>The Common Sportsman

>Look, The Common Man loves sports, particularly baseball. And since this is his site, he feels like he should have free reign to write about them. That said, this site really isn’t so much about sports as it is about the things guys should do and care about. So, to hedge his bets a little, The Common Man is introducing a new feature, The Common Sportsman. Every so often, he will focus on sports from a man’s perspective. Read along and see what he means, as he documents two storms that caught his eye this week, one that you’ve probably heard about and one you probably haven’t (unless you follow baseball like it’s a religion).

The first story comes out of Boston. While for most of you, it probably has little immediate impact, people in the Northeast will be foaming at the mouth for the next few days, given the voracious appetites and surly nature of Boston media-types. According to Bob Lobel, the former sports director for local station WBZ, Manny Ramirez may have struck out on purpose in the 9th inning of a tie game, as some form of petulant revenge on the front office of the Red Sox.

Here’s the short version of the backstory. Baseball players get to request tickets for their family and friends and anyone who does them a favor from major league teams. Minor leaguers get to do this too, but they get fewer tickets. The tickets become a form of currency, as players use them to exchange for meals, services, whatever. It’s a nice perk, but the players generally need to request these tickets a day or so in advance, since they are typically good seats and the home team likes to sell them. In June, while in Houston, Manny asked a member of the team’s front office for a large number of tickets, perhaps as many as 20, a few hours before the game. When the team employee informed Manny that he might not be able to fulfill the request, Manny got pissed and shoved the 60-year old to the ground. The Sox heavily fined their leftfielder, and all was, supposedly forgiven.

Lobel, however, got a different story. Upset at the heavy fine, Manny (according to Lobel) began acting out. The highest crime came in a June game against the Yankees, when Manny allegedly laid down. Lobel alleges, “The bat on the shoulder for the three pitches from Mariano Rivera. That was a big [expletive] to the Red Sox after the fine. I’m just telling you … there are things in the front office that are perceived … I’m saying that there is a strong feeling that that [three-pitch strikeout] was the message to the Red Sox and it’s a strong feeling that that’s unacceptable … there’s a feeling that he didn’t give it his all, let’s put it that way … I’m just saying the front office has not forgotten that moment. It’s akin to Nomar sitting on the bench [in a game in which Derek Jeter dove into the stands at Yankee Stadium in 2004]. It’s the same thing. It’s an at bat that resonated very strongly in the front office.”

Rob Neyer’s analysis of Lobel’s accusation is that “Manny had been struggling: In his 21 games before July 6, he’d batted .188 with just one homer and 22 strikeouts…. What to make of all this? I don’t know. But we might guess that somebody told Lobel about the fine, and that somebody suggested to him that MannyB struck out on purpose.” But there’s little to indicate, aside from Lobel’s unsupported allegations, that Manny intentionally struck out. Is he a prima dona? Undoubtedly. Difficult and aloof? Surely. A professional hitter, and one of the best right-handed bats of the past 50 years. Truly.

And so The Common Man doesn’t really think that Manny struck out on purpose. But perhaps the cardinal virtue of manhood is that they are supposed to, in all times and all places, give their best effort. No excuses, no exceptions. Never quit, never say die. And certainly never give up on their comrades. Lobel is accusing Manny of being the worst possible kind of man. One who would betray his brothers and behave like a petty child.

These are the kinds of accusations that will dog a man for the rest of his days. Once applied, labels are tough to shake, regardless of what other evidence is brought forward to the contrary or is added to complicate the picture. And so, Joe DiMaggio will always be graceful elegant, and Ted Williams The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. Dick Allen will always be surly. John Kerry will always be a flip-flopper. It’s a beanball to the head. Once you let it go, there’s no calling it back. Lobel, and all men, should be reluctant to lob this fastball in particular.

Our second story comes from the north woods and frozen tundra of Green Bay and the bayous of Louisiana, where the Packers and their legendary quarterback and movie star, Brett Favre, have been sniping back and forth at one another and playing a game of chicken as to whether Favre is going to be donning the green and gold next year. Not finding a daytime NPR station to his liking ,The Common Man has had sports talk radio on a bunch these past weeks, he’s been forced to hear the back-and-forth, he said/he said, petty nonsense coming from both parties. Favre retired in February, was given the opportunity to reconsider in March (which he decided against), and now has decided he wants to play again. The Packers, stuck between a veteran quarterback who may have one last run in him and the nominal future of their franchise (Aaron Rodgers), have understandably balked at Favre messing with their plans so close to the start of training camp. Favre is hinting he may show up at camp and ask to be reinstated by the league; the team is saying he’s welcome to come back, but as the likely backup.

Caught up in the hoopla and hollerin’, the Minnesota Vikings (The Common Man’s team of choice) have been accused by the Packers of tampering with Favre. The Vikings, according to the rival Packers, have been sowing seeds of discontent in Favre, trying to throw the whole of Green Bay, nay the whole state of Wisconsin, into chaos. By hinting privately to Favre that he might have a spot with their team, the Vikings, if these allegations are true, would be guilty of tampering.

This, to The Common Man, seems an awful lot like stealing someone’s girl. Or perhaps it’s trying to date someone’s ex. Now, The Common Man knows that you never, ever date a friend’s ex. That is verbotten. Fruit from the tree of knowledge. To taste it is to be forever changed, to have knowledge that one should not have and cannot unlearn. That’s an offense for which it’s reasonable (though not mandatory) to dump a friend.

That said, The Common Man wonders if it’s ok to date/steal the ex-girlfriend of some guy you know, see a lot, but can’t stand. Say, a co-worker. Say, Dwight. The Common Man presumes, awkwardness aside, that it’s ok to go after that guy’s ex. But is it ok to steal her? What if they are “on a break”?

Basically, if these allegations were true, what would the Vikings’ obligations be, as men? Are they acting inappropriately? Should they be respecting the boundaries of the “relationship” between Favre and his (former?) team? Or is Favre fair game, NFL rules aside?