We’re happy to live with Jim Kaat’s weird ideas—they’re generally harmlesss, delivered genially, and often betray his optimistic nature—but we have a lot less patience for some of the things that come out of the mouth of ESPN’s Jeff Brantley. What is it about so many former players that leaves them, as announcers, with such animosity toward those who follow in their footsteps? Our guess is that Dr. Freud would say “self-loathing.” (Jeff: Lighten up! You had a good career!)
Last night we caught Brantley prattling on about the MVP races. His NL pick? Scott Rolen. Why? Well, he’s having a monster year (true). But mostly Brantley wanted to talk about how Rolen plays the game the “right way,” that he’s “old school,” that when he homers he runs around the bases quickly with his head down (this is a big deal for Brantley, a former pitcher). This is all fine, but when it is presented—by a white announcer from Alabama—as an argument for giving Rolen the award over Bonds, things start to sound a bit more sinister, and you can begin to understand some of Barry’s own animosity—itself often misdirected—toward the press and the Old Boys Club that is baseball’s establishment.
Because the simple fact is that Barry Bonds is a better player than Scott Rolen, and he is having a better year than Scott Rolen. Look at the numbers: Bonds is leading the league in hitting, his on-base percentage is .600, he’s slugging at .773, he’s got 29 home runs, and he’s been walked 150 times. Those aren’t just good or even great numbers. They are Ruth-level numbers. Rolen’s on a winning team and is having a phenomenal year, but he’s surrounded by star players (Pujols—who, arguably, is even better than Rolen—Edmonds, Renteria) whereas Bonds is basically alone in a lineup with no protection.
To cast a vote for Rolen because one believes he is the better player or because one believes it should go to a player on a division winner is understandable and justifiable (though, IMHO, wrongheaded). But if it’s necessary to find other criteria to lift him above Bonds, well, that just doesn’t sound fair. Which is not to say that Brantley is a racist, because I don’t believe he is one. (His pick for the AL MVP: Sheff, who knows a thing or two about strutting his stuff). Still, our preconceived notions of what’s appropriate have a way of coloring our judgement. And in this case, that doesn’t sit right.