This morning I took the drive that I look forward to every summer. As regular readers of this blog are aware, during the summer I drive back from Camp M on Monday mornings and spend much of the 3+ hour ride listening to the Mike & Mike in the Morning Show on ESPN Radio. But although I have a general affinity for the show, there are certain annual events that I look forward to and one of them is the Monday after induction weekend in Cooperstown.
Yes, I admit it. Although I have become more of a hockey and football fan than baseball over the last ten+ years, I still have a love for the game of my youth and an appreciation for the players who have earned immortality by way of enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Although every year's induction evokes memories, this year's HOF class had special meaning to me because of the extraordinary level of pitching talent - John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson. Each of these names brought me back ten or so years - thinking about how Smoltz would consistently dash the Mets playoff hopes, how Randy Johnson went from the D-Backs to the cross-town rival Yankees and how Pedro Martinez carried the Mets into the playoffs in the mid 2000s.
But a funny thing happened in the middle of the program - the hosts began talking about Alex Rodriguez and whether he should be considered for the award for comeback player of the year. I am not sure how this topic came up but it led to an interesting comparison with statements made by Pedro Martinez.
When players are enshrined in the HOF, they are allotted twenty minutes for their induction speech. Some players use this to thank loved ones or honor the memory of past coaches/mentors/role models. Other players devote part of their speeches to social issues or to campaign for other players. What made Pedro's induction most interesting was the interview with him after being enshrined in which he was asked about playing in the steroid era. While I would have expected that Pedro would have reacted like most pitchers and been adamant about how steroids ruined the game, Mike & Mike reported that Pedro had said that he felt that he needed to face the best and that regardless of whether they were juicing he wanted to prove he could beat them.
I contrasted that with the statements later in the program about A-Roid. I heard many interviews where baseball commentators were asked whether he should be considered for comeback player of the year. I don't recall the reaction of every commentator, but to my recollection they uniformly were against him receiving the award because his absence from baseball was due to punishment, not injury.
The question of wanting to be competitive and perhaps going over the line in trying to get to that point made me think of a story from Shabbos' Daf Yomi. There was a story about R' Tarfon who legally collected hefker (ownerless) figs. He was grabbed by the owner of a field and thrown in a bag which was to be tossed into the river when he revealed himself as being the sage - R' Tarfon.
The gemara then goes into an explanation as to why R' Tarfon was upset with himself for making such a statement to the field owner and whether he had improperly attempted to trade on his name as a Torah scholar in order to extricate himself from the mess.
One of the people who I learned with on Shabbos was particularly bothered by the story and wanted to know why R' Tarfon did not simply pay for the figs (even though he was no required to do so). We contemplated this for a bit and I have tried to do a little more digging but have yet to come up with a sourced answer.
But I wonder if this was in a way, comparable with the Pedro and A-Roid stories. When a person is placed in a position of authority or is recognized for his achievements, he needs to know that there is great responsibility. If he seizes the moment and gives his all he can go down in history as a great one. But if he uses a crutch, rather than standing up facing the situation on his own, he can leave himself open to question.
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