Alex Rodriguez, Naturally, Held to a Standard that Doesn't Even Exist
Does it seem that every time there's a controversy over some frivolous issue in baseball that Alex Rodriguez is at the center of it? Or do some players and writers simply get mileage from following A-Rod and looking for reasons to create a controversy?
By now everyone knows that in Thursday's game against the Oakland A's, Rodriguez crossed over the pitcher's mound on his way back to first following a Robbie Cano foul to the left side of the field.
You can view it yourself on YouTube:
Personally, it looks to me like A-Rod just clipped the edge of the mound and went nowhere near the rubber -- or A's pitcher Dallas Braden, for that matter.
Braden exploded, thus getting himself a featured spot on ESPN highlights for perhaps the first time in his 50-start career. He went out of his way to heap abuse on Rodriguez on the field, walking off the field (where, still swearing, he hurled his glove into the dugout), and in the locker room after the game, where he told reporters, "He ran across the pitcher's mound. Foot on my rubber."
Okay, some preliminary thoughts: First, it isn't clear that he touched "your" rubber, Dallas.
Second, it isn't yours, it belongs to the club. You're just borrowing it.
Third, and I think this should preface any discussion of the non-incident, there was no attempt on the part of Rodriguez to show Braden up, something which, to my knowledge, no one has ever accused Rodriguez of doing. It was done rather absentmindedly, and no one would remember it now if not for Braden's childish tantrum.
When I checked my e-mail this morning, I was greeted by a note from the publisher's publicist for Jason Turbow's The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, & Bench-Clearing Brawls (The unwritten rules of America's pastime), which quoted the author that A-Rod is "profoundly ignorant of much of the [unwritten] Code, or a guy who actively disdains it." (A detailed discussion of the matter can be found on Turbow's website.)
Turbow raises several questions about this and, to my mind, is wrong about all of them.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I very much like The Baseball Codes; a short review of it can be found in a roundup of baseball books I wrote for Newsday. And in a comment on his site, Turbow writes that my review was "gratefully received, thank you Mr. Barra.")
There's no need to thank me, I was just doing my job. At any rate, I hope Jason will take the following comments in the spirit in which they're offered:
First, Turbow quotes Braden as saying, " 'I don't care if I'm Cy Young or the 25th man on a roster; if I've got the ball in my hand and I'm out there on that mound, that's not your mound.' And he's right," continues Turbow. "The stature of those who hold real estate is less important than the fact that they hold it at all. That Braden went so far as to equate A-Rod's move not just with personal disrespect but disrespect for the entire A's organization also says a lot."
Hold on a minute. Turbow is right that it doesn't matter that A-Rod is a superstar and Braden isn't. I agree that's not the point. But exactly whose space is the pitcher's mound anyway -- I mean, when there isn't a play in progress. Whose space in baseball is inviolate? Braden is quoted in the New York Times saying, "I don't go out over there and run laps at third base ... I stay away." Now, as long as Rodriguez isn't taking fielding practice or a throw around the horn, why would he give a flip what Braden did at third base? And for Braden or anyone else to bring up the idea that this had anything to do with "disrespect for the entire A's organization" takes all this out of the realm of overreaction and into the realm of near-hysteria.
Turbow further writes, "Just because A-Rod didn't know the rule doesn't wipe it out of existence. Braden does know the rule, and is holding A-Rod to no less exacting a standard then he holds himself." OK, precisely what standard is it that Braden is holding himself to? As an American League pitcher, he doesn't even have to bat or run the bases, so he never comes in contact with fielder's space. Does Braden, for instance, figure he would be violating A-Rod's "space" by throwing a pitch up and in that moved him out of the batter's box? If the mound is Braden's space, why isn't the box A-Rod's?
But this is getting away from what I think is the main point, namely the so-called unwritten rules. To repeat, Turbow writes "Just because A-Rod didn't know the rule doesn't wipe it out of existence." Now, I know quite a few unwritten rules in baseball, and so do many other fans. In Italy I once saw a batter who had been hit by a pitch in the previous at-bat "accidentally" let a bat go in the direction of the mound, nearly taking the knee caps off the offending pitcher. That's how Italians play. There's certainly an unwritten rule that you don't do that in American baseball.
But where is this "unwritten rule" that says you can't cross the pitcher's mound when running back to first from third? Rodriguez has 2,181 big-league games, and apparently he didn't know it. Myself, I could have sworn I've seen that happen a thousand times over the years, and I've never seen a pitcher complain about it, much less throw a fit, or heard that there was an "unwritten rule" to that effect.
If anyone is really going to argue that A-Rod violated some important standard of baseball decorum, I think they must provide some evidence: How many times have regular position players thoughtlessly stepped on a piece of the mound and how many times over the years have pitchers complained about it? In a couple of centuries of baseball, has anyone even noticed this happening before? If not, then how does it constitute an unwritten rule?
And, finally, wasn't Dallas Braden breaking some kind of unwritten rule by screaming from the mound like a nut both during and after the inning? About the only sense that anyone has made in this silly debate is A-Rod himself. He called it "Pretty funny, honestly... It's not really a big deal." So let's all agree to stop acting as if it were.