Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Agonies Of Alex Rodriguez

The Village Voice, of all places, has a lengthy and mostly sympathetic profile of Alex Rodriguez. What I did not realize was just how common it is for New York fans to make life miserable for stars who deserve much better.

Veteran sportswriter and Lou Gehrig biographer Ray Robinson has heard something like it. "The torrent of boos that Yankee fans inflicted on Mickey Mantle from about 1958 to 1960 was shocking," recalls Robinson. "What was baffling about it was that Mantle had, by 1959, two Most Valuable Player awards and five World Series rings. I'll say this: Rodriguez has reacted to the booing with a lot more maturity than Mantle did. Mickey led the league in smashed water coolers and batting helmets."

Though he hasn't done as much as Mantle, A-Rod deserves better than he gets from New York fans. However, he brings some of it on himself:
"Most Latin fans in the New York area don't regard him as Latin like they do Ramirez or Ortiz," says Constantino Viloria, baseball writer for El Diario. "To them, he's an American, and comes off phony when he makes reference to his Latin background."

In a revealing interview a few weeks ago with The Sacramento Bee's Paul Gutierrez, Rodriguez said, "We're kind of lost in the mix a little bit because African Americans are one thing, or being of a different religion or descent. But Latinos who are born and raised here are kind of overlooked in a crazy way."

"A main criticism," Gutierrez said to Rodriguez, "from both mainstream America and the Latino culture, is that you are seen as a sellout. That your public persona is so polished that you're not real."

I'm more sympathetic to Guillen after reading this then I was before. I never knew how much he struggled after his dad essentially abandoned his family, and it's clear that bouncing back and forth from the Dominican Republic and the U.S. left him deeply insecure. I hope he bounces back from his trouble at third, but not in way that actually leads the Yankees to a World Series. No matter how much I might like or respect one of the players, another trophy in New York is more than I can bear.

Writer Allen Barra makes a remark that I can't let go uncorrected.
That was certainly the reaction earlier this year when White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen lambasted Rodriguez for wavering over whether to play for the U.S. or the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic. "Alex was kissing Latino people's asses," said Guillen, a Venezuelan. "He knew he wasn't going to play for the Dominicans. He's not Dominican. I hate hypocrites. He's full of shit." Guillen, who later made headlines for calling critical sportswriters "fags," later apologized--sort of.

It is inaccurate to say Guillen said what he did about all reporters, or even critical reporters generally. Rather, he was speaking of one particular reporter that Barra by definition must not be familiar with. If he were familiar with Jay Mariotti's work, he would have been much more sympathetic to Guillen's message, if not to Guillen's ill-considered use of a bigoted word.

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