Manny Ramirez, among the all-time leaders in HR, SLG, and doing incredibly stupid things. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
A few weeks ago, I asked you all about the rationale behind assigning moral significance to on-field events. There was some great feedback, and while I'm still unconvinced that karmic narratives are terribly useful, I feel a little more comfortable in understanding why they're around. Today, I'd like to turn things around a bit, and talk about what goes on off the field.
This is, of course, inspired by the A's recent signing of Manny Ramirez to a minor-league deal. Manny... Let's just say he has some baggage. While he was in Boston, most of that baggage was limited to his mental lapses in the outfield and his often-vocal pouting about media treatment and perceived lack of respect from ownership/fans/local wildlife. Following his trade to Los Angeles, however, Manny's actions have spiraled further into irredeemable territory; a suspension for PED use in 2009, another failed test in 2011 that forced him into retirement, and finally an arrest on domestic battery charges. Clearly, the A's are willing to look past all that, on the off chance that Manny can bring any sort of offensive help to their banjo-hitting lineup.
So today's question, which I'll elaborate upon after the jump: could you look past it?
Baseball has never been a sport over-burdened by saints. We're all familiar with the failings of players who are considered among the all-time greats. Mickey Mantle's drinking and womanizing. Ty Cobb's willingness to inflict violence upon others on and off the field. And so forth. We accept on some level that they lived in different times, that standards of behavior were different, and shrug as we lament the barbarism of the past. These stories were set in bronze before we were born, and it's not as though we were the ones rooting for Cobb even after he beat up a heckling fan. Our condemnation of their actions is a simple matter, unburdened by the demands of fandom.
On a smaller level, we've all got players who we just for some reason don't like. We don't care for their style of play, we don't like the way they interact with other players, something about them just bugs us. I think at this point most Sox fans would be on board with A-Rod as a decent example here. Nothing wrong with his play, his off-the-field record is pretty clean, but then there's, well, this. I'd have put pre-Boston John Lackey in this category as well, but he's since given us much more substantial reasons to find him maddening.
So where's that line beyond which we shall not root for a player, even if he's wearing the right jersey? Take, for example, the Rays. Were I a fan of Tampa Bay's, I'd have been annoyed by the Luke Scott signing, since I'm not a huge fan of his occasional forays into political punditry. I could still root for him as a ballplayer, though (with probably an occasional snark-tweet). But their decision to trade for Josh Lueke I wouldn't be able to forgive. And of course, I'm fully aware of the canyon of difference between being politically disagreeable and pleading no-contest to rape charges, these are conveniently pretty much the far ends of the spectrum. It's everything in between that I'm interested by.
How do you reconcile your desire to root for a team with your personal dislike/disgust for one of that team's players? At what point do you throw up your hands and decide "no, he's not worth cheering for"? Had the Sox been the team to gamble on Manny, would you have been able to root for him? Would his performance on the field influence that decision? For that matter, does Manny's behavior since leaving Boston tarnish your memories of his time with the Red Sox? Chat it up.