Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Arubian Knights

There are two kinds of players that baseball fans typically love to hate. There are, of course, the self-absorbed, press-hungry narcissists—the ones who frost their tips and don’t seem to get the concept that baseball is a team sport. (And there’s no I in team.) But then there are the baseball bad boys. The ones who punch things, punch people, get DUI’s and end up in anger management class and/or drug rehab. Players that fall into the first category are players for whom I have no patience and little tolerance. The bad boys, on the other hand, well, they intrigue me. Perhaps, this does not bode well for my love life. However, it tends to be the case that, behind every baseball bad boy, there’s a troubled past, a battle with alcoholism, something that taps into my sense of humanity and makes me feel sympathetic. On the other hand, behind every self-absorbed, press-hungry narcissist, there’s usually just a really big, ravenous ego.

So here’s the question that I’ve been pondering of late: Into which of these two categories can we place Yankees starter Sidney Ponson? Usually, the distinction is fairly obvious. A-Rod, Manny, Clemens, Crapelbon. All examples of players who fall into the former group. Hamilton, Bradley, Strawberry, Farnsworth—the latter. Ponson, however, has not been quite so easy to nail down.

For the most part, all signs point towards Ponson going into the troubled bad boy pile. Let’s start with the fact that, within the span of a year, he punched out a judge over a powerboat and received both a DUI and a DWI. OK. Punching out the judge--not commendable. And, most people cite this incident as solid evidence that Ponson is someone we shouldn’t like. I get that logic, but when I hear that someone has punched out a judge, I don’t automatically go there. On the contrary, I assume that anyone walking around punching out judges has to have some kind of deeply rooted emotional issues--the kind of issues that deserve our compassion and not our contempt. (For the record, if the judge had been a woman, my reaction would have been quite the opposite.) And I’m just going to go ahead and make an assertion that is completely unsubstantiated by any factual evidence but that my instinct is telling me is correct: If you get a DUI, there’s a good chance you’re an alcoholic. That or an idiotic teenage boy. If you get two within the span of six months, there is a 110% chance that you are an alcoholic. And, not surprisingly, soon after these events transpired, Sidney Ponson decided to check into rehab.

Like Hamilton, he speaks openly about his experience, saying, “I would have been killed soon. I was going downhill. I started drinking more and more and more. My way of thinking about things was just getting hammered.” And it’s no wonder. Sid had not even reached adolescence when he became accustomed to living hard. Born in Aruba—just off the coast of Kokomo—Sid got his first job at the age of eleven as a gopher and bartender on a booze cruise for tourists. Ponson didn’t have much of what you’d call a childhood. By the time he was a teenager, staying out late every night and getting drunk were just a way of life. His parents had divorced by the time he was two, and he didn’t see much of his father after that. Until Ponson became a big leaguer and pops came crawling out of the woodwork, that is. Sidney is pretty unambiguous in communicating his feels about his dad, saying “If he dropped dead tomorrow, I ain't going to the funeral.”

Sidney’s a tough nut to crack because, on the one hand, he’s penitent. He feels deep remorse for the pain he’s caused his family, particularly his mom. He expresses relief and gratitude about the fact that he never hurt anyone behind the wheel—something he could easily have done. Ponson also does a lot of charitable work to benefit the people of Aruba, only he does it on the sly. I guess not everyone needs aggrandizement for everything they do. On the other hand, Ponson’s penitence does not extend so far as to give him the appearance of being apologetic. He regrets certain behaviors, but he isn’t humble and he doesn’t seem to need our forgiveness. In fact, he has said in no uncertain terms that if people are looking for a role model, they’d do best to find another one—such as a parent, to be specific. We tend to want our reformed sinners to work to get into our good graces—harder than Ponson seems willing to.

Some might call it arrogance—his refusal to give us what we want. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s simply honesty. Ponson, while apparently funny and agreeable, isn’t soft and fluffy. He feels how he feels and he’s going to give it to you straight. A lot of people don’t want to hear that Ponson is so full of rage towards his father that he doesn’t care if he lives or dies. It’s not automatic grounds for disapproval, in my book.

However, when Texas released Ponson from his contract earlier in the year, it gave me pause. The Rangers clubhouse is practically a safe haven for wayward bad boys. They’re harboring Bradley and Hamilton—the self-proclaimed “Risk Brothers”—in there. What could Ponson possibly have done to have angered a team so seemingly open-minded about rabble rousing? The reasons for Ponson’s release were cryptic—he wasn’t a team player, he had a bad attitude. Both red flags for me. Both indicative of the possibility that Ponson’s issues might possibly not all be chalked up to the fact that he was troubled. Maybe the guy was just a little bit of what you’d call a jerk. I might have been willing to concede this point if I had never found out what Sid had really done to incur the ire of the Rangers. For one, he got all kinds of drunk and disorderly in a hotel bar in St. Petersburg on a road trip. That makes sense. He’s an alcoholic. And, apparently, not as reformed a sinner as we’d hoped.

After he got out of rehab, Ponson himself admitted that he still drank the occasional glass of wine. He claimed he knew when to say when, and he never stayed out late and got out of control. Well, as an alcoholic, there was only so long that routine was going to last, and from the sound of it, it had run its course by the time he hit St. Petes. The rest of it? The temper tantrums, the arguing with Ron Washington? That all just fits the profile of an active alcoholic. I mean, honestly, we have seen how Ron Washington gets when he’s mad. Would anyone ever pick a fight with him unless that person was drunk or hung-over?

There can be no doubt that the Ponz has troubles, and they are troubles which he has not yet successfully worked through. What remains to be seen is who he is and how he acts in the wake of those troubles, assuming he ever can work through them. But at the moment, while I have my doubts, my instinct is to like him. Sportswriter Joe Christensen said of Ponson upon his release, “I'll miss him because he's such a colorful character. As reporters, we're trained never to talk to a pitcher on the day he's supposed to start. Ponson ignored the rule and talked to us. We tried avoiding him, but he'd bait us into conversations filled with nonsense and laughter. He almost always had a big smile on his face when he was at his locker.” Sort of sounds like someone I’d want in my clubhouse. Not to mention—I was saving the best for last—that the guy is a knight. Yeah. Knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Sir Ponsy is no one to be trifled with. And I hope that even if you’ve taken nothing else out of reading this, you come away with the understanding that, in the Netherlands, being dubbed a knight is obviously as fancy and important as being dubbed a fairy princess.

Before signing with the Can’t-Stop-Getting-Spankees in June, Sir Ponzles had been cut from five different teams in the past three years. Including the Yanks. I am sure it was with trepidation that Cash decided to bring him aboard, but it’s a move that has been paying off of late. Or should be, anyway. The day Joba went to the DL, Pons pitched and gave us a six-hit, 5-3 victory over the Rangers. Prior to that, he pitched seven scoreless innings against the Angels—the ANGELS Angels. He did not, however, get to come home with the “W” that night. Why? Because our offense has to score at least one run in order for us to win. We didn’t. Last night, Sir Sids was not quite as dazzling, but he still pitched adequately well, allowing four runs on seven hits. In theory, this should not have automatically been enough to cost us the game. But, again, if our team don’t score, our team can’t win.

I’m a believer in Yankees magic. When I’m at a Yankees game, I never leave before the last out in the ninth. Somewhere in my soul, I believe that, even if we’re down by five with no runners on and two outs, it’s still winnable. Why? Because I’ve seen the Yankees win just those kinds of games. Similarly, even in mid-August, when the Yanks are nine behind the Devils for the division and five behind the Chowdas for the Wild Card, I still hold on to hope that we’ve actually got a shot. I’ve seen them come back from those kinds of deficits plenty of times, too. That said, while I’m a believer in Yankees magic, I’m also a believer in math. At a certain point, not even the power of our magic is going to be strong enough to combat the reality of the math. Math is more concrete and a lot less forgiving.

If we’re going to do this thing, we need to start winning, like, now. It’s not rocket science. It’s baseball. We have all the elements of what should be a winning team, but they’re just not gelling as a cohesive whole. So I say someone betta’ find a way to shake things up, and soon. I, for one, don’t actually think Halloween is a good enough reason to look forward to October. Not that I don’t love baking Splenda cookies and poisoning the neighbor’s children with them, but it makes me feel uncomfortable to see so many grown-ups dressed in costumes at the same time. Uncomfortable like I felt when Tom Hanks talked to that volleyball in that insanely boring movie about being stranded on an island.

In unrelated news, apparently the Tigers hurt Gary Sheffield’s feelings, and he decided to settle it the old-fashioned way. By airing his grievances in an interview with the Boston Globe rather than discussing them with Tigers manager Jim Leyland. Oh, Sheff, why you gotta go and make me all nostalgic like that?

I thought that it should not go without saying that our good friend Coco Crisp started and went hitless against the White Sox last night. Poor schmuck. Well, Covelli, I’m sorry to have to do this, but seeing as that this site is called “You Suck Coco Crisp,” when you give me occasion, I feel compelled to let you know that you suck Coco Crisp.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Gary Sheffield, is the Favre situation any worse than the Yanks' parade of forty-somethings over the last ten years? Sheff? Wade Boggs? Pudge Rodriguez? If you can stomach them you should stick by the Jets.

Melanie Greenberg said...

It is not his age, but the manner of his retirement/unretirement/one-man circus to which I object. I mean, if I was an ageist, would I have stuck behind the Jets through the Testaverde years?