In case you haven't noticed, my strength here and at McCovey Chronicles is forced humor. Never met a knock-knock joke that I didn't like. Often, the best way to stuff the bad humor into the writing is to poke fun at players who aren't doing well. That reminds me of a joke I heard.
A rabbi, a priest, and Chone Figgins walk into a bar. The priest turns to Chone and says, "No, seriously, a .241 on-base percentage? What in the hell is that?"
See, Figgins isn't having a good season, so he's fair game. Sure, he's been one of the best players on whatever baseball field he's been on for 20 or 25 years. Ever since he was old enough to tie his shoes, he was a special player in any league he's been in. Now he's not one of the 400 best hitters in the world! Everybody point and laugh!
I'm just as guilty as anyone. A good Figgins punch line isn't something you can buy, even if it ignores that he's a human being privately and publicly struggling with something he's never gone through before. There's also Vernon Wells, Aaron Rowand, Adam Dunn ... man, those guys just aren't having good seasons. Makes me think of a humorous feature idea: Vernon Wells, Aaron Rowand, and Adam Dunn: These Guys Just Aren't Having Good Seasons. It will be hilarious, though only to me. That hasn't stopped me before
Every so often, though, I get reminded about the human side of baseball that I so desperately try to ignore. Marcus Breton of the Sacramento Bee wrote a devastating column about his relationship with Miguel Tejada. Breton followed Tejada as a minor leaguer for a book, and grew close to him.
Tejada started out as a bright-eyed kid living in a hut with his family in the Dominican Republic. He took showers in a stall of rusted car doors with a garden hose slung over the top. He lost his mother at a very young age, was homeless for a time and had little formal education....
... In the summer of 1996, when he played for the Modesto A's, Tejada became like a little brother to me and Villegas. He and other Dominican players lived in the home of a Ceres farmer. We became their only American friends to visit.
You haven't lived until you've driven to the Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto with a car full of baseball knuckleheads hanging out the windows, whistling at girls as if they had a chance.
It's a painful article, but in a good way. Breton reminds everyone that Tejada is a human being struggling through something new, and he does it without trying to make critics feel shame. The shame comes on its own. The decline of a baseball player is unavoidable, but that doesn't make it hurt any less, and Breton humanizes it in a short article.
It's not like I'm going to change my writing style. And it's not like you're going to go out of your way to avoid writing that pokes fun or expresses anger at struggling players. If you've found your way to Baseball Nation, it's probably because you're a huge baseball fan, and you're in the same bubble as the rest of us. You and I don't think of baseball players as a collection of the 700 or so best players on the planet -- we think of them as players who exist on a sliding scale that moves from Pujols and Halladay on down, and the farther you move from the top, the worse the player gets. The worse the player, the harsher the criticism.
This isn't a product of the internet. This is a dynamic that's been around for as long as baseball, football ... any sport. It's not going to change. But every so often, it's worthwhile to remember that players are people, and Breton's article helps out with that. I watched just about every one of Tejada's at-bats this year. Dude was awful -- one of the worst hitters I've seen all year, with the exception of just about every one of his teammates. But he was still a person. It helped my job to forget that. That isn't something I'm especially proud of.
There's no moral to the story. Really, there isn't. I'll read an article like this, feel empathy, slowly forget what it's like to feel that empathy, turn back into a typical baseball fan, get nasty with my criticism, read an article like this, feel empathy .... The point of this article is that I'm in the part of the cycle where I'm feeling empathy, and I feel like I have to point it out. Unless you're some kind of emotionless super-human, you're probably not that different.