Monday, July 9, 2012

Monday's Musings on Sports - Catering to the Fans or Doing Your Best to Irk Them, a Pirkei Avos Perspective

This morning, I spent the long drive down from Camp M, listening to substitute Mikes (Mike Hill and Michael Smith) host the Mike and Mike in the Morning program on ESPN Radio. While these two Mikes were not quite as entertaining as Greenie and Golic, they did have two interesting themes which I will attempt to review and comment on in this post.

The first topic which dominated the show had to do with the selection of the players and all-star starters for the upcoming MLB All-Star game. For those not familiar with the esoteric rules, here is a nutshell version. The fans vote for the starters at each fielding position. The manager then gets to select most of the bench as well as the pitchers. Also, the manager chooses the starting pitcher for the game. Finally (and the most controversial element) is the rule that every major league team must have a player who represents them on the team.

This year, the NL Manager is Tony LaRussa, whose Cardinals won the World Series last year. After winning the World Series, LaRussa retired from the Cardinals and now works for MLB. There were quite a few individuals and teams which were unhappy with his selections, including the Reds who felt that they were snubbed in retaliation for a brawl with the Cardinals which occurred in 2011. More relevant to this post is the anguish of the Marlins. Just prior to the All-Star game, the Marlins announced that their All Star selected by LaRussa, Giancarlo Stanton, would be unable to participate due to injury. Rather than replace Stanton with another Marlin, LaRussa selected Nationals' phenom Bryce Harper to fill the spot.

The substitute Mikes were up in arms over this as they felt that LaRussa was not making selections for the good of the team. They underscored the point by noting that LaRussa was not currently a manager in the league and therefore had no stake in the outcome of the game. However, other managers might have managed or selected players differently because they could benefit if their team made the World Series and was awarded an extra home game. Although not mentioned by the substitute Mikes, it is ironic that the Cardinals won the World Series in 7 games and therefore were able to take advantage of the extra home game.

The hosts also pointed out that the Marlins fans were cheated and might be less apt to the watch the game since they had no local player to watch or root for in the contest.

The second topic addressed by the Mikes was Ray Allen's signing with the Miami Heat. For the last few years, Allen played for the Boston Celtics. In both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Celtics were eliminated in the playoffs by the Heat. Notwithstanding this fact, or perhaps because of it, Allen signed as a free agent with the Heat.

The story behind the story which made this a controversial issue for the substitute Mikes is that Allen took less money then he could have received from some other teams to sign with the Heat. The Mikes felt that this was a slap in the face of the Celtics fans as they saw their beloved player go to an arch rival, but not for the money. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the Heat offered Allen the best chance to win an NBA title.

The twin perspectives on the motivation of LaRussa and Allen reminded me of a mishna in the 5th perek of Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers). The tenth mishna in the perek recites that there are four types of people. A person who says what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours is an average person. A person who says what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine is (as explained by Kehati) an ignorant person because he cannot discern any property as personal. A person who states what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours is a pious person. Finally, a person who states what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine is an evil person.

The Mikes issues as to the motivation of Allen and LaRussa reminded me of the issue of perspective in the mishna. If a person were to simply say - what's mine is yours, you might believe them to be generous...until you realized that he also meant that no one should have personal property. Similarly, if you heard a person say what's yours is yours, you might believe them to be selfish and motivated by a need to protect his own items...until you realize that the person was also willing to share his goods.

While LaRussa may want to bring a phenom to a big stage in choosing Harper, he might also want to insult the Marlins or Reds. Although Allen may want to punish the Celtics by going to the Heat, he might also be thinking of his legacy. It's all a matter of perspective.

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