Thursday, November 5, 2009

Game 6

“No! I am not Alex Rodriguez, nor was meant to be…”

I watched an inning or so in the local pizza place. The guy behind the counter argued that the Post-season had been rigged in the Yankee’s favor and he claimed that the dimensions of new Yankee stadium were illegal according to an obscure rule in Major League Baseball. A friend of his, a customer at the pizza place, had worked on the lights at the new stadium, and he said that the Stienbuners paid off more people than anyone else in the state of New York.

After this, he went into a sadly predictable anti A-Rod rant. If he were given the chance, he would not ask for more than $2,000 a game to play baseball because he, the pizza place guy, loves to play baseball; he did not understand why it had to be all about the money. He was also annoyed that A-Rod identifies himself as Dominican when he was actually born in the States; the pizza guy is Italian American, loves Italy, couldn’t be prouder of his heritage, but is also proud to acknowledge himself as an American first. I submitted, at this point, that while A-Rod’s claims about his heritage did not necessarily speak highly of him, it was only to be expected because A-Rod is clearly mad, but the pizza place guy remained hardened to A-Rod’s plight.

I like A-Rod because so many things about him--Kabala, Buddhism, the centaur pictures, the photo shoot of him making out with his image in the mirror, the steroids, Madonna, Kate Hudson-- seem calculated to fly in the face of the things that it is easy and pleasant to believe about people who are extremely, extremely good at baseball.

My feeling is that the truth is that A-Rod, and very few other players in the history of the game, posses a quality related to their extreme excellence that place them somewhat outside of the ordinary human understanding. Ted Williams was like this: he feuded with the Boston media, remained aloof from fans, and had his body frozen by a bunch of delusional crooks.

The pizza place guy judges A-Rod by the standards of the pizza place and by these standards A-Rod inevitably fails; the specious process of relating the experiences of A-Rod, baseball superstar, to his own experience as a pizza place guy is somehow important to how the pizza place guy perceives with the world and defines himself. This is ok—it does not make much more or less sense than what most people think about their lives, but it also does not lead him to wise opinions about player evaluation in baseball.

Later, I was watching Matsui come to the plate in my apartment. As he stepped in, the camera cut from a shot of Matsui’s face, to a shot of a fan with a poster with Matsui’s number and a picture of Godzilla, and then the camera cut directly back to Matsui’s face. The Godzilla on the poster seemed strangely childish, a young and whimsical monster, and I realized that it must be hard for Matsui to interpret the weird racial/cultural meanings of this image, and hit major league pitching all at once. Immediately after that, I realized that it was preposterous to think that Matsui had seen the Godzilla poster-- I had only been lead to that conclusion by the grammar of the camera. The truth was that Matsui probably could not see into the crowd at all, do to the lights, and there was little chance that he could focus on an individual poster-- in all likelihood all of his attention was focused on the positioning of the defense, if he was not completely taken up by some inner process, only understood by himself. However, from a life time of watching movies and television I had learned that a shot of a face, followed by a shot of a thing, followed by a return to the face, means that the owner of the face is thinking about the thing—I was so accustomed to this, that, for an instant, I had been completely sure that I knew what Matsui was thinking about, and I felt completely comfortable in applying my own values and beliefs to what I imagined were Hideki Matsui’s experiences.

In order to capture an audience’s interest, telecasts try to get the audience to identify with the player as much as possible; they accomplish this through a series of codes that they have adapted, perhaps subconsciously, from movies and television. This makes for interesting broadcasts; it also encourages people to participate imagine a sympathy with ballplayers that has no basis in reality whatsoever.

In other words, what if baseball telecasts were directed by Werner Herzog? If they were, I think that the pizza place guy would have a totally different opinion of Alex Rodriguez.

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