If you're looking for an example of the staggering hypocrisy of Major League Baseball's investigation of Alex Rodriguez allegedly playing poker and the attendant press furor, here are some names to get you started: Shin-Soo Choo, Miguel Cabrera, Derek Lowe, Adam Kennedy, Austin Kearns and Coco Crisp.
At some point this year, every one of those men faced charges of driving under the influence. Sure, there was some hand-wringing about these cases -- more about whether it would distract Cabrera from his role as the centerpiece of Detroit's offense than about whether the cases signaled a broader and metastasizing problem -- but there was little public outrage and certainly no investigation.
But when A-Rod allegedly participates in a high-stakes poker game, the opprobrium is swift and unwavering. It doesn't take long for members of the press to start pontificating about how this proves A-Rod is careless and arrogant and not worth the trouble, or for writers to quote anonymous baseball officials disparaging the Yankee third baseman as "a thrill seeker," or declaring that "the amount of energy everyone has to devote to him is unbelievable."
Guess what? In this case, we don't have to devote all that attention to A-Rod. In fact, we don't have to devote any of it. How can a sport implicitly condone drunk driving, an incredibly reckless act that endangers the lives of others, but when a player supposedly throws a little slice of his millions of dollars into a poker game it becomes an issue of pressing urgency that could merit a suspension?
The anonymous official quoted above went on to bash A-Rod's behavior as a symptom of our "celebrity society." It's the right term but the wrong culprit. This isn't an example of A-Rod acting out; it's an example of the reflexive need to maintain the narrative in which A-Rod is the villain, the preternaturally talented diva who flaunts the rules and doesn't show sufficient respect for the game (defined against his foil Derek Jeter, the unassailable Yankee captain whose agonizing march to 3,000 hits garnered by-the-hour coverage).
Look, I have the same issues with A-Rod as everyone else. There are certain things he has done -- the infamous karate chop in game six of the 2004 ALCS, his decision to pre-empt the 2007 World Series by announcing his opting out of his contract -- that are utterly classless. Allegations that he has taken performance-enhancing drugs have left a permanent tarnish on his legacy.
But this poker investigation doesn't rise to the level of any of that. It reflects our need to impute certain characteristics to our athletes that we can use to help define them as characters in the elaborate drama of sports: something consistent, knowable and yet rarefied. The reaction we have to A-Rod is the same one we have when Jose Reyes hits the disabled list again, or when Hanley Ramirez doesn't hustle enough, or when Albert Pujols smacks a clutch home run: of course he did that. That is what he does.
With A-Rod, though, it has approached the level of schadenfreude and it needs to stop. Let his play speak for itself.