In retrospect, here’s one thing I find interesting about this morning’s Pinch Hitter post: I makes no mention of steroids, but it does mention two players who have admitted to using them.
Alex Rodriguez (“fans tend to feel disdain toward the third baseman”) and Andy Pettitte (“universally adored”) received very different reviews in Sean’s post, which — it’s worth mentioning — was written several days before the latest Rodriguez allegations. Why the difference of perception? I can’t say for certain, but I suspect it has more to do with at-the-stadium personality than off-the-field antics.
Right or wrong, Pettitte’s PED apology seemed genuine; a good man made a bad decision. Rodriguez’s felt phony; a bad guy was sorry he got caught.
Truth is that baseball fans are willing to forgive a lot. I wrote yesterday that baseball loves a hero, and that’s absolutely true. The game doesn’t look for villains, it looks for any reason to avoid them. It wants a reason to believe the best in someone. As long as a player shows up every day, plays hard, plays well and doesn’t come across as a jerk, he’s eligible to be a fan favorite.
He doesn’t have to win a championship. Don Mattingly never did.
He doesn’t have to live a regular guy lifestyle. Derek Jeter never has.
He doesn’t have to keep his emotions in check. Paul O’Neill never could.
What makes a fan favorite is the same thing that makes a good friend or a good co-worker or a good neighbor: Just be a good guy, or at least appear to be a good guy.
Maybe the reputations of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle would have been different with today’s media scrutiny, but I don’t think it would be because of their actions, I think it would depend on their reactions. If they were to smile at the cameras and play hard despite the attention, their reputations would have been magnified if anything. If they were to turn surly and disinterested, their legacies would have taken an immeasurable hit.
Pettitte’s admission of steroid use might wipe out any chance of him getting into the Hall of Fame, but it hasn’t significantly altered his status as a fan favorite. There was disappointment, for sure, but demeanor carried more weight. It always does.
Associated Press photo