On May 1st I started my own construction business and on the 8th James Paxton threw a no-hitter in Toronto, Canada. Things were good. On the 13th things took a nosedive. Mariners’ second baseman, Robinson Canó broke his hand and two days later, on the 15th, he was suspended for 80 games for testing positive for a banned substance. Things improved on the 18th when the Mariners claimed second place from the Anaheim Angels in the AL West and the 2nd wild card slot. Yesterday, on the 19th, I cashed my first check into my business account and Paxton threw a complete three-hit game to further cement the Mariners’ hold in the two-spot. I also celebrated nine months sober. It’s been a good month despite the setbacks.
The common thread here is simply: this is life; either their life, the life of the team, or mine. Their lives, especially, the life of the team is ripe for the generation of metaphor. We see heroes and villains around every corner—everyday new threads of narrative are spooled and tied off to add to the growing tapestry of a baseball season. The players know this, but not all fans recognize that they reduce players to archetypes and praise or punish them as so. Some, like me, know when I’m swinging at ghosts or praising angels, so try to keep it subtle and in perspective. After all, it’s a game.
It’s a part of fandom to support players, but also to get mad at them. Initially, I was mad at Robinson Canó, but I recognized that I didn’t know the real story, his life, and I know nothing about growing up in the Dominican Republic. I haven’t a clue what it took to become a future hall-of-famer… I don’t, nor can I fathom the pressure of being an elite athlete teetering on the stage of decline. These are not reasons to make excuses for Canó, rather necessary features to contextualize the decisions of the person named Robinson Canó.
I’m losing my hair though, so I suppose I know something about getting older. Hair Club for Men is cheating if you ask me.
What I’m driving at here is: there are more factors than pure ethics involved in the Canó case. As of now, we know little, but there were enough grounds for the MLB to suspend him. To say he’s simply a cheater is still in the arena of fairness, but a stretch being that that’s only taking into account the information that has been made public, and assuming the entire story can be reduced to those points. Did you hear him talk to his family? Cry in the bathroom? Listen to his thoughts and feelings about letting down his teammates? The anxiety involved in reading headlines about his character?
Regardless, if he actually was masking the use of performance-enhancing drugs, judging Canó as a man when you don’t know him is folly and symptomatic of an unhealthy media culture that wants you to turn every facet of life into a metaphor, or rather as a deflection from your own dirty laundry. Does it make you feel good to see others fall? Probably so. This’s tied to the cult of celebrity, which is so popular because everyone would rather judge others than themselves. “Canó’s a cheater,” says the guy that cheats on his wife monthly. “Canó let down the organization and should be traded,” says the woman who walked out on her family after feeling overwhelmed, but was accepted back with open arms after realizing her mistake. “Canó hasn’t been that great, we’re better without him,” says the guy that quit his high school baseball team because he was in a slump and his teammates were hard on him about it.
Judging Canó the man, and not the ballplayer, he has been punished, and I refuse to judge him further. It’s not my wheelhouse, or of any interest to me. However, I can judge his performance on the field all I want because I can see it. I can see every double, or every bobble and strikeout. I can be pleased or annoyed at will. I can even be upset that he’s not playing but without commentary about his character. In the field, If he acts as a hero he will be mine. If he fails to deliverer in a high leverage situation then I’ll decide if I want to vilify him.
During the play of game I’ll build a story and create my characters, but when the game’s over I’ll put my toys away because there’s a real life amongst the lives of others that I know nothing about.
I’ll praise Paxton right now, and be happy with myself for what I’ve been able to accomplish. As for Canó, I’ll wait for more information, and when it’s out, there’ll be more context to understand the event.
He’s a ballplayer.