Sports Outside the Beltway

Haudricourt’s Idea of Character Is Bunk

Tom Haudricourt’s December 25th article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is both biased and naîve on the topic of character.

In discussing both the contract details and the motivation on the Brewers’ end, Haudricourt mentions, as a point in favor of Suppan’s character, that he will donate $100,000 annually to Brewers Charities Inc. That’s a good thing, yes — though many of the big contracts signed in this off-season and in seasons past have included such agreements. I’m assuming this money is at least tax-deductible, and considering that’s it’s less than one one-hundredth of his salary, we could really say, “Big deal.” This is really more of a contract detail, and perhaps a bit of wooing the public on Suppan’s part.

Still, my real issue here is not with this but rather that Haudricourt lauds Suppan for appearing in television ads that urged viewers to vote against an amendment supporting embryonic stem-cell research. First off, this is a very morally gray area, or at least people are split on the issue. That Haudricourt even mentions this as evidence for Suppan’s “moral character” is irresponsible. If Suppan had appeared along side of Michael J. Fox on the other side of the issue, would he be as good a guy to Haudricourt? Would it be worth mentioning? Or would he have to dig up some other stuff, perhaps about how Suppan doesn’t wash spiders down the drain hole, to support the accolades of Attanasio and Yost? Carlos Delgado is “notorious” for not standing at the national anthem, even though he did so because of how strongly he believed in certain things. I hardly think this is a reason to sign him, or not to sign him. The same goes for Suppan. If the Brewers actually considered this in their analysis of his character or in any way during the contract negotiations, I’d be far more disappointed in Doug Melvin and Co. than I am presently with Tom Haudricourt for even heralding it in his article.

That fact is that the issue at hand is very divisive, very partisan even, and that one can be a good person (i.e. “have character”) no matter where they fall on this issue. Haudricourt makes the mistake of associating particular political stances for character, and tries to hide it by saying that it is representative of his passion (“Suppan doesn’t do anything halfway.”)

I’m not saying that Jeff Suppan isn’t a good guy, or that he won’t help the team, both on the field and in the clubhouse. But the evidence that Haudricourt provides here does little to convince me of his character.

Not that I care, about this whole character thing anyway, because “character” is overrated at best, and probably generally meaningless. I mean, would you honestly not want Manny Ramirez on your team? Would you really want Neifi Perez or Royce Clayton on your team, getting regular playing time because they are “good with the young guys” or spends time with at-risk kids? Granted, you’d like your guys to be handsome and charming and charitable and generous and amiable and passionate about life and all that, but if they post a .950 OPS in 650 PAs, that’s got to be the first thing you worry about, right? The other stuff is secondary at best.

I have to admit that this whole thing caught my eye because I am on the other side of the spectrum as Suppan on this issue. But I have come to realize that there are very few professional athletes who fall left of center, and very few with whom I’d like to make friends, and that regardless of this, I am a sports fan anyway. The lot of them are, of course, over-paid (all of them are this, without doubt), spoiled, conceited, uninformed, disconnected, superficial, idiotic jerks. But I love to watch them play baseball, and I love to analyze how they do that afterwards, and I pay to do both, and I will never stop doing either. I accept all these issues and look past them for the sake of my own enjoyment. Maybe that makes me a bad person, I don’t know. Since I do that, I guess it makes me shallow. (We are, after all, merely the sum of our actions in the world.)

I think that I’ve gotten over the idea of “favorite” players — of truly idolizing a guy for largely irrational reasons. I now think of players as 2-win players or league average starters or 1.000 OPS guys; I think of them as overrated and underrated; I think of how many runs they create per salary dollar. It’s takes some of that “magic” out of the game, but I’ve learned to embrace the cold hard facts, and they are now what I love most about the game. But I’m no robot. Every bit of me was emotionally invested in the Red Sox’s 2004 post-season, and in them signing Matsuzaka this year. Everyday I long to see my young Brewers in action, long to see them win, and know that I will be disappointed if they do not take that next step in 2007.

Still, just once I wish I could find a baseball player that makes mixtapes for his friends and lovers, or really connected with the work of Alexander Payne, or really wishes that Russ Feingold would run for president. Give me the guy who takes a taxicab to the game and rides up front with the driver. Give me the guy who listens to NPR in the clubhouse. Give me the guy who obsessively checks the political blogs every night after the game, or watches CNN for hours. Give me the guy who likes both Jane Jacobs and Patton Oswalt. Unless, of course, he can’t hit.

Thing is, I guess I haven’t stopped wanting to idolize ballplayers. I just realized that none of them are really worth idolizing. Maybe that’s why I turned to the numbers . . .

Brewers must coax Fernando Venezuela out of retirement.

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