Friday, July 01, 2005

A big gamble

There's a reason Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers never asked to be referred to as "Ken." By the time Rogers made his major-league debut in the 1980s, his name was already vaulted to celebrity status by a country music singer. The singer's song, movie and nickname, "The Gambler," quickly stuck itself to the namesake pitcher.
Kenny Rogers simply liked being "Kenny Rogers."
Rogers isn't a spotlight hound, but he's never shied from the spotlight in a major league career that is approaching its 20th year. When he suffered one of the most embarrassing moments a pitcher has ever had, walking in the NLCS-losing run as a Met against Atlanta in 1999, he rebounded, pitching for Oakland, Texas and Minnesota in subsequent years.
At age 40, he has every right to rest on his laurels, in the twilight of a career that isn't hall-of-fame caliber, but has been darn good. He boasts a 9-3 record at an age when many of his former teammates are whacking golf balls to pass the time.
Which makes Rogers's flip-out Wednesday perplexing. Before the Rangers' game against Los Angeles, he shoved two cameramen, including Larry Rodriguez of KDFW. When Rodriguez picked up his camera to keep filming, Rogers came back for more, pulling the camera away from Rodriguez, kicking it once it fell out of his hands, and threatening to stick the camera someplace fairly private on Rodriguez's person.
Teammates and coaches intervened to break up the scuffle, and Rodriguez later went to the hospital when he felt pain in an arm and leg.
Rodriguez told ESPN today that he had just re-aggravated a pre-existing condition.
John Rocker, I'd expect this kind of behavior out of. Barry Bonds in a really bad mood, maybe. But not Kenny Rogers.
Media reports say this has been brewing for a while. Rogers's relationship with the media has apparently grown increasingly tense this season. When media members approached Rogers prior to Thursday's game, he was laughing and joking with his teammates, and gave the media a predictably stone-cold shoulder.
If Rogers felt persecuted by the Dallas-Fort Worth media for whatever reason, he has a right to feel that way. He also has a right to not talk to them. This can be accomplished numerous ways, including having the team issue a press statement or a series of "sorry, I'm not talking to the media anymore" replies. Being a jackass and telling media members to shove it is less desireable, but in the macho realm of professional sports, falls into an acceptable category.
The behavior might be viewed as bizarre, and might spawn a few opinion columns, but it's not going to get anybody charged with misdemeanor assault (which Rogers should be charged with) and it won't send cameramen to the hospital.
Rogers is proving to be more of a punk at age 40 than he probably ever was in his 20s. That's the parachute other meltdown subjects, like Rocker and Ryan Leaf, have had. Young equals higher hormone levels and less maturity, so tempers might flare more easily, the logic (right or wrong) states. At 40, you're supposed to be mellowing out. At 40, with nearly two decades of major league experience under your belt, you're not only supposed to be more mature and less prone to emotional outbursts involving physical violence, you're supposed to be used to the media.
Cameras are there. They're in your face. Rogers played for both New York teams, for crying out loud. He struggled in the playoffs for both the Mets and Yankees. Somehow, he made it out of that fishbowl with his sanity intact enough to pitch six more years.
When Rogers's bases-loaded walk lost the NLCS for the Mets in 1999, I thought Rogers would never live that down. If there was going to be a Ralph Branca-esque black mark on his career, I thought losing the pennant for a New York team with a bases-loaded walk would do it.
But that moment has faded into the background. Demanding New Yorkers seem to have forgiven Rogers for that gaffe (winning the pennant the next year probably had something to do with that).
Unfortunately for Rogers, that gaffe has been replaced with a screw-up that indicts not Rogers the pitcher, but Rogers the person. With the cameras rolling, he assaulted someone. He didn't stick his hand in front of the camera lens, a time-honored gesture for "turn that damn thing off," he threatened to injure a camerman and attempted to damage his equipment. Based on his happy-go-lucky behavior in the clubhouse Thursday, his indiscretion doesn't really seem to be gnawing at him in retrospect, either.
Rogers is definitely "The Gambler" now. Nearing the end of his career, he is gambling with his reputation as an individual. Hopefully he comes to his senses and atones for his mistake before the sand runs out of the hourglass.

1 comment:

Zach said...

What irritates me most is that he bullied someone just because he was a ballplayer. He knowingly attacked not one, but two people who were just trying to do their job.
And his punishment? Twenty games. But of course, he appeals and got to pitch today, and will pitch next week in Detroit.
He hasn't even had the character to apoligize, which ought to tell you something about the man.