Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Home Run Scurvy

I used to think that ESPN’s Jayson Stark was a fairly reasonable man. Then I read this, in which Stark breathlessly berates A-Rod for skipping the Home Run Derby. This section is particularly inept:

“Some day, A-Rod wants people to watch him walk down the street and say, ‘There goes the real home run king.’ Well, we hate to break it to him, but real home run kings think the Home Run Derby is part of their job description, not somebody else's problem.”

Allow me to make three points about the Home Run Derby:

1. The Home Run Derby is part of no one’s job description.

A professional baseball player’s job description looks something like this:

a. Show up before the game starts.
b. Try not to be drunk. (Hungover is OK).
c. Hit the ball and/or play your position according to your abilities.
d. Don’t test positive for drugs more than, like, seven times.
e. Some drugs are OK.

Nowhere in the MLBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement does it say anything to the effect of, “Thou shalt risk injury by participating in a glorified marketing stunt just because some ESPN columnist thought it would be really cool.” (In fact, the Home Run Derby is mentioned only once in the MLBPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, and it has to do with an agreement with ESPN that one of the player interviews during the telecast will focus on MLB “Trust activities.”)

2. If you are older than ten, then you do not care about the Home Run Derby. This is a scientifically proven fact. A few years ago, in a little-known experiment, a group of scientists showed 500 ten year old boys a tape of the 2002 Home Run Derby. The boys went wild. They thought it was the coolest thing ever. Tons of home runs! Loud music! Players laughing and joking around with each other, just like regular folk! Awesome!

The scientists then showed each boy the same tape on his 11th birthday. Here’s a sampling of the boys’ responses:

Boy 17: So they just, like, keep hitting home runs, right? Is that it?

Boy 212: How is this any different than batting practice?

Boy 333: Are there gonna be boobs in this video? ‘Cause that would be awesome.

Boy 467: Why are you at my birthday party?

Admit it, Jayson. Your argument boils down to this: Your inner child was hopelessly excited about the possibility of watching A-Rod hit a bunch of home runs. That’s it, right? And afterward, Mommy was going to take you to Friendly’s and let you get TWO ice cream sundaes! And fries! And a milkshake! Because it’s Home Run Derby day!

It’s your fantasy, my friend.

3. Avoiding the Home Run Derby will do nothing to tarnish A-Rod’s resume. A-Rod could retire tonight and still get voted into the Hall of Fame on every ballot. Ten years from now, when people talk about the best players to ever play the game, A-Rod’s name will come up. The fact that he avoided the 2008 HRD will not. How many Home Run Derbies did Hank Aaron participate in? How about Willie Mays?

Stark also supports an unnamed team official’s theory that A-Rod is avoiding the HRD because of the recent Madonna scandal. Stark writes, “He's afraid of not winning. He's afraid of being ripped in the tabloids. He's afraid of hearing it's all Madonna's fault.”

Um, seriously? You think A-Rod is losing sleep over the fact that some drunken Yankee fans might serenade him with an impromptu performance of ‘Material Girl’? Have you forgotten that A-Rod plays in Yankee Stadium, like, every night? And that he gets booed there, like, all the time? And that the tabloids rip on him, like, every day? Remember “Stray-Rod”?

Now it’s my turn to theorize: A-Rod is inured to the boos. Like most professional athletes, he has no particular allegiance to the city where he plays his home games. Steinbrenner signs his paychecks, and A-Rod goes home each night and rests his weary head in his palatial Manhattan apartment. That’s the extent of his connection to New York. He wants the Yankees to win, no doubt, but only because he’s a competitor who plays a game for a living in which overall team success is measured by wins and losses – not because he drank the Yankee Kool-Aid (“Now with 25% more Mystique!”) and he now bleeds for the Bronx and shits pinstripes.

And, perhaps most unbelievably, in an effort to disprove the “Derby Curse,” Stark suggests that three former Derby champs -- Ryan Howard, Cal Ripken, and Andrew Dawson -- actually “used the Derby as a springboard to win an MVP award.” A-Rod hasn’t participated in the HRD since 2002. Since then, he’s won three MVP awards. That pretty much shoots your theory to hell, huh, Jayson?

* Note: As I’m typing this, Josh Hamilton is depositing baseballs on the moon. Everyone seems to be having fun, and Milton Bradley is actually smiling. I take back everything I said about the HRD. The HRD is awesome.


Jeff R. said...

And then Josh Hamilton and his gloriously grizzled coach happened.

Wilson said...

Seriously, I know the home run derby is something of a joke, but that was probably one of the most awesome things I've ever seen re sports

Ryan Smith said...

Yeah, after watching Hambone crush the ball I thought about taking out that part about how no one older than 10 cares about the Derby. That was definitely one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen. Thank Jeebus for DVR.

But then I watched Hambone lose and realized, again, that the Derby is stupid (or at least the Derby rules are stupid). (Although the whole time I was thinking, 'I get fantasy points for this, right?').

I still think it's lame that Stark ripped on A-Rod for not participating.