There’s a parallel universe somewhere, where Alex Rodriguez broke into a Joe Girardi press conference and fumed about how fucking pissed he was that he didn’t get an RBI and how the fucking stat guy is always fucking shit up. And since this is an alternate universe, no one cares about Alex Rodriguez doing this. If anything, we all think it’s funny. The video gets linked on all the baseball blogs, but it doesn’t make it into SportsCenter, and it’s hardly front-page news.
In that same universe, David Ortiz plays poker with Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, with some may-or-may-not-be gangsters and some possibly real quantities of cocaine. Ortiz is now facing a suspension and everyone’s wondering what the hell this guy is doing, playing poker for that much money with people like that! Hasn’t he embarrassed himself enough?
But obviously that never happened. That would never happen. In reality, their roles are reversed, and in some realer non-reality between the one I constructed and reality-reality, A-Rod complains about an RBI and he’s all over the news, and Big Papi plays poker and people think it’s awesome that Big Papi is playing poker with Tobey Maguire.
We don’t know all that much about Big Papi—other than that he’s apparently obsessed with antiquated baseball stats and that he’s knowingly used PEDs. Now, this isn’t an argument for or against steroid use, that doesn’t matter here. What matters is what those things have represented for us in the past. A self-obsessed—not a team player!—PED user is someone we hate, isn’t it? Well, it is when we want to.
But he’s Big Papi! He talks with that funny Dominican accent. He’s got that huge smile. He’s a terrible fielder—always good for bonus points when it comes to your off-the-field baseball image. And he just seems like a really big, really happy dude. So that’s what we make him. The PEDs were because he didn’t know any better, same with the RBI thing … and the fighting and the media-blaming. He’s just Big Papi. He’s another guy we can compare to A-Rod, so we can feel good about ourselves.
Tommy Craggs has written about it many times before: the way we take the blank-canvas guys and use them as a counterpoint to the guys we don’t like. We make them heroes because of what we don’t know or what we choose not to know. Think Kevin Durant and LeBron.
We take A-Rod and villainize the shit out of him because he seems like a smug, self-oblivious douchebag. He eats popcorn out of Cameron Diaz’s hands and dates kabbalah Madonna. He signed a $252-million contract to go to the Rangers—the Rangers!—and then was traded to the Yankees to play third base. Then he admitted to steroid use and he sucked in the clutch—or, at least, we could make that argument with little-to-no statistical evidence and our friends would just nod their heads—and everything was in place for A-Rod to be everyone’s least favorite post-Bonds baseball player ever. He wasn’t Derek Jeter, so he was automatically the exact opposite. Even though he’s a transcendent player, that’s how it went.
And that’s how it goes. A-Rod plays poker with celebrities and he could be suspended. Big Papi does something that we’re supposed to hate, and we laugh it off. Reverse the roles, and it’s not the same.
—Photo AP/Jeff Roberson