It’s been an interesting week or so in sports with a ton going on- the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NBA playoffs, and drama at the Players Championship, not to mention the usual baseball happenings. It’s no surprise that there were, as usual, the ups and downs and early-exits and underwhelming disappointments associated with each of these events. It’s even less surprising that there’s been a ton of talk about players who “failed,” whose legacies were affected, and of course, the most heated debate of all: who deserves the blame for the failure to advance, the loss, the end of the season. All of which begs a interesting question: do we hold players that we like to a different standard than players we don’t like?
For instance, there was much ado this week about the verbal scuffle between Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain, during which Chamberlain scolded Rivera in front of a pool of reporters. Let me start here by saying that I don’t agree with calling out your teammate publicly about anything. If something needs to be said, that should happen within the confines of a personal conversation, with a manager as a mediator, if necessary. Keep it all in-house, put on a united front to the outside world. As such, it’s my contention that Joba Chamberlain was in the wrong here, and the situation seems to be blown a bit out of proportion. But that is exactly the point- the situation was blown out of proportion not necessarily by what Joba said, nor that it was done in public, but that it was said/done to a beloved Yankee in Rivera.
If Joba had had words with, say, Jayson Nix or Lyle Overbay or Phil Hughes, would it have been as big of a deal? There probably would have been something said about it, and it would have blown over, but the fact that Joba said it to Mo has made it a topic of national sports discussion.
Be honest and ask yourself: would you have cared if Joba had said the same thing, in the same circumstance to Nix? Probably not. The fact of the matter is that Mariano has been elevated (and rightly so) to a special place in the hearts and minds of Yankees fans, and Joba’s behavior was a direct affront to Mo’s status among the fans (and probably the media, as well). Joba was excoriated- but would the reaction have been the same had he said it to anyone not named Rivera (or Derek Jeter)?
The perception of a beloved player as compared to a one who is much-less beloved is not just limited to choosing sides in a verbal spat. Alex Rodriguez has been the recipient of much vitriol in the post-season for his lack of production (though his excellent 2009, which was a large part of that championship run is conveniently forgotten, but I digress). In the non-2009 post-seasons, ARod has hit two (!!!) homers 15 RBI in 201 PAs in the post season. This criticism isn’t entirely unwarranted, as he has hit over .273 in just two post-seasons with the Yanks: 2009, which led to a championship, and 2004… well, we know how that turned out.
Another player who starred in 2009, but has been decidedly mediocre in the post-season since? CC Sabathia. Yes, I know he’s the ace of the staff, and odds are Yankees fans would sign up for him pitching Games 1, 4, and 7 on short rest in the World Series. He has a 6.17 ERA in 44.6 IP with a WHIP of over 2.00 in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Both made huge contributions to the team in 2009, and Rodriguez has one more season of pulling the Yankees towards a World Series under his belt- yet CC gets a pass while Alex is booed out of the lineup. Granted, he has done a lot that has warranted criticism, most of which he has brought on himself. That said, on the field, he and CC have both struggled, but that is conveniently forgotten when people look at the big man on the hill in October, when arguably, the Yankees rely more on CC to win a game as the starter than ARod as an individual batter.
There’s no disputing the fact that we hold our own players, the Yankees, in higher esteem than other players, and are willing to jump on board to defend them against anyone. But the simple fact remains that when it comes to our favorite players, we often look through rose-colored glasses, holding them to different standards than those for whom we don’t have the same affection. It’s neither right, nor wrong- it just happens. That said, it does give reason for pause every time a player is booed- do they deserve it, or do we just like them less?