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?
- Bats: Rangers Emerge From A-Rod’s Shadow (bats.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Alex Rodriguez: The New York Yankees’ 3B’s Quest for Elusive Clutch Reputation (bleacherreport.com)