In the summer of 1990 the Yankees were playing the White Sox in a relatively unimportant game. “Neon” Deion Sanders walked to the plate and with the end of his bat he drew an “S” in the dirt with a line through it. A dollar sign. The Sox catcher immediately wiped it away. Undeterred, the 22-year-old Sanders again marked the area in front of home plate with a dollar sign. “That’s why I’m here,” he stated to the catcher. The catcher that afternoon was 43 year-old veteran Carlton Fisk, an old school ballplayer in every sense of the word. The future Hall of Famer wiped it away a second time and stated defiantly, “You do that a third time, Sanders, and I’ll bury you there.”
“Pudge” was a big time throwback. In his own way he taught Sanders that this is baseball and that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated in a game so steeped in tradition and history.
As I’ve stated before in previous blogs, I am a complete traditionalist when it comes to our National Pastime. I cherish the history, the records, have memorized stats and view the all-time greats as if they were Greek Gods from Mount Olympus. So, when the fabric of the game is possibly tarnished, it doesn’t sit well with me. When it’s one of the Mets, it’s hard to accept.
I am old-fashioned. Perhaps too old-fashioned. And maybe I have too much time on my hands. I like to hold baseball and those who play the game to a higher standard than athletes of other sports.
On July 12th, ESPN will release their annual ‘The Body Issue’ in which athletes are featured nude, albeit with strategically placed items covering genitalia. 21 sports stars will be included in the 2013 issue. Only two baseball players are included. One of whom is our own Matt Harvey.
Granted, Harvey is a young and buff 24-year-old professional athlete. He’s obviously fit, tone and muscled. His chiseled form would make Hans and Franz jealous. Again, I’m old-fashioned but again, I like to hold ballplayers and especially my Mets to a higher standard. I won’t say he was wrong for doing it. But I can’t say I’m in favor of it either.
Now, many women who look at the pictures will have no problem with the physical specimen Harvey is. Many guys will say, “I don’t need to see that.” But is this necessary? Are the photographs “art?” Maybe, maybe not. Art is subjective. Some consider the Mona Lisa a masterpiece. Others consider a collection of Campbell Soup Cans a masterpiece. Each to his own.
Some will argue that “If it was a woman, you’d have no problem with it.” But I must disagree. If someone wants to be recognized for their achievements in a competitive sport then they should not resort to using their own sexuality. Danica Patrick gets angered when she’s treated differently than one of ‘the boys.’ She wants to be judged on her individual merits and accomplishments. A professional athlete, a NASCAR driver. But then she goes out and poses in a bikini lying across the hood of a car. Natalie Gulbis gets upset when she is treated like a sex object and not a professional golfer. But then, she turns around and sells her annual calendar in which she appears in various provocative outfits.
True, I have no problem with the double-standard displayed by Patrick or Gulbis or others. But they are golfers and race car drivers. Not baseball players.
Football has cheerleaders. Basketball has cheerleaders. And while I’m not a fan of either sport, I have no problem with that. But I am glad baseball does not. In the mid 1980’s, Cubs ball girl Marla Collins found herself in the national spotlight as WGN broadcast games from coast-to-coast. Collins took advantage of her notoriety and posed for Playboy. She was quickly fired.
Over the last three plus months Harvey has been compared to Tom Seaver and Doc Gooden. I know times have changed. And baseball has changed. But can anyone picture a 25-year-old fit Tom Seaver doing a “photo shoot” of this nature?
Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball star ever. He was an icon that became bigger than the game itself. He was America’s first sports hero. Yet, he managed to accomplish this level of stardom without ever appearing spread eagle in a Speedo across the hood of a Studebaker. (I’m assuming he never did. I was too afraid to Google ‘Babe Ruth Speedo.’) The most important player to ever walk onto the diamond was Jackie Robinson. But the No. 42 was retired by all major league clubs and April 15th is known as Jackie Robinson Day because of what Jackie meant to the game and to America, not because he ever stretched across second base at Ebbets Field wearing only a strategically placed batting glove.
I’m a man. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s a man’s world, be it in the job market where men are paid more or movies which are mostly geared to men. Even advertising makes it abundantly clear: Drink our beer and you go home with the hot chick. Put on a splash of our cologne and you’ll go home with two or three hot chicks.
So, is there a double standard? Absolutely. But it goes both ways. Matt Harvey is pitching superbly and therefore gets a pass. Now, what if one-win-10-loss Shaun Marcum, another physically fit athlete, did this? For 15 years, Derek Jeter has been the heartthrob of female fans nationwide. Yet, I am fairly sure the Captain of the Yankees has never been photographed like this. A friend of mine who is an avid Mets fan has had a schoolgirl-like crush on Mike Piazza for years. Yet, Piazza somehow managed to establish his place in the hearts of Mets fans by being a winner and hitting a home run days after 9/11. And he did this while leaving his clothes on.
Growing up in the 70s, my bedroom wall was adorned with numerous posters and photographs. As expected, I, like most boys my age, had the obligatory posters of Farrah Fawcett and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. I also had a poster of Fonzie with his thumbs up and a caption reading, “Heyyyyyy.” (Fonzie being Henry Winkler, not Edgardo Alfonzo.) But I also had baseball related pictures. Each year I scotch taped that year’s team picture of the Mets, as well as posters of Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver and George Brett. The only ‘suggestive’ posters were the ones of Farrah and the Cowboy Cheerleaders. The one of Seaver was in mid-wind-up, the ones of Staub and Brett were standing at home plate. I doubt that any eight year Mets fan will be putting these types of pictures of Matt Harvey on their wall.
Again, I’m old-fashioned. And perhaps, this is much ado about nothing. It probably is. And really, I should be old enough and wise enough at this point in my life to realize that ballplayers are just people and not Gods from Mount Olympus.
Congratulations to Matt Harvey for being selected to his first All-Star Game. Let’s just hope (at least us guys) that he remembers to be wearing his uniform when he takes the mound next week.