Rowley: The self-expression trap for baseball players

From SABR member Meg Rowley at Baseball Prospectus on February 26, 2016:

Last week, after careful consideration of their organizational dysfunction, the Miami Marlins got to the root of the issue and banned facial hair. A new season and media training session brought Yankees players an uncomfortable comparison between Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. And months after his notorious scuffle with Bryce Harper, Jonathan Papelbon traipsed through the Nationals Spring Training facility in an “Obama Can’t Ban These Guns” t-shirt. All three incidents stirred the baseball world’s collective ire, with the Marlins, Yankees, and Papelbon facing derision. Papelbon is ready made for a black hat; the Yankees and Marlins are ironically ready to twirl mustaches. But the backlash seemed to me a failed test of our self-professed commitment to player expression.

We bristle at the mandate of the Marlins because they assume a particular sort of person looking a particular sort of way while playing baseball is doing so the best way. It carries with it the same sort of ickiness decades of beardless, nameless Yankees uniforms brought, without the tug of tradition to ground such silliness. Players become interchangeable commodities, widgets. But these are men with stories and families, places and experiences they’ve lived and survived, baseball diamonds visited and surpassed. They flip bats, own silly pets, and are imbued with personality and opinion in equal measure. Reducing them to the create-a-player consistent with a team’s media and labor strategy feels disingenuous and scheming.

Surely teams perceive some advantage in the anonymity of the laundry. Players become easier both to cut and to excuse. Those who demand too much for themselves are more easily dealt or left to free agency. As fans and observers, we hope to liberate the individual from his facelessness, and ascribe personal accountability to his actions. We want him to be himself. As we are able to pick them out as individuals, we are blessed and burdened by their specificity. We are unable to turn away from their struggle, and no longer free to ignore the pain they might inflict.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: February 26, 2016. Last Updated: February 26, 2016.