Monday, June 4, 2007

The Glitter That Sends Your Little Gleam

There's a general consensus out there that Jeff Kent is a jerk. Indeed, SI recently ran some poll results showing that, after Bonds, Kent is the least-friendly player in baseball. Ladies and gentleman, I give you . . . .THE MONSTER!

That's Kent, shaking my friend Todd's hand at Dodgers' photo day last week. According to Todd, "Kent was super cool. Took his time, seemed very nice, and shook a ton of hands."

Nomar Garciaparra, on the other hand, is widely thought of as one of baseball's nice guys. Always viewed as a leader whether or not he is actually leading. He saved someone from drowning in Boston Harbor a couple of years ago. If anything, a knock on him during his Red Sox days was that he was too nice, and couldn't will his troops to victory the way a guy like Jeter allegedly does (or did). Todd's take on Nomar at photo day: "Nomar was phoning the shit in."

Obviously photo day 2007 is not a sample size large enough upon which to base anything, so it would be folly for me to say Kent is a nice guy and Nomar indifferent at best (indeed, the SI poll is probably the best evidence I've seen that Kent is, in fact, a jerk). But then again, how meaningful are most of the interactions between ballplayers and those that follow them? Even the beat writers only get a handful of minutes a day, and a large percentage of those occasions occur in a locker rooms after games and are imbued with a win-enhanced jocularity or a loss-inspired testiness. Because of this, how can anyone really say what ballplayers are really like?

Whether it's Barry Bonds' surliness, Ryan Freel's scrappiness, or Greg Maddux's braininess, it seems to me that the sports media is way too quick to make character judgments about guys we know little about outside of their abilities to handle or deal high heat. It's upon these sorts of snap judgments that we base our shock or outrage when players fail to act admirably, whether it be on the field or off of it. Until the first screw-up the bar, I feel, is set artificially high, based on our default desire to think of athletes as superhuman. After the first screw-up we write them off as bums, failing to grant them the same right to have a bad day once in a while that everyone else is afforded.

I don't have anyone or any incident in mind with this. It's just something that has bothered me from time to time.