"Cotton Mather... the representative of all the hateful features of his time...the one blood-thirsty man sufficed to madden the whole surrounding multitude." Hawthorne, "Alice Doan's Appeal."
Yes, ladies and gentleman, the mainstream media's coverage of A-Rod's ongoing saga has sunk to a new abject low.
A-Rod doesn't simply sustain the inevitable injury that one time or another afflicts every athlete. No, A-Rod, evidently, has begotten God's wrath. For his injury occasions not sympathy or lament but rancorous innuendo and moral indignation.
Not a day elapsed after the Yankees announced that A-Rod was flying to Colorado to have a cyst examined by a hip specialist before the the press suspended the rules of logic and the wild speculation and primitive thinking began. Did steroids cause it?
Well, of course, don't the effects of steroids somehow lie dormant for four years and then suddenly and magically manifest themselves three weeks after the user comes forward and offers his confession? Or has the media succumbed to the delusion that it controls events? That when two successive media furors follow each other the first presages the second like acts in a tragedy, first the oracle's prophecy, then the divine retribution, and finally the hero's ruin. Through the looking glass, post hoc is propter hoc.
How else to account for the thin-lipped, punitive rebukes, the hysterical denunciations, the anathemas of imminent doom the Diamond Clerics have visited upon both A-Rod and the Yankees since Brian Cashman announced his MRI's results?
So High Priest Joel Sherman of the New York Post perorates: "We see all the worst, long-term possibilities clearer... This is A-Rod's body at age 33. [This is your brain on bombast.] What will he look like at 38 or 40 or 42, when his contract finally ends. Hip injuries turned Albert Belle and Bo Jackson from freaks of nature into ex-baseball players... All assumptions are off, including the idea that A-Rod will one day be the homerun champ." -- Joel Sherman, NY Post
Never mind that Bo Jackson and Albert Belle suffered from chronic degenerative arthritic hips and that A-rod suffered nothing more than a tear of hip's labrum that athletes from Greg Norman to Mario Lemieux to Tara Lipniski to Priest Holmes all have experienced-- to say nothing of Mike Lowell and Chase Utley, just this year-- and with surgery, resumed their careers, regained their strength and dexterity, and quickly returned to athletic form.
Would CC Sabathia's tearing his rotator cuff-- God forbid-- or Mark Teixiera's ripping his anterior cruciate ligament suddenly provoke questions about the wisdom of their contracts' length or doubts about the player's durability? Or are baseball players who have admitted to steroid use destined to Jason Giambi's physical deterioration but for some reason not Barry Bonds' and Roger Clemens' longevity and health? Or is Joel Sherman just indulging in wish-fulfillment, assuming a moral universe where everyone who transgresses his idea of right and wrong suffer punishment, if not by their own bodies than by the scourge of his pen.
Don't the facts of A-Rod's durability speak for themselves. A-Rod has played 150 or more games 7 of the last eight seasons and since joining the Yankees has averaged almost 154 games a season. How many more players in baseball have proven more durable than that? Doesn't every players' susceptibility to injuries and the disabled list increase after he turns 30 years of age?
And if the Yankees had refrained from re-signing A-Rod, how would they have replaced his production with a farm system devoid of position players and right-handed power bats with two free agent classes sparse in talent immediately on the horizon? Would signing Matt Holiday next year, when he turns 30, to the 7 or 8 year contract Boras, no doubt, will insist upon a better option? And to fill the hole A-Rod departure would have created at 3B, where would the Yankees have turned? To Joe Crede? To Scott Rolen? To Troy Glaus? Each has a history of back, shoulder, and foot injuries that present a more grievous risk of recurrence and permanent debility than anything A-Rod's injury history, even considering the torn hip labrum, ever has shown.
Here's Sherman, the Diamond Cleric, again, at his sanctimonious worst, "Rodriguez has lost his way. He has forgotten that baseball makes everything else in his life possible. His insatiable needs and greed have led him to a more complicated life: Phil Hellmuth by his side at 4 a.m. in illegal Manhattan poker clubs, Warren Buffet involved in his contract negotiations, Madonna in his bed." -- New York Post, March 9, 2009
Is there any clearer and more odious example of repressed envy projecting itself as moral indignation or more accurately, a narrow, claustrophobic worldview reflecting more about the writer than his subject. Perhaps it hasn't occurred to Sherman that a little late-night gambling while on vacation or consultation with the country's foremost financial advisor or sexual intercourse [hey, Joel, you mean to tell me you've never fantasized about fucking a celebrity?] doesn't exactly qualify as "insatiable needs and greeds." But if it's "insatiable needs and greeds" you're eager to inveigh against look no farther than the bankers down the block who awarded themselves 4 billion dollars in bonuses after losing 27 billion dollars for the year. Compared to them, A-Rod's after-hour diversions look like exercises in moderation and self-restraint.
Or how about the ominous and self-fulfilling prophecy of Sherman's colleague, The Daily News' Diamond Cleric, Bill Madden: "By now, everyone should be fully resigned to the fact that, with Alex Rodriguez there's always going to be something. And, in most cases, something big... Now it's the cyst heard round the world."
Well of course, if you and your colleagues persist in parsing A-Rod's every comment as though he were a diplomat instead of a baseball player, scrutinizing it for the inadvertent slights it might imply about Derek Jeter or some other Yankee player. Indeed, it "will always be something" if you take every opportunity to lambaste, upbraid, condemn, revile, and deplore him as a "steroid cheat" every other day because you need to fill column space between advertisements and evidently can't fathom a more relevant or compelling subject to write about. What's more, it always will be something "big" if your own paper continues to exploit his celebrity to sell papers by splashing him across the back page 27 times a month. But then again, that's like stabbing a man and then denouncing him for the provocation he arouses by shedding blood.
Why should a customary injury for baseball player's provoke indignation, still less earn the victim sanction? Did A-Rod invite his hip injury because he spends late nights carousing in bars and neglecting his training program? NO, quite the contrary, A-Rod is possibly the most compulsively regimented athlete since Ivan Drago. Well, then, did his steroid use cause his labrum tear or are the two, in anyway, related other than as figment of the Diamond Clergy's imagination? No, not according to the five doctors Bill Madden's own paper interviewed who attributed A-Rod's labrum tear to the rotational hip torsion inherent to the batting motion or perhaps even to the aberrant hip anatomy he was born with.
So if tears of the hip labrum constitute a inherent occupational hazard to playing professional baseball players that any one in the league is likely to sustain-- two of whom, Mike Lowell and Chase Utley just recently, in fact, did-- why does A-Rod's injury justify either condemnation of the Yankees for signing him or more baffling still, merit reproach of A-Rod himself for having suffered it and for the nuisance and blight it supposedly has caused? Are athletes somehow culpable for their aches, pains, injuries, and afflictions or rather is the opportunity for moral recrimination and censure when the $27 Million Dollar Man is the target too seductive to resist?
Blaming people for their misfortune is, alas, one of those pernicious vestiges of Puritanism, a moral order where good fortune testified to one's virtue and election and where adversity signaled one's wickedness and led to opprobrium.
Apparently, Cotton Mather is alive and well and dwelling amid the tabloids of Gotham.
Perhaps the distance between Boston and New York isn't nearly as great as we Yankees fans like to assume.