Villains are a central figure in sports; for every hero to truly reach their potential and win our hearts, there must be a villain that is defeated. However, not all villains are created equally. There are different levels of sports villains that need to be considered. Ranked below are an initial take on the different levels of sports villains:
Level 1: Players we deem dirty
These individuals operate within the confines of the game, but are constantly doing things to gain an edge outside of the rules of standard play, sometimes getting caught but more often than not getting away with it. They are akin to the wrestler who gets away with hitting his opponent with multiple chair shots unbeknownst to the official, before going on to win the match when the referee sees the one time the good guy retaliates with the banned weapon. Think of Kevin Garnett swinging elbows, Jalen Rose admitting to trying to hurt Kobe Bryantor James Harrison willingly taking suspensions and fines for continuing to hit defenseless receivers. These players are often revered for their toughness and gumption once their careers are over, and can often be heard talking about how modern day players are soft.
Level 2: Players who commit crimes or acts of violence outside their sport
Never before have players been as accountable in terms of professional limitations for engaging in criminal or offensive behavior outside of their sport. That isn’t to say that they are ultimately accountable, as anyone who follows the Ray Rice incident over the past year, Floyd Mayweather’s domestic violence charges, or the disappearance of Greg Hardy’s accuser can tell you. Fans love to criticize the lack of morality of other team’s players while making any case possible to justify the actions of a member of their team, or even build statues of them.
In a bubble most sports fans would (and should) say that this is the most repressible of sports villains. However, the disappointing reality is that in almost every case these individuals have supporters every step of the way. Too many fans simply care only about winning games. This needs to evolve significantly, although I am not sure I see a catalyst on the horizon.
Level 3: Players we hate because they are really good
These villains have really done nothing wrong other than being drafted or signed by a team that we dislike, and repeatedly hurt us with their great play. In the Collegiate ranks, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner were almost universally despised by anyone outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Neither one did anything morally reprehensible, cheated to gain an advantage in their sport, or treated people poorly (below the level of acceptable poor treatment afforded on almost all talented people who make lots of money in our culture) yet they have been booed and hissed at their entire careers. This is the most basic of sports fan envy, and can cause many a sleepless night. The worst part about this type of villain is deep down you know that they could have been your favorite player, or provided you with years of happiness if only a lottery pick or contract negotiation had worked out differently.
Level 4: Athletes who cheat
The deepest darkest reaches of sports hate and villiandom (yup, I made that up) are reserved for those individuals who have been caught cheating the game, and done something to compromise the outcomes of our beloved entertainment. Tilting the competitive advantage in your favor is simply unacceptable. Some of the most hated athletes of all time fall into this category for a range of reasons. Once you have cheated the game, there is nothing you can do to ever get back in the good graces of sports fans. Criminals can get out of jail and be reaccepted by a sports community, but a cheater can never wash that stain from them. Lance Armstrong can raise another billion dollars for cancer research, but the first line of every story about him will include his long standing cheating, lying, and harmful activities towards other people to protect his lies. Tom Brady can win 4 more SuperBowls this time using balls inflated to the exact specifications request by the NFL,and with certainty that the Patriots aren’t illegally taping their opponents practices anymore, or interfering with the sideline equipment, or putting up incorrect down and distance information in the waning moments of playoff games, or running illegal formations that don’t allow teams to line up properly, but he will always be known as a cheater, on a team widely punished for cheating. There is simply no way around it.
All of this is a round about way of getting to the Toronto Blue Jay’s familiar opponent last week, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod publically denied taking steroids in a now famous 2007 interview, only to have it come out that he tested positive in 2003 for multiple steroids. After coming clean about his use from 2001-2003, A-Rod claimed to be clean since 2003, only to have his steroid use clearly documented and shared publically as part of the Biogenesis steroid scandal resulting in a 211 game suspension. These acts have firmly entrenched A-Rod into the top tier of sports cheaters, hated by opposing fans across the major leagues. Last week in Toronto, fans held up giant yellow asterisk signs that were in plain sight on the broadcast while Alex was at bat:
So why can I so clearly see that Tom Brady and Lance Armstrong are unredeemable cheaters not worthy of another benefit of the doubt situation, while also thinking that Alex Rodriguez is one of the most unfairly criticized sports villains of the modern day?
Lets delve into the facts a little bit. In 2003 when A-Rod tested positive for steroids, the MLB didn’t even have a drug testing policy in place, and steroids weren’t illegal for players to take! The league elected to do a random drug test of its players to assess if there was a problem. The results were never supposed to be made public, and there was to be no punishment for any positive tests. Instead, A-Rod’s results were leaked in 2009, even though MLB was supposed to have destroyed the results, and not make them public.
Did I mention that MLB didn’t have a drug policy for steroids in 2003? In fact, it took until 2006 for MLB to even implement a drug testing policy that resulted in a single positive test. A-Rod was then further suspended for 211 games for being named and documented in the Biogenesis scandal without ever actually failing a drug test for MLB while an actual drug policy was in place. MLB policy states that a first time drug suspension is 50 games for a player, with a second offense costing the individual 100 games, and a third suspension being permanent disbarment from Major League Baseball. Nowhere is there mention of what to do with a player that never failed an actual MLB administered drug test. Nowhere does it mention anything suggesting that a 211 game suspension is acceptable, or even legally possible for the league to impose.
I am not naïve enough to think that A-Rod hasn’t been taking steroids for almost his entire career. I feel almost positive that he has. The problem with labeling A-Rod a villain is that it omits the fact that he was singled out and treated unfairly by the adjudicating process MLB put in place, as well as the fact that countless other big league players tested positive for steroids over that period of time without facing even close to as much criticism. Lets quickly dive in:
Melky Cabrera created a fake website to try and cover up his steroid use
Andy Pettitte admitted to taking steroids
Roger Clemons has danced around it so much but fails all reasonable doubt regarding his use
Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds both had their heads grow 3 sizes too big in homage to Ken Griffey Jr.’s performance on the Simpsons
Ryan Braun publically criticized and ruined a drug testers livelihood to cover up a failed drug test that everyone still knew he failed
Manny Ramirez failed drug tests
David Ortiz failed a drug test
Bartolo Colon failed a drug test
Nelson Cruz failed a drug test
Jhonny Peralta failed a drug test
Miguel Tejada failed multiple tests
Edinson Volquez failed a drug test
All told, 68 players have tested positive for steroids in MLB since 2006, after they were given 2 years notice that drug testing was coming, and warned to make sure that they got clean. This was after former players were dragged in front of congress and made to look silly, and after Jose Canseco wrote a book claiming over 50% of the league was taking something. Oh, and by the way…. 5 of the 10 all time home run leaders have either tested positive for steroids or were strongly suspected of taking steroids. To single out Alex Rodriguez for his steroid use is wildly hypocritical and unfair. A-Rod was a great baseball player in an era dominated by synergies across the entire sport. I don’t like A-Rod one bit, and am glad that steroid use has significantly decreased in baseball. But A-Rod should be a villain based on his lifetime performance as a career .300 hitter, hitting the 4th most home runs of all time, and having an absurd contract, not because he took steroids in an era full of them.
Red Sox Series
I had the good fortune of attending all three games of the Red Sox series this past weekend. I attended with a range of friends and family from Toronto and Winnipeg, including my parents who were in from out of town. Some abbreviated notes from the series.
Crew: Bryanne, my business partner Gregg, my parents (Patsie and Jimmer)
Going to a baseball game with a range of serious fans such as Jimmer and Gregg as well as more casual fans such as Bryanne and Patsie leads to some great moments at the ballpark. For example, in the third inning Sanchez loaded the bases without getting anyone out. The ballpark was very jittery at his inability to throw strikes, which lead Bryanne to half yell/half ask “Where is Dickey!?!. Why aren’t they putting him in?” We then discussed why they weren’t going to put him in.
Patsie bought a box of Cracker Jack, and was wildly disappointed with the over-emphasis of molasses in the flavor, and the lack of peanuts in the box. It claimed to be the original mix, but clearly wasn’t. The Blue Jays beat up the Red Sox, which was great. Sanchez had his best performance of the season and continues to improve, and the five Sox fans sitting behind us were very polite about the entire event. A great start to the weekend.
Crew: Jimmer, Gregg, Gregg’s son Josh, Marc, Trevor, Nina
Saturday we started the game in the 500s. All morning there was a weather report claiming a massive thunderstorm was headed for Toronto. Although it looked nice in the city, Jimmer and I headed out expecting the dome to be closed. Fast-forward two hours and temperature records were falling across Ontario and we were sitting in the plastic seat oven of the fifth deck. Much like Friday the Jays jumped on the Sox early when Edwin blew the game open in the 4th inning. Following the 4th we were forced to take refuge from the sun in the flight deck and enjoy some warm afternoon refreshments as the Jay’s bullpen went to work securing the series win.
Saturday afternoon my mother and I also took our photo together, which I tweeted to the Blue Jays account. After the game we were fortunate enough to be selected to win two autographed Josh Donaldson jerseys ahead of the Mother’s Day giveaway. It was a great end to the day, and had Patsie and I discussing what other contests we could try and win on social media. We didn’t come up with much other than jerseys of other teams we like. If anyone has any good suggestions we are all ears.
This winning photo must have been selected equally for our devotion to the Blue Jays, and the excellent photography skills that captured it
Sunday was the Josh Donaldson jersey giveaway day, where the first 20,000 fans would receive a replica Donaldson jersey. Already having secured two the day before, Jimmer and I headed to the ballpark early to ensure we could get two more, while letting Bryanne and Patsie spend the morning at the antique market before joining us for the game.
Drunk Fan’s Revenge
While we sat in the Rogers center with the dome closed on a beautiful sunny afternoon preparing to watch R.A. Dickey pitch, I couldn’t help but think of drunk fan from the season opener. The Blue Jays were choosing to keep the dome closed on a beautiful day due to a small chance of rain, but likely to cater to Dickey’s preferences. The game started with Bryanne and Patsie’s seats empty as R.A. served up a meatball to Napoli to give up a 4 spot in the first inning that the Jays would never be able to come back from. Dickey struggled from the jump, and the big bats were unable to get a timely hit. While the game slogged on in the closed dome, Bryanne texted me that they were still at the antique market and wouldn’t be joining us. My mother and my girlfriend stood me up on Mother’s Day, while sitting inside watching Dickey fight to keep his ERA over 5.00. It was a dark end to an otherwise great weekend.
Quick Hitters from the week:
Kevin Pillar finally missed a big play in the field when he attempted a diving catch in the first inning Sunday, only for the ball to pop out of his glove. His bat has also gone cold since his move to center field. It looks like he can’t keep up the pace of best defensive player of all time and .300 hitter for the entire season. It will be interesting to see where he settles in.
R.A. Dickey comes out to the Game of Thrones theme song to start the game. I am a big Game of Thrones fan (big defined as someone who hasn’t read the books and has a loose understanding of about 65% of the character names in the TV show) and I’m a little saddened to admit that hearing the theme song while watching the show brought around negative thoughts of Dickey’s performance.
Delabar has looked good since returning to the club. The bullpen had a solid series against the Sox, and shows signs of stabilizing slightly from the early season troubles.
Getting a comeback win against the Yankees bullpen was incredibly good for my moral as a Jay’s fan. The Yanks pen typically takes care of business, so to put the shoe on the other foot for a change was a good feeling and set the week off on a solid note.
Gibby deciding to leave Sanchez in to start the 7th inning on Friday night even though he had thrown 100 pitches was an odd move. The Jays had a solid lead, and although Sanchez was on a role since his 3rd inning jam there wasn’t a lot of upside to be gained. Sanchez already had performed his best outing of the season, and had gone far enough to get the win.
I’m concerned with Jose Bautista’s shoulder injury and its severity. He isn’t hitting at the plate with the same explosion or pop, and I am wondering if a short stint with Reyes on the DL might not be a good idea to get him closer to 100%.
This week the Jays renew acquaintances with the Baltimore Orioles, so we will be watching for plunked batters and plenty of trash talk.