we're still in Spring Training, another sports neutral zone where attitude trumps results. The idea behind Spring Training is supposed to be whetting the appettite of the baseball fan in anticipation of the season; most of the reporting of the event seems to come down to staving off boredom and settling scores. George Vecsey in the New York Times writes the the latest of many, many columns over the past month begging Barry Bonds to retire. Since it's behind the Times Select Iron Curtain, I'll give you a taste:
Oh, boo-hoo. One of these years, BarryBonds promises us, we are not going to have him to kick around anymore. My response is, the sooner the better.

Bone-on-bone friction in his knee is probably not the only pain Bonds is feeling these days. As obtuse as he has been, Bonds must know thathe can never regain the public trust because his personal trainer was caught scurrying to the notorious Balco laboratory.

Now, the fact is that the media will always have Barry Bonds to kick around (just like they always had Nixon), regardless of what he does. If he retires tomorrow, it'll be at least five years of bitching about Barry leading up to his Hall of Fame induction, and another five years thereafter bitching about the fact that he got in, and what a morally corrupt institution that makes baseball. The immortality of Barry's accomplishments will make the complaints about him endless.

But let's be serious, here. When Vecsey, or any of the other hordes who are on the "Please, please quit, Barry" bandwagon, invoke "the public trust," they're primarily talking about themselves. Barry Bonds had a public trust? Or, better put, the public trusted Barry Bonds at some point? When was this? Back when he was with Pittsburgh, and pilloried as a "choker" because he couldn't solve the Atlanta Braves' pitching in two post-season series, or the Reds' pitching in another? Or back when he set the home run record--at a time when MLB didn't even have a steroid policy, by the way--and the various reporters covering the event had the look of children swallowing a particularly noxious medicine?

Regardless of that, Vecsey must have some pretty healthy joints to think that the loss of the "public" trust--that is, the trust of the guys in the press--is more painful than bone-on-bone in one of your knees. But then again, this whole Bonds Retirement movement is more about baseball writers than it is about baseball, or integrity, or anything else. The writers are sick of press conferences with Bonds, who holds them in nothing but contempt. And that's understandable--when you're forced to work with someone who loathes you, you usually find yourself hoping that either you or they move on to a new job, quickly.

On a baseball level, however, what does anyone gain by Bonds retiring? This is not one of those situations where a player is being asked to retire to "protect his legacy." For guys like Vecsey, Bonds's legacy is irredeemably screwed. It's not like any of these guys are worried about his health, or as if Bonds's team is asking him to stay home to improve their chances to compete (a situation that's playing out between Jeff Bagwell and the Houston Astros).

The Vecseys of the world just want Bonds to quit because they don't like him. They don't like the press conferences. Well, I've got a secret for these guys--I don't watch baseball for the press conferences. I enjoy watching Bonds hit, and so long as he isn't cheating at present, and so long as he's able and willing to suit up, and able to hit, I think he should play. If I don't want to hear Barry Bonds speak, I'll change channels before the post-game show. Isn't that reasonable?

***
Meanwhile, in Yankeeland, the tempest in a teapot is about Gary Sheffield, and the status of his contract. Sheffield, never one to shy away from talkin' about getting paid, had a preemptive conversation with Cashman where (apparently) Cash said the Yankees would be interested in picking up Sheff's option, but are not ready to do so just yet.

Now, this is not news. The Yanks have the option, and apparently they're not required to exercise it until after the season's over. That's good, because even though Sheffield has done nothing but hit in pinstripes, at his age a guy can have any number of problems that would hamper his production and make picking up the option sheer folly.

The tightrope Cashman's trying to walk is that he wants to keep Sheffield happy, without committing to a contract extension too early. So I'm sure that Cash is going to meet with Sheff as often as he can, and do everything in his power to make Sheff feel appreciated and loved by the franchise. Everything, that is, except triggering that option.

You see, Cashman could feud with Sheffield, and face a year of trade demands and strife. He could buy into the idea that Sheffield's a Bad Guy, a selfish, greedy player who will screw up Cashman's team in search of more dough. But instead, it seems that Cashman wants to treat Sheffield as an Ornery Old Coot--someone to be respected and coddled a little bit, but not a toxic personality. So long as Sheffield can be satisfied with the Yanks wanting to have him around next year, as opposed to contractually guaranteeing it, everything should be fine.

3 comments:

Dyslexia said...

Hey. Fellow Yankees fan here. I'm starting up a blog called Crosstown Rivals (http://crosstownrivals.blogspot.com/) with a met fan that'll hopefully be pretty good. You can check it out if you'd like, I think we got a good thing going on on the premise of commentary on both NY teams and some smack talk in between. So I was wondering if you would link to us on your sidebar. If you could, that would be great and we'd do the same. So you can email me at amoss1@andover.edu or leave a comment on our blog, your choice. Thanks,
Alex

jeb Stewart said...

I disagree about bonds. Maybe he isn't cheating now,but he cheated big time to steal approximately 150 homers. So if he keeps playing and breaks Hank aaron's 755 homer record, he will have done so, in part, by cheating with the juice. That's nothing to celebrate at all!

Now, if the reporters really don't like bonds as a person, they should just organize a boycott of his press conferences. Wouldn't that be something? Bonds shows up to 75 empty chairs and a "we hate you, barry" sign.

DJ said...

Jeb,

I don't disagree with your view, not necessarily. I don't think anyone should have to celebrate Bonds passing Ruth or Aaron. If, as the result of drugs he took (intentionally or not) at the beginning of this century, then misgivings for any records Bonds might set in the next couple of seasons are justified.

I suspect, however, that what everyone's upset at Bonds about is in the past. Not the hurt feelings--I'm talking about the actual steroids-taking. There's a drug testing regime, now, and scrutiny on Bonds up the wazoo (or should that be, up the Whizzinator?)

None of us can undo the past. Bonds can only decide that today, he will not drink the flaxseed oil. And so long as he does, he should be allowed to play.

As for the scribes boycotting the pressers, that would be a splendid idea, and one that I suspect would suit both parties just fine.