If anything irritates sports nabobs, it's athletes who abuse the press and somehow still come out on top. That's the story today about Texas Rangers LHP Kenny Rogers getting the All-Star nod.
USA Today columnist Mike Lopresti leads the charge in suggesting Rogers recuse himself from the Midsummer Classic. He cites an AOL online poll in which 73 percent of respondents back him up. An ESPN.com poll that's drawn over 67,000 voters so far also shows respondents weighing in against Rogers' All-Star selection -- this time with more than two-thirds of the votes.
All this spitting into the wind stems from Rogers' tirade against two cameramen last week. In a fit of anger, the 40-year-old lefty tore into two local media employees whose job it is to cover the Rangers -- specifically Rogers, who'd missed a start against the AL West-leading Angels because of a pinkie injury (non-pitching hand) he'd sustained after tangling with some dugout watercoolers in the previous game. He sent one, KDFW-TV's Larry Rodriguez, to the hospital with minor injuries after wrestling the poor shlub's camera to the ground and kicking it; Rodriguez has since filed charges on the Rangers starter.
But Rogers' problems with the press began long before this June 29 blowup. He's refused to talk to media types since the season began after reports circulated early on that the "Gambler" would retire if the Rangers didn't extend his contract another year. I'm not sure what such a refusal proves on Rogers' part, but you can bet such a pointed prohibition will only draw more media attention. (Also, does Rogers not remember all the positive press he got last season? I don't remember him turning away interviewers then.)
So, why do I call Lopresti's and other nabobs' anti-Rogers rants "spitting into the wind"? First and foremost, because this year's AL manager, Terry Francona, has declared him in like Flynn. The players voted for Rogers, Francona pointed out, and he'll abide by their choice. The Red Sox skipper conveniently neglected to point out that players had cast their ballots for Rogers before his Candid Camera moment.
Still, Rogers has the right to take his place in the All-Star game on July 12. Though he received a 20-game suspension (i.e. he'll only miss four starts) and a $50,000 fine, Rogers has appealed MLB's punishment through the union -- which means he can continue playing until a decision is handed down. The commissioner's office has said such a decision will come after the break.
Okay, so officially Rogers has every right to an All-Star roster spot. But does he really deserve to be there in terms of his performance? This I'm not so sure about. Coming into the All-Star break, Rogers is 9-4 in 16 starts (remember, he missed one), with 47 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA. Definitely solid. But his stats don't stack up so well against those of his All-Star brethren. He's got fewer wins than all but Johan Santana, though the Twins ace has a whopping 126 Ks -- nearly three times the number Rogers has tallied. In fact, Rogers' strikeout total pales in comparison to that of every other starter chosen for the All-Star game; the next lowest strikeout total is Jon Garland's 54 -- but the White Sox RHP is 13-3 this season, a far cry from 9-4. Further, one notable snub for next week's party in Detroit was Boston's Matt Clement, who's 9-2 in 17 games this season, with a 3.82 ERA and 88 Ks. Can Terry Francona really be happy about that?
I'm not all hot and bothered about Rogers' inclusion in the All-Star game. After all, lots of creeps from baseball's past have made it to the midsummer stage. And I'm not necessarily advocating that Rogers step down in favor of another player, as some joker from the SF Chronicle is, suggesting Barry Zito deserves the nod more. (Zito is a pathetic 5-8 this season, with a 4.07 ERA and 79 Ks.)
What I'm thinking is more along the lines of the sports media putting its cameras where its collective mouth is. If the press is so P.O.'d at Rogers, then don't show him on camera. Don't talk about him. Cut him out of the broadcast and the write-ups altogether. If Rogers gets into the game, no big deal -- focus on the batters, the catcher, the managers, the fans, the batboys or the ballgirls. If Rogers doesn't want media attention, show him what no media attention means. For a 40-year-old pitcher at the tail-end of his better days, it might mean bringing that career to an end. And if this season is his last, Rogers has put himself in the unfortunate position of being remembered not for his numbers, but for his need of anger management.
I usually sit out for All-Star weekend. I can't stand the hype and the bogus play and the constant jingoism at work every step along the way. But I might tune in next weekend just to see if the press is willing to play some hardball.