The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Hero Worship and Baseball: Is A-Rod Today’s Narcissus?

Alex Rodriguez sharing his thoughts on a calle...

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote the following article, which first appeared on the baseball website, “Books on Baseball,” two months ago.  I am reprinting it here in its entirety for those of you who might not have had a chance to read it at that time.

Can a baseball player whose biggest fan is himself still be a hero to others?  Historically, baseball’s great ball players have broken down into two camps:  those who refuse to accept the mantle of role model versus those who understand and accept that with great fortune comes great responsibility.

So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves! (Ovid)

Stan Musial, in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, is portrayed accurately as a hero because he has spent his whole baseball life living up to this responsibility in a humble, self-effacing way.  He has always gone out of his way to please his fans, many of whom have worshipped him as a hero now for decades.

Still other players, too numerous to mention, clearly enjoy the fame and fortune that baseball affords them, but refuse to accept any personal, let alone moral responsibility for their actions either on or off the field.  If a fan wants to worship him as a hero, fine.  It’ll mean more money in said player’s pocket.

Among the more recent players who have graced this great game, Cal Ripken, Jr. probably comes closest to embodying the characteristics of a true hero.  Not only was Ripken a great player, he was also a selfless player, putting his body on the line every single baseball game for nearly close to two decades without a break.  Moreover, he was a hero because, as a citizen of baseball, no shadow of doubt regarding his life-style, including his personal or professional choices, ever darkened his legacy.

How ironic, then, that one of the players who grew up idolizing Ripken was Alex Rodriguez, who recently hit his 600thcareer home run, a milestone that even Ripken never reached.

But is Alex Rodriguez a hero?

A-Rod is an interesting case because he doesn’t appear to fit into either of the two camps I outlined earlier.  His fawning, pouting countenance before the cameras betrays an inclination to covet a heroic reputation, but his actual behavior suggests the opposite.  He first lied about, then tearfully acknowledged and asked for forgiveness, regarding his use of steroids.  He also enjoys his association with a true hero, Derek Jeter, despite, at one point, jealously belittling Jeter’s skills and talent.

Alex Rodriguez wants it both ways.  Like a spoiled child, he wants to be loved, but he also believes that he should be immune from the norms and rules that govern the behavior of others, because he believes he is Beauty and Talent personified.

In fact, almost 2,000 years ago, this form of the “human condition” can be found in Roman poet Ovid’s work.

Ovid, a prolific writer who penned poetic tales of erotic love based on Greco-Roman mythological figures, wrote the following about Narcissus, a beautiful young man who stared at his reflection in a pool of water until he died:

“What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more.  That which you behold is but a shadow of a reflected form, and has no substance of its own.”  (Ovid’s Metamorphosis)

Alex Rodriguez wants us to love him as much as he loves himself.  But this is impossible, because no one can love A-Rod as much as he loves himself.  And, like Narcissus staring at his own reflection, A-Rod sees only one man before him; there is simply no room, nor is there any need, to see others as well.

Like Narcissus’ ending, staring at his own reflection forever, A-Rod’s career has been also tragic.  Because of his personality and actions, fans have become numb to his historic achievements.  Even as he his home run numbers hit historic proportions, we have become by-standers in his one-man narcissistic drama.

A-Rod may very well reach 700, or even 800 home runs, a staggeringly high number.  A question lingers for him….

Will A-Rod always be Narcissus, merely a shadow of a reflected form, a hollow image of greatness devoid of humility or gratitude or can he rehabilitate himself–stand away from the reflective pond waters–and earn the fans’ respect?

Can Alex Rodriquez truly become a hero?

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11 thoughts on “Hero Worship and Baseball: Is A-Rod Today’s Narcissus?

  1. YEah, I was just writing a post saying exactly that as your email/comment came in. That’s it — I’m done with Yankees/Rangers until the Rangers win 3 games. Well…I’ll probably watch Cliff Lee on Monday, but you know what…they’ll beat him too, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they tee off on him. He hasn’t been that great as Ranger except for those two playoff gems.

  2. Beachpig on said:

    Heroes without a doubt should be found at home, in your community, but role models, that is what players could be. A-Rod, a role model, NOT.

    Some of the role models I looked up to growing up:
    Fisk, Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn, Ken Griffey Jr., Tim Salmon, Rod Carew,..some quality baseball role models. Always worked and played hard, never an unkind word, and strong enough to stand up to someone challenging them.

    • Yes, that’s pretty much what I had in mind. And sometimes, unfortunately, people have damn few real life role models to look up to. Athletes can never replace parents or teachers, nor should they be expected to. But they can model the behaviors and attitudes that we would like our children to mimic. Hero is probably too strong a word, but to kids, sometimes these players feel like our heroes. Anyway, I appreciate the comment. Thanks for reading, Bill

  3. vterranova on said:

    If we want real heroes, we need to look to those closest to us who cared and raised us and put up with us when we weren’t very loveable or easy to be around. It’s those who made us who we are by what they poured into us from themselves and who made many an unknown sacrifice that we shouldn’t do without so we would have it better than they did.
    Sport, like war are the last places we should look to for heroic role models. In sports, the players are highly paid, highly pampered and catered to commodities, there to entertain and thrill us. What they do on or off the field feeds the voyeur hidden within all of us. The soldier in combat is a mere survivor amid the dead and broken bodies of victims.
    True heroes are the last to call themselves that because they don’t feel it heroic to do the things that life and all its’ duties calls them to do.

    • Well, generally I have to agree, although I do think that anyone who puts on a uniform and risks his / her life to keep us safe is a hero (police, firemen, soldiers.) But yes, ballplayers are simply well-paid entertainers, not unlike movie stars. Still, lots of little kids (and big kids) admire and even mimic the styles, attitudes and behaviors of athletes. Therefore, I do think athletes do serve an important public function as role models, even if they really don’t want the responsibility.
      But your general point is well-taken. Baseball is after all, just a game. And the players couldn’t care less about any of us as individuals the way our parents or grandparents do.
      Thanks for the thoughtful response, and for taking the time to read this post. Bill

  4. The way I see it the Rangers have to win with C.J. tomorrow. That way they’ll put the fear of god in the Crankees as they’ll be down 0-1 still having to face Cliff Lee. If the Yankees win tomorrow it’s all but over and I’ll commence with my 2 week long mope until the Series.

  5. Great article. Even the “true” Yankee fans have a hard time with A-Rod. It’s amazing that he’s almost an afterthought on that team. All you hear about is Jeter, C.C., Rivera etc. Yet Arod *quietly* drove in 125 runs in an off year!

    On no…it’s been a stress-free week, but my Yankee hatred is beginning to build. By tomorrow night I’ll be miserable. I should quarantine myself. Where are the Bay Area sports bars?!

    • Hey Keith, At least you can still watch the S.F. Giants take on the Phils. Don’t look now, but the way Texas is playing, I think they could pull an upset over the Yanks. Would be nice to see the Rangers in a World Series just once, I guess. At least we would be spared tons of commercials featuring Sinatra singing songs about New York.
      Glad you enjoyed the article. Bill

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