There’s a fine line between unsportsmanlike behavior and good old-fashioned trickery, particularly on the baseball field. For example, most baseball purists—ourselves included—lost a fair amount of respect for Alex Rodriguez back in 2007 when he shouted “I got it” while running past Toronto third baseman Howie Clark, who let the ball drop. Three runs scored. Bush league, A-Rod.
The hidden ball trick, on the other hand, is as old as the game itself and, in our opinion, no more unsportsmanlike in its deception than throwing a 59 mph change-up when a batter is anticipating high heat.
Alex Rodriguez has never been popular—at least not in New York—and this isn’t likely to help…but it’s worth considering what exactly we want from athletes.
Yankees in particular have been jittery, nervous creatures over the past few years, which has a lot to do with having some of the most vicious sportswriters in the country breathing down their necks, but the PR game of professional athletes has become too calculated to be likeable.
It’s so long ago that most ESPN-watchers wouldn’t remember, but the perfect athlete used to be called a “sport.” A sport was someone like Jack Johnson or Mickey Mantle who lived it up in his off-hours, dressed as flashy as they could, and generally made the full use of their ridiculous salary. Think wide lapels and diamond stickpins, as Randy Roberts would describe it, or the more recent NFL popularity of the plaid suit.
If he were a little flashier, we would have let A-Rod get away with a lot more.