Steve Simmons exhibits impressive discipline in his latest for the Toronto Sun, as he mostly tries his best to sound like a right-thinking adult while attempting to throw Marcus Stroman under the bus. A close reading shows how badly he fails at it, but less keen readers — and when we’re talking about something written for the Toronto Sun, there’s sure to be plenty of those — may have missed the trick.
Of course, for those of us reading the piece on the web, any hint of subtlety was blasted away by the editor who chose the photo and two videos (Stroman’s exchange with Tim Anderson this week, and his ejection against Oakland the week before) that are embedded in the piece. Ahh, but let’s dive into the subtext a bit anyway, shall we?
Here’s how I first reacted to the piece on Twitter.
The Sun continuing to try to make this a story, still failing at articulating what the problem is or why it's a problem for the team. https://t.co/t0uyfnRvlp
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) August 5, 2017
Until they do that, it will keep on reading like their ham-fisted way of bullying a guy into playing nicer with the media.— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) August 5, 2017
There’s more going on than just that, though. It’s a piece that at times postures like some kind of mature review of the Stroman “situation” — conveniently keeping Ringmaster Buffery’s circus open for at least another news cycle — but from the very opening, it’s clear what the implications are going to be.
I asked a Blue Jays executive a rather simple question about a month ago: When did Marcus Stroman become a jerk?
His response was rather telling at the time: “You don’t become one,” he answered.
A few people on Twitter were quick to suggest that it’s odd that a Jays executive would say such a thing to Simmons, of all people. I recoil at the idea that people think reporters so casually will make up quotes out of thin air — distrust of the media is a genuine and serious problem these days — and I have no doubt that someone in some capacity did say these words. I do wonder, however, about the context.
Remember when Brandon Morrow decided he needed to be more of a jerk because that’s what “you need to be to really succeed”? Playing with a chip on one’s shoulder is often seen as a good and necessary thing. Also, let’s not forget that Paul Beeston is now the club’s “President Emeritus” — thoroughly useless, but quotable in perpetuity as an unnamed “executive,” no doubt.
Or maybe someone in the real front office really does think Stroman is a jerk! Or at least has sympathy for the media members who have to deal with him when he’s particularly prickly.
Why would it matter if he was or wasn’t? That could be an interesting conversation, if anyone actually wanted to have it. But the implication, as always, is that it just does.
“You have to understand something,” Simmons then condescends. “Sporting people are normally rather protective of their own.” OH SHIT, says the Sun reader, THIS IS A BIG DEAL, as Stroman is then given the full-on Manny Ramirez treatment — literally.
“How many times have you heard a coach or a manager say ‘Oh, that’s just Manny being Manny.'”
(Actually it just happened once, in 1995, and then lazy reporters ran with it for 15 years as derisive catch-all for a man’s entire persona. *COUGH*)
“If Manny’s great, or any of the other Mannys out there are great, it’s easy and convenient to look the other way.”
Stroman has been great this season, Simmons then reminds us. THAT’S WHY HE’S GETTING AWAY WITH “IT,” this all implies.
And what is “it” and why is “it” a problem? Still no real answer.
“His on-field behaviour, and some may say his off-field deportment, is open to questioning,” we’re told. The on-field stuff I addressed in my response to Buffery’s piece, but off the field? What about it? What specifically? And it’s open to questioning to what end? Questioning how? And why is what he does especially worth questioning? Every other Blue Jay must be a saint off the field, I guess. (Oh! Unless this is all really about Stroman’s treatment of the media, written in the guise of wise and honest admonishment from someone who just has the team’s interest at heart. LOL).
“Another Blue Jays clubhouse voice,” uhh… let’s just call him Muck Bartinez, “wondered how much Stroman suffers from the absence of the now-retired Mark Buehrle in the clubhouse. Buehrle was a mentor to the young pitcher. When Buehrle left, his voice of veteran reason became Jose Bautista.”
OH SHIT, NOT BAUTISTA! shouts the Sun reader as he spits his triple-triple all over his F-150 — fully understanding, as even he surely does, what that implies.
Next season, with no Bautista around, who does Stroman turn to next?
WELL THIS HAS JUST GONE FROM BAD TO WORSE!
I mean, RIGHT??? How in the world will this 26-year-old ace pitcher and businessman possibly find a babysitter for himself sufficient to meet the standards of “deportment” insisted upon by the Toronto Sun?
Now, some of you might be thinking: Hold on a second here, isn’t this, like, the oldest team in the league? Aren’t there a whole lot of veterans in the clubhouse who could be there to help mentor Stroman? And while yes, all of that is true (and singling out Bautista and then nobody dun dun dunnnnn! is transparently deliberate), the bigger question remains, mentor him into being what?
If the answer is “something less detrimental to the team,” then please explain to us how anything he does is detrimental.
Based on some chatter on this subject on Twitter earlier in the day, this appears to be the best these types have got:
By all accounts he's all about Marcus and the Marcus brand and of course $
— jonah (@yyzsportsmedia) August 5, 2017
Yeah it's great for himself. No one would deny that.
— Jeff Simmons (@realjeffsimmons) August 5, 2017
Anybody seeing any answers there? Any hint of what is actually supposed to be the problem? Any substance at all?
And the thing is, when the excuse for nebulousness verging on dog whistle veers toward “well, you don’t quite know the whole story but I do,” it’s pretty hard to take from people whose job it is to literally to report things.
Could these Sun pieces turn out to be credible in some of their implications? I suppose. We’ve seen the video of Stroman’s scrum following the White Sox game, and he wasn’t not being kind of a jerk (though the way he behaves with the media doesn’t necessarily say anything about the way he behaves with anybody else). But that doesn’t mean they’re not horseshit, and it certainly doesn’t mean that they’re not trying to lead people into thinking a particular way — a way that just so happens to try to peck away at the brand and the reputation of a very brand-conscious athlete who these media guys seem not to like very much.
Funny how that works sometimes, eh? Just the Sun being the Sun, I guess.