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A call for civility in player criticism

Mar 23, 2011, 9:00 AM EDT

Chad Cordero

The other night D.J. pointed us to Barry Svrluga’s heart wrenching story about Chad Cordero, who lost his infant daughter to SIDS back in December.  Yesterday, Moshe Mandel of The Yankee Analysts — himself a father of three young girls — reflected on Cordero’s loss and how that changes the nature of the player-fan relationship for him:

We have no idea what is going on in the minds of most players. Some will say that MLB players are paid a lot of money to perform, and I agree that by accepting those salaries they do put themselves into a position that requires performance no matter the circumstance. That said, no amount of money can force a human being to shutter his personal life into a small area of his mind and simply forget about it when taking the field. I wonder how quick we might be to jump to conclusions regarding things like effort and character if we knew more about players, if we knew about the guy struggling with a poor or abusive marriage, or a dying parent, or a child on drugs. Would we be so quick to judge?

We’re so quick to boo. Or to mock. Or to snark. And when we do so, we often do it in personal terms despite the fact that all we know about most of these players is how they perform on the field. I think most of us don’t think about the distinction between the player and person very often so it’s not like we’re trying to be jerks. But sometimes, yeah, we’re jerks.

Moshe’s suggestion: to not say or write something about a player that we wouldn’t say to his face. I think that may take things too far as, in practice, face-to-face interactions are often pretty bad vehicles for honesty, and sometimes you need to be honest about a player and his performance. But I do take Moshe’s meaning. A little civility and understanding goes a long way and we’d all be wise to apply those things liberally.

  1. yankeesfanlen - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:18 AM

    This is a tough one. We can’t turn baseball into Oprah or Dr. Phil as it is a partisan competition. By the same token sometimes we go all Judge Judy on people without comprehending their personal demons and dilemmas as they’re played out in a remarkably strange environment during two-thirds of any given year.
    We can only reflect on what we see and hear about these players as professionals. That only scratches the surface of their true character. For example, DiMaggio and Mantle played through great pain for large portions of their careers, yet this only came to light years after their retirements. No one gave them much of a break while it was happening, even in a much more media-intense time.
    For another example, I think, but don’t know, that AJ Burnett was going through some major personal trouble the latter half of last season (maybe Dave Eiland too), so even though I hated their performance, couldn’t really throw too many bricks at them.
    This is an adversarial relationship- some people are more empathetic than others.
    I appreciate your thoughts but don’t have the answers- many players (i.e Beep-beep and ARod) are so close to the vest that trying to get feelings through either way is well nigh impossible.

    • okobojicat - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:31 AM

      Are you really arguing that while DiMaggio and Mantle played there was more media focused on players than today? Because that is a ridiculous argument. Fifty years ago would we have known that Adam Kennedy got a DUI six hours after it happened? No. No one ever would’ve known about it except him, the cop, his wife, and the manager.

      Their alcoholism and philandering was hidden or washed away by the media and they were made into heroes.

      I agree with pretty much the rest of your commentary. If we are aware of their personal demons, we see them as more human, and the criticism can be more appropriate.

      Though, coming from someone who has repeatedly called a 24 year old pitcher trying to pitch through pain and injury a “FAT TOAD” I have reason to wonder about your credibility pulling back on insults.

      • yankeesfanlen - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:38 AM

        Okay, I’ll admit to my faults:
        1) I inadvertently phrased the sentence making it negative instead of positive, reversing the intent.
        2) I resolve to be more empathetic, but he’s still THE FAT TOAD.Publicize him being kind to puppies, and I may soften the stance.
        As a Yankees fan, this is a long and intense process.

      • cur68 - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:13 AM

        Sorry to interrupt your repartee fellas but it seems like a long way to go to correct a guy who said a few phrases you disagree with okobojica. Len, for a Yankees fan, is pretty decent for the most part (he can take a joke, and, for a typical misguided homer, is pretty fair about his team). There are TONS of guys you can put in line ahead of him and take them to task first. Seems a bit far fetched to start in on Len and the stuff you are pointing out seems minor to me especially when you use the phrase “ridiculous argument”. It’s not ridiculous, merely something you disagree with, and, as it turns out, a common typo problem that we all suffer from. Maybe the point of Craig’s article was to show that sometimes things are not what they seems and to take the time to ask a few questions first? I mean, before you rip into a guy?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:56 AM

        Is that all Joba really is…a 24 year old pitcher who is trying to pitch through pain and injury? I thought he was an obnoxious, overweight pig who thinks his crap doesn’t stink and goes out of his way to let everybody know that he is a pitcher for the New York Yankers. Calling Joba a “Fat Toad” is actually denigrating the fat toads of the world

      • yankeesfanlen - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:18 PM

        Why, thank you cur68 and Fiorentino. I see the healing has begun already!

    • Utley's Hair - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:26 AM

      Len, this may be a bit off topic, but it seems that you watch a lot of daytime TV.

      • yankeesfanlen - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:14 PM

        Naw, I don’t have to watch “Jersey Shore” to know what it’s about. I spent a week in Seaside one weekend in ’73.

  2. AK47 - Mar 23, 2011 at 9:38 AM

    I see what Moshe is saying. It really shouldn’t be different than we would treat another stranger we happen to meet. Just because we care deeply about what these people do for a living doesn’t mean we know much about them as people. I try not to be critical on a person level in my own blog, but more focus on what I like or don’t like about a given player’s performance…but it’s tough, especially when you’re a Twins fan and you’re talking about your teams 4th consecutive 1st round exit…

  3. cur68 - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    When it comes to these forums my philosophy has always been to treat the person I’m writing to/about as if they are right in front of me and that includes the athletes. I’m frequently shocked by how rude some are and I still cannot get to the bottom of those cursed thumb things; the seem to give jerky people carte blanche to be jerky. Did yo see how many people downed jertersusedjersy when he posted on the Cad Cordero story abut losing his child 11 years ago? I mean WTF? Same goes for these kids who play sports for our entertainment. Some of the stuff I’ve seen written borders on just bizarre all the way to “fetch a straight jacket and some thorazine, STAT”. Its important to remember that these are human beings we write about and usually young ones at that. If this stuff were being said to me I’d be real uncomfortable around fans; some of them are obviously mental. On the other side of the coin I loved how many jumped on that a$$ Simons for his article on Thames. Its not all bad, just one or two loons making the rest of us look bad. Now, on to baseball gossip…

  4. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    Here’s the problem…if the athletes want to keep their private lives private, then I’m OK with that. However, when you are playing like crap, you are going to get booed because we as fans can’t read your thoughts and know what is going on.

    This retro-active guilt trip being forced on the fans is absolutely ridiculous. So because a player “might” be having troubles at home, we shouldn’t ever boo anyone?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:11 PM

      This retro-active guilt trip being forced on the fans is absolutely ridiculous. So because a player “might” be having troubles at home, we shouldn’t ever boo anyone?

      Probably not the case, but don’t you think that the players are stuck between a rock and a hard place? If they keep everything private, you don’t know what’s affecting them and we boo because they are performing badly. Then it comes out a few months later the guy had a broken bone is his arm/family member stricken with cancer/etc. And we feel bad. But that doesn’t help the player through the tough times.

      Or, the player comes right out and says it, and some people (not all), want them to suck it up because they are getting paid tons of money, or play through the pain/hurt/etc b/c that’s what guys before them did. It’s a lose/lose situation.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 23, 2011 at 1:24 PM

        I agree with what you are saying there. But it is also a catch-22 for the fans. Let’s say Joe “Heavy B” Blanton is putting in one of his typical 6 inning 4 ER gems, and Uncle Cholly leaves him in for one batter too many(as he is wont to do). Heavy B proceeds to give up that slam on pitch #91(check his #’s…he had around a 2.8 ERA on his first 85 pitches and something like 11.00 after that). I am going to boo both Heavy B AND Uncle Cholly because my team is now getting killed. Should I just keep quiet and say “Oh, maybe Heavy B and his wife are fighting.” or “Maybe Heavy B’s kid is sick”??? Or should I just do what every fan can do when their team is getting their asses kicked…boo.

        I sympathize with players…I really do. But this whole “Should we boo or not” question is ridiculous. You bought a ticket…as long as you are courteous to those around you, boo as long and as loud as you want. Just as I jump out of my seat when the Big Piece hits a bomb into Ashburn Alley, I boo him when he strikes out for the 4th time looking in the 8th inning with two on and two out.

  5. Utley's Hair - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    Eagles fans were confronted with this back in January with David Akers.

    Though at times it might seem differently, I try to temper my reaction to poor performance for the simple reason that you don’t, in fact, know all about these guys. I know my performance at work can be affected by external forces, just as my home life (i.e., temper, patience, etc.) can also be affected by stuff that happens at work or outside the house. I do admit that I hold these guys to a slightly higher standard because of money, but not high enough to demand 24/7/365(6) top performance.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:50 AM

      The biggest difference with Akers was that you could tell something was up with the guy. He was always lights-out in the playoffs and when he missed the chipshot, you could see that he must be either injured or affected by something. Most of the time, the guy just doesn’t give a crap or doesn’t prepare as much as he should, it’s a slap in the face to the fans and he deserves to be booed. I don’t like this whole “oh, well now that we know what he was going through, don’t we feel dumb about booing him” crap. It’s bulls**t. I don’t feel bad about booing someone who performs poorly. It’s my right as a fan. If I KNOWINGLY boo a guy who is going through troubles at home, that would be ignorant and wrong. However, as I said above, most players keep their private lives very private, as is their right.

      Didn’t JD Drew have a problem with his child a few years back where there were surgeries and it affected his on-field play. However, since nobody really knew about it, he was booed, and rightfully so. Once it came out about his child, I don’t think the fans should all of a sudden feel bad about booing and stop doing it. That’s a ridiculous concept pushed forward by mishy-mashy fans who don’t boo to begin with.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 23, 2011 at 11:52 AM

        I meant “stop doing it to everyone in the future”. Of course the fans should stop booing Drew once they saw what he was going through at home, and I think, for the most part, they did. But I don’t live in Boston so I’m not 100% sure of that.

        p.s. Edit capability would be nice……

      • Professor Longnose - Mar 24, 2011 at 7:21 PM

        Personally, I never got on any fan’s case for booing. Booing is the right of any fan, and payers get paid to be booed. You want to boo a guy because he struck out with the game on the line, I’m on your side. You want to boo a guy because he struck out with the game on the line 10 years ago, go right ahead. You want to boo a guy because you think he’s a jerk, fine. You want to boo him because he’s great but he doesn’t play on your team? No problem. Boo a guy who stinks because he’s going through a divorce, fine. As long as it’s all boos.

        Other things bother me. Taunting guys with their personal problems isn’t something I want to hear when I’m at a game. Going on blogs and calling players by derogatory nicknames isn’t my thing. If you want to, and the blog doesn’t mind, I don’t want to take away your right to do it, but I will most likely skip that comment, and if a blog has too many comments not worth reading, I might go read some other blog. And if a blogger or commenter attacks in a way that particularly incites me for some reason, I might attack back, but probably briefly, because I really don’t have much of a stomach for that kind of stuff.

        Liking some performers and not liking others is the main reason to follow sports. Personal attacks, on the other hand, are not my thing. that’s where I draw my personal line.

    • bigharold - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:28 PM

      Utley

      “I do admit that I hold these guys to a slightly higher standard because of money,”

      Higher or just different? I really don’t think the money has anything to do with it, at least for me anyway. We all are subject to our job performance being impacted by events in our lives but baseball players have chosen fields of endeavor that are highly competitive, results driven and very public. In most cases you may love a player but if he can’t get it done anymore than you will want him replaced. In regular forms of employment, if your performance is so profoundly affected for a long enough period, (and depending upon the exact nature), you could well be fired or demoted but obviously there are no blogs dedicated to “the average” guy.

      Pro athletes worked very hard to get to where they are all the while realizing that they would be subjected to hyper Darwinian existence, produce or be replaced. For that they would be rewarded with fame and fortune. That doesn’t mean it’s OK that they be subjected to constant ridicule but it does mean that they are held to a different standard and less tolerent standard.

      • Utley's Hair - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

        I went with higher because every job has “different” standards.

        But, I also do hold them to a higher standard—and I guess it has something to do with the fact that it is widely known just what kind of pressure and work is required to enter into this field of work voluntarily, as they do.

        Same deal with other jobs like doctors and politicians. But I do draw a line there, too. Everyone can and will be affected by outer influences. Do I hold President Obama to a higher standard? Absolutely. He sought and was rewarded with the highest and most demanding job in the world—or at least the country (okay, international HBT readers?). That doesn’t mean I am going to go off on him spending 10 or 15 minutes to fill out an NCAA bracket—though I hope he didn’t do that while he was in a meeting in the Situation Room. I felt the same way with Bush. But, I did take issue with his seemingly constant and endless “brush-clearing” jaunts to Crawford (seriously, how much friggin’ brush needs to be cleared at that place?), added to my opposing political views, which have been well documented here and in my personal interactions.

        bigharold, I don’t know if I answered your question, but I hope so.

  6. bigharold - Mar 23, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    The problem with blogging and the Internet in general is anonymity. People can say things that they wouldn’t normally wouldn’t say if the object of their ire was standing right in front of them. There is almost no consequence to their words. This is exacerbated by the spirit of “oneuppsmanship”,.. i.e. if a poster makes a snarky remark my response needs to surpasses his in order to merit posting. Besides don’t we all think we’re funny as all get out?

    This Internet boldness, is this cowardice? Not really but it’s not merely a lack of decorum either. And, nobody is immune to it. Yesterday I responded to why wouldn’t the Yankees be interested in Ollie Perez with; “Because he sucks”. And he does. But I know for a fact that had Perez been standing next to me I might well have been as emphatic but I would certainly not have said he “sucked”.

    You can’t nor should you develop hard and fast rules about what is acceptable and what isn’t because if for no other reason that type of top down rule making is unenforceable in an Internet blog setting. The MLB forums are the best example of that. If somebody goes too far there they are banned only to return days later with a different screen name being just as offensive if not more so. Also, there is that notion, however vague, regarding free speech. In fact the entire point of blogging is to exchange ideas and provide a voice for opinions, even the stupid, inane and sometimes offensive ones. What posters can do and to an extent already do is police themselves and be responsible for their words. In effect that is what happens when somebody goes beyond the pale and the response is overwhelmingly against that poster. It’s not perfect but it generally works.

    In the end, if you made all these baseball blogs strictly politically correct nobody would bother reading or posting here. And, Chamberlain is NOT a Fat Toad and Perez does suck.

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