Why we feel free to hate A-Rod
The nonsensical part of what Krzyzewski said, of course, is that there is no shortage of Duke fans more than happy to tell haters to go to Hell. And, conversely, people across America have PLENTY of hate for state schools. You telling me people don't have Florida? Or North Carolina? Or Kentucky? Or Texas? Oh yeah, in college sports, people hate a' plenty.
But the astute part of what Krzyzewski said, I think, is that it does seem true that when you despise Duke (or Notre Dame, for that matter) you are not hating something concrete like a state school. It's more like you are hating an idea. Ohio State fans hate Michigan because it's required by state law, but everybody knows that Michigan is a real place with real people who are not so very different from Ohio State fans.
Duke, on the other hand, doesn't exist in that same context. Duke is this private school that feels VERY different. Duke is where
No, you don't need to defend WHY you despise Duke -- you can just do it without fear of contradiction. This week, I spoke at a high school journalism event and one of the seniors said she could NEVER go to Duke; the implication was that being a Kansas fan, she clearly despises Duke. But it is anything but clear. There's no rivalry between Kansas and Duke -- no natural rivalry, no geographic rivalry, they hardly play each other ever, and when Duke beat Kansas in the 1991 championship game, she wasn't even born. But DUKE, all caps, represents something to her, and it represents something to people, and that something is easier for many to despise than anything real.
When she said she despised Duke, everyone around her just kind of nodded ... like it was obvious. There aren't many things you can hate in America without guilt. Duke, though, seems one of those things.
Another guilt-free hate:
I realized this about a year ago when I was getting absolutely lambasted by a friend and Yankees fan for some of the stuff I have written about
And he wrapped up the epic poem to Jeter by saying this: "If you're going to rip somebody, rip that piece-of-#$#*$ A-Rod. What a fraud that guy is."
There you go. When someone this much in love with the Yankees is encouraging you to rip A-Rod, you know there aren't too many
Yes, Alex Rodriguez too has become something less like a person and more like an idea. The overpaid guy who only cares about money. The liar who took steroids. The big star who, until recently, shrunk in the spotlight. The guy so hungry for attention he's making late-night visits to see
In this, A-Rod may be singular in our sports scene. Everybody else has rabid defenders. If you take a moment to bash
But you more or less can bash A-Rod with impunity. Few will disagree. Not many believe him misunderstood. Here is absolutely one of the greatest players in baseball history -- he's a former Gold Glove shortstop who this year will hit his SIX HUNDREDTH home run, probably before he turns 35. Here is a player who had a 40-40 season when he was 22 years old. He is a right-handed batter who hit 54 home runs playing half his games in right-handed-death-trap Yankee Stadium. Here is a player who led the league in runs five times, hits once, doubles once, homers five times, RBIs twice, batting average once, slugging percentage four times, OPS twice and total bases four times ... and he has always played a key defensive position. Here is a three-time MVP who scored and drove in 100 runs for ELEVEN straight seasons -- only
But, the funny thing is: To bash A-Rod properly is to concede the numbers. It is to admit -- even relish -- the idea that he has been a player who had done extraordinary things. It is to grant him his natural talent, perhaps even to grant him his intense work ethic. To bash A-Rod is to outflank him. It is to say he has done those extraordinary things only for the glory of himself. It is to say that he wants constant praise for his hard work. It is to say that while the numbers look good, they do not reveal his inner weaknesses. It is to say that he cheated to compile those remarkable numbers --- he could not have done it naturally. It is to say that he does not play the game right.
All this came up again this week when Oakland pitcher
Braden was almost comically enraged by this bit of ceremonial indiscretion, and raged at length on the subject -- even trying to hurt A-Rod where it hurts by saying that maybe he should "watch his captain a little more often." My Yankees friend, undoubtedly, appreciated that. Most other players I've heard or read seem to find the whole thing amusing, but some have called A-Rod's mound-clomp bush league or against the spirit of the game or a clear violation of baseball's unwritten rules.
Now look: Baseball almost certainly has more unwritten rules than any other sport in the world -- probably more than all other sports combined. I think it is part of the character of baseball for those rules to be "unwritten" -- this goes along with it being a "police yourself" kind of sport. So, you don't:
• Step on the foul line
And many, many others. So if someone had asked me, "Is it OK for a hitter to walk/stomp on the mound after a foul ball," I'm sure I would have said, "Probably not." In the convoluted maze that is baseball protocol, your best bet is ALWAYS to guess that something is against the unwritten rules. And, sure, I can see why a pitcher would get mad about a hitter running across -- the mound is his castle. I don't think anyone should come in my car and mess with the radio. I don't think anyone should come in my house and sit in my chair ... you know, like that.
But to be honest, I also have never heard that "don't cross the mound" rule. I wasn't a great baseball player by any stretch, but I played a lot of it -- and I never heard the rule. I don't claim to be the most insightful baseball analyst going by any stretch, but I've covered a lot of baseball and talked to a lot of baseball people -- and I never heard the rule. And I am quite sure that through the years, I have seen numerous players walk either right by the mound or right over it ... some to pass along a little message or joke to the pitcher, some (
Still, it seems to me the key factor here is: It's A-Rod. And all that entails. I mean, let's face it ... if that was
But it's not Pujols. It's A-Rod. And because it's A-Rod, there are suddenly a lot of people saying: "Yeah, you can't just run across the mound -- everybody knows that!" Because it's A-Rod there are people admiring Dallas Braden for standing up to the big bully who dared stomp on his new carpet. Because it's A-Rod, the story is lively and the coverage is intense and the opinion seems to be at least leaning Dallas Braden's way. Hey look: Another reason to despise A-Rod! Dallas Braden got it right in this way. In this world of ours, you can't go wrong standing against taxes, the declining levels of our schools and Alex Rodriguez.