Since the passing of George Steinbrenner in 2010, Major League Baseball has been lacking a certain something, as if the audial landscape in baseball has been a little too quiet. Too often, the sound bites offered up by the majority of MLB players and managers devolve into hackneyed banalities, tortured metaphors, and clichéd baseball-oriented generalities. It’s enough for one to wish that Ozzie Guillen would be hired by one of the thirty teams.
So why the quiet media, tame sound bites, and reticent baseball personalities? It’s not as if these men in uniform are androids devoid of personalities or character.
Additionally, we should not be pining for the absurdity of Brian Wilson’s insipid hipster act or the strained and superficial nature of Nyjer Morgan and his “Tony Plush” alter ego; we need loose cannons and straight shooters who stir the pot and cause controversy, adding roiling emotion to the games and making it something more than a group of competitors playing a gentleman’s game. Much like the animosity harbored by Jorge Posada for the rival Red Sox, we need some fiery personas to spice up rivalries, energize fan bases, and create a buzz around the sport that has been sorely lacking because too often we get lost in the presentation of players and managers rather than the substance of their characters.
Why is this baseball’s present reality? Is it because the owners are all tight lipped businessmen, the players restrain themselves rather than risk harming their “brands” and the salty, old school managers of yesteryear are fading into obsolescence? If so, and that is all true to varying extents, it leaves a much depleted collection of baseball personalities who would dare to speak up.
For example, an ironic reason for Major League Baseball’s lack of energy, controversy and emotion may very well lie in its overwhelmingly successful globalization of the game. Baseball has been a diverse sport for decades, however, while the influx of talent from across the globe over the past two decades has been tremendous in terms of the on-field product, the human interest elements have suffered due to cultural and language barriers. Japanese, Korean, Caribbean, Central American and South American players have entered the league and fashioned terrific careers for themselves, but their lack of English language mastery has left the fans unable to truly grasp the essence of who they are or what type of people they are.
In the past this issue has been broached, though not directly, by former Mets closer Billy Wagner who derided the media for constantly coming to him after games for quotes even if he had not been put into the game, rather than seek out some of the Latin players on the squad. Previously, former Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca also echoed similar sentiments about the topic when he was in New York. Perturbed and frustrated with the media for continually seeking him out for comment, Lo Duca said: “Some of these guys have to start talking…They speak English, believe me.” Not all players are created equal in terms of ability, and that certainly rings true in regards to their eloquence with English. Not all should be held to the same standard, but it is very interesting to consider what Lo Duca and Wagner had to say about the issue due to the fact that they were respected players and clubhouse veterans. If players don’t speak to the media how can fans glean anything about them? Also, how could they possibly provoke any sort of emotion? They are unknown entities, and therefore the fans are unable to be emotionally invested to a high degree.
In the eyes of many, the chief culprit for baseball’s recent lack of bluster and passion is a self-loathing and cannibalizing media. Far too often, be it in politics, entertainment or sports, an individual will go rogue and speak their mind via interview or by sending out tweets and they will inevitably offend some aggrieved party. Immediately radio, television, and social media campaigns kick into overdrive to cover the manufactured indiscretion and demand an apology, one that will almost always be insincere, but figurative scalps are what the media horde demand regardless of sincerity. So in review: someone says something, someone else gets offended, the person who said the offensive thing apologizes for saying what they felt and meant, and the world continues to revolve and rotate while the hell-raisers of the media move on to the next public relations feast to satiate their perverse appetites.
If this is what the world has become, and it sadly appears as though it has, it is hard to blame the members of the MLB community for failing to speak their minds in the same manner as past personalities like Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson and John Rocker. You don’t always have to agree with the statements or views of people, but shaming them and demanding apologies for their genuine perspectives and opinions is a gross commentary on our culture. Unfortunately, by censoring ourselves we have done ourselves a disservice by means of taking passion and individuality from stars. Fear of offending someone filters the essence of an individual and all we are left with are bland, cliché spewing shells.
Personalities, emotion, passion and controversy can and should thrive in Major League Baseball, but the current culture, as well as obstacles hindering certain individuals, makes it hard for such qualities to flourish. Hopefully, in the future, members of the baseball community will once again be able to unapologetically open up.