Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Heroes and Zeroes

Over at It's About the Money, Stupid, Jason posts an excellent post on how the media ignored the steroids scandal in baseball.

At River Ave Blues, Joseph P offers his take and comments on the following Ken Rosenthal quip:

“That is our greatest sin, extolling these guys as something more than they were. Some of us had a feeling that something was amiss. We are more guilty of making McGwire and Sosa into heroes when they weren’t.”

Joe's comment:

First of all, McGwire and Sosa are not and never were heroes, even if they hit all those home runs clean. Baseball players are not heroes. They are entertainers. We might attach some narrative lore to them, especially the legendary ones, but that doesn’t make them heroes. There are people who sacrifice their lives for the betterment of others. That’s when you can get into the hero discussion. It does not apply to people who hit baseballs 400 feet.

In an ideal world, Joe is perfectly right. Baseball players aren't heroes, not in the way that firefighters, EMTs, soldiers, the members of the Coast Guard and those that risk their lives to help others are. There's no real comparison between them and guys that get paid hundreds of millions to play a game as a living.

The problem is, however, that we don't live in an ideal world.

We live in a world-and I've said this before-where what matters is not so much the reality as does the perception.

In 1998, the majority of us baseball fans perceived at least one of the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa bashing duo as a hero-and in many cases, we thought they both were. In that instance, Sosa and McGwire became de facto heroes, even if they never planned to be considered as such.

See, the thing is, when you are a marquee employee of a multi-billion dollar industry, you don't get to pick and choose what you want to be-if the fans decide you are a hero, if they think you are a hero, however misguided their notion may be, well, then, you are a hero.

So when these guys do something that's not just disallowed by the governing body of their employer, but in many cases illegal as well, you can't just brush it off and say it doesn't matter.

I wish it didn't matter. Really, I would love more than anything not to care, and if you've talked to me recently, you know that my state of delusional grandeur doesn't extend to the belief that 99% of baseball players are clean and there are only a few bad eggs. We know this wasn't and, likely, still isn't true.

An alarming percentage of baseball players likely used-a conservative estimate of 103/800 yields a percentage of 13%; there are only 750 25-man roster players active at any one time-it might seem like an inconsequential number, but over one in ten using would easily mean that yes, someone on your favorite team's roster is using as well.

The public-the paying public-will probably still pay to see the game, even if only to boo the cheaters, but much of the harm done is irreparable.

The Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a ten year deal, when they knew that at the tail end of the deal A-Rod is likely to be dead weight because he was the one that was supposed to "cleanly" break Hank Aaron's record. Alex might still go on to hit 800 home runs, but how many of the runs are tainted? If people demand that McGwire's numbers and Bonds' numbers be tainted with asterisks, there is no reason to think they won't demand the same of A-Rod.

I can't actually tell you that most baseball players have no interest in being heroes, but if the opportunity arose, I wouldn't hesitate to make that bet. Baseball players are, as Joe says, in reality entertainers. The perception of them as heroes is unfair...but it's still there, just the same.

As I said before, the steroids scandal isn't likely to keep fans from the game-if you see a decline in attendance figures this year, you're probably best off attributing blame to the recession/economic collapse/second great depression-but the argument that baseball players aren't heroes and thus how they do what they do shouldn't matter is fallacious.

Baseball players have tremendous ability-they can inspire kids to play and thus stay out of trouble, they can inspire kids to dream and they can provide us adults with an escape from the humdrum of every day life (well, unless you're a Nationals fan, but that's not the point). In that sense, baseball players are heroes, and as much as I have issues with Ken Rosenthal, he is not entirely off the mark.


  1. Rebecca, glad you liked the link. I need your chatter there, too!

    Jason @ IIATMS

  2. You are kidding when you say perception matters more than reality, aren't you?