I have a long history of hating the-man-who-shall-not-be-named. In fact, my wife no longer lets me watch the Yankees. That’s because we have children and she doesn’t want them to hear me launch f-bombs at the television whenever my arch-nemesis stands at the plate.
It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to love him. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so the Seattle Mariners are my favorite team. He began his career with the Mariners, but after a few years of stardom, he let it get to his head and he joined the Texas Rangers. “It’s not about the money,” I remember him saying. But that was disingenuous. The Rangers crippled their team by providing him with the biggest salary in baseball history.
It was heartbreaking. I once heard that whenever hearts break, they either grow bigger or they become calloused. Well, my heart calloused. Along with other Mariner fans, I took a certain satisfaction in knowing that the Rangers, now led by the-man-who-shall-not-be-named, were horrible. In his three years in Texas, the Rangers were one of the worst teams in baseball and never ended a season above last place in their division.
And I loved it.
Then he was traded to the Yankees. There’s only one thing you need to know about baseball fans and the Yankees – either you love them or you hate them. I’ve always hated the Yankees. In fact, I love to hate the Yankees, and ever since man-who-shall-not-be-named became a Yankee, I love to hate them even more.
The player I love to hate joined the team I loved to hate.
Since joining the Yankees, his career has been mired in drug allegations. On Monday, Major League Baseball suspended him for an unprecedented 211 games. He’s fighting with an appeal; indeed, he says he’s “fighting for his life” – an overly dramatic statement that makes me hate him even more.
And yet, if mimetic theory has taught me anything, it’s to be honest about my feelings of hatred. Alex Rodriguez (ahhh, I said his name!) has become a mimetic lightning rod for collective animosity. I’ve always had a vulgar sense of glee in being part of that subsection of baseball fans that hated him and the Yankees.
But hatred is dangerous because it’s mimetic – it spreads from person to person like a contagious disease and allows us to unite over and against our scapegoat. Yes, he’s guilty of doping and of other less grievous offenses (we had something good in Seattle, Alex!), but a guilty scapegoat is the best kind because guilty scapegoats allow us to feel justified in our shared hatred against them.
The problem with our justifications for hating guilty scapegoats is that it allows us to pretend we are innocent bystanders. The truth is that all scapegoats are a product of our culture. This doesn’t excuse him, but Alex is a product of an American culture that is obsessed with money and success, so should we be surprised if he is obsessed with money and success?
I don’t think so.
Because of mimetic theory, I love to hate Alex Rodriguez a little less because I know there’s a little bit of Alex Rodriguez inside of me. Of course, I haven’t used performance enhancing drugs or demanded my employers pay me $28 million a year. But, neither can I honestly insist that if I were in his shoes I wouldn’t have done something different.
(For the record, I do know bloggers who enhance their numbers in questionably ethical ways … and I’d be fine with just $1 million a year …)
And so I no longer hope that he fails. Rather, I hope he admits his mistakes and stops running from them. I hope he’s able to heal from this chapter of his life. And I hope he finds the best kind of success – the kind that is based on honest, healthy relationships of trust.