Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mind Games

ESPN’s Jayson Stark poses this question:

What does it say about the strange saga of Alex Rodriguez that when he gets hot, our first inclination is to break down his psyche instead of his swing?

At first, I thought we would be treated to a look at the media’s “inclination” to play amateur psychiatrist with A-Rod. Alas, Stark then touches on Rodriguez’ swing. Better late than never, I guess.

Hilariously, Stark quotes an anonymous scout who talked about what Rodriguez was doing wrong last year. Why didn’t Stark and his cohort talk to this guy last year when Rodriguez wasn’t hitting home runs? Was it just too boring? Was it more fun to speculate about Rodriguez’ allegedly fragile psyche?

We are not mind readers, so we can’t say for sure. We will, however, go out on a limb and suggest that laziness contributed to the scripts that followed. We will also admit we could be wrong.

Right or wrong, it reminded us that we have seen more than the usual amount of stories in the last week or so that required more than the usual amount of mind reading and amateur psychiatrics from the press.

Like Ben McGrath’s profile of Manny Ramirez in the 23 April issue of The New Yorker. The whole piece is full of non-psychiatrists offering their diagnoses. But this might be my favorite line of all:

Popular diagnoses abound – “If we didn’t have Manny to talk about, who would we talk about?” Duquette says – and tend toward the faintly condescending, clichés about Ramirez as man-child (“He’s great with kids”) or idiot savant or holy fool.

Ironic, since the McGrath’s profile is also faintly condescending…

Manny being Manny is big out east, but here in America’s Heartland it’s a pitcher whose mind is most probed and dissected. And now that Mark Prior is out for the year after shoulder surgery, we’ve been hearing a lot about him.

Like this bit from ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski:

Royals backup catcher Paul Bako, who spent two seasons with the Cubs, motioned me over to his locker.

“What's going on with Prior?” he said.

“He's hurt – again,” I said. “And you know how it is in there. I think some guys on that team think he's a wuss.”

It’s a two-fer from Wojo – he subtly introduces the Prior Is a Wuss script (“He’s hurt – again.”), and then deftly reads the minds of Prior’s teammates to expunge himself of culpability.

The “I think…” construction is among the most useful in journalism. It ranks right up there with “Some say…” We used a variation earlier in this piece, when we offered laziness as an explanation of our press corps’ conduct.

Perhaps the most surprising take on Prior came from the Trib’s own Big Mouth. Here, he lays the smack on his brethren:

…the simple description is that there was enough dead tissue inside his shoulder that it should have sounded like car tires on gravel whenever he threw.

That doesn't sound like too much fun. It also doesn't sound like an easy thing for someone who makes a living with his shoulder. It might explain why his fastball had dropped from 93 m.p.h. when he was healthy to 82 m.p.h. in spring training.

Ah, but he's supposed to be worthless and weak, remember?

One whisper begets a windstorm. Along the way, someone decided Prior's problems were either in his head or in his gut. Now the theorists are saying he waited too long to get the surgery because he was afraid of it. On the mound, off the mound, the guy can't win…

Many pitchers experience arm problems. Some don't. Some can pitch through pain. Some can't. Prior is in the last category. It could just be that nobody is to blame for what happened. It could be the guy is injury prone.

But when you want blood, that's not a very satisfying answer, is it? It's why the theories have branched out to include Prior's mind-set. It's why we're talking about a squeezeably soft pitcher now.

Prior's prognosis should give pause to the people who recklessly referred to him in print as Mrs. Prior. An apology might be in order.

Wow. Big Mouth might be in danger of losing his BBWAA membership for that broadside blast. We can’t remember the last time we’ve heard someone in the media take his fellow journamalists to task for their amateur diagnoses and/or mind reading. Although, of course, Big Mouth does some mind reading of his own when he claims that Prior can’t pitch through pain. Oh, wondrous irony…

Despite Big Mouth’s brazen call for apologies, he still knows which side his bread is buttered on:

It's very possible the Cubs were the ones who whispered first about Prior's lack of toughness, and they should know.
This one sentence is utterly hilarious on two levels. Big Mouth excuses the press gaggle’s conduct by saying “it’s very possible” the Cubs started all those vicious rumors. Can’t blame the scribes for that, right?

And then he adds that beautiful flourish at the end – “and they should know.” What the hell does that mean?

Does it mean that if the Cubs perhaps maybe started the Prior Is a Wuss script, they’d be in the best position to know that what they’re whispering isn’t really a script? By our reckoning, that implies the Cubs were right, and Prior is, in fact, a wuss.

And that little bit of logic torpedoes the rest of Big Mouth’s argument that Prior isn’t a wuss, because the surgery proves it.

Thankfully, the NFL draft was this weekend, and the Bulls won their playoff series. Those events should give Big Mouth plenty of opportunities to mind-read and diagnose other sports figures. For a while, at least, baseball will be spared his ministries.

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