A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: alex rodriguez

The Wolf of Wall Street and the Alex Rodriguez Problem

by evanmcmurry

I didn’t really care for The Wolf of Wall Street, but twelve hours on I’m figuring out I wasn’t really supposed to. Via Andrew O’Herir:

If the movie seems unsatisfying, that’s because we yearn for some kind of grandiose and dramatic revenge against the Jordan Belforts of the world, against the corrupt and criminal plutocrat class who humiliated and bankrupted us, who took advantage of our “base drives and puerile fantasies” and who do so still…We don’t get it in symbolic form within “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and we certainly don’t get it in reality, at least under the current dispensation of capitalism. How does Scorsese feel about Jordan Belfort? Pretty much the way the rest of us do: We claim to hate him, but our actions suggest otherwise.

You could easily rephrase this as the Alex Rodriguez Problem. Rodriguez is by even generous accounts a megalomaniacal asshat (a-hem) who cheated his way into a contract that paid him more per year than the entire rosters of other teams, and as a result lives a monstrously lavish lifestyle unrecognizable to 99.999999% of humanity (and, like Jordan Belfort, appears to lack the capacity for introspection). Rodriguez seems genuinely agonized right now over his suspension—the largest the MLB could think up because it’s the only possible leverage they have over a man worth the annual GDP of American Samoa—but when the tabloid coverage settles, Rodriguez will be sleeping atop a pile of money surrounded by many beautiful ladies.

His version of cheating is more of a victimless crime than Belfort’s, but the risk/reward ratio is proportional. Belfort, if the film is in any way an accurate reflection of his memoir, has no regrets about the bacchanal of illegality for which he served a few years in a minimum security prison. The only thing he’d change about his behavior is the getting caught part, and even if he couldn’t change that, he’d still do it all over again. The money was worth it.

I bet Rodriguez will feel the same. The MLB could bar him for life, and A-Rod’s wealth would still dwarf the punishment. He’s the most hated man in baseball right now, but does anybody believe that in three, five, ten years’ time, any up-and-coming ballplayers will weigh his eventual infamy against the $300 million contract and find it a bum deal? No fewer than the number of bankers who weighed previous SEC punishments against the bonuses and ruled emphatically in favor of getting paid. Rodriguez and Belfort proved that cheating pays, a lot.

In this context, Scorsese’s dramatic and moral choices make more sense. Scorsese couldn’t portray Jordan Belfort’s story as a morality tale, because it’s not one. Instead, he situated the viewers where we likely already were, fantasizing after Belfort’s largesse no matter how fervently we objected to the means of its attainment; Scorsese then rubbed our noses in the excess, repetitively—repetitively—until we were exhausted by it. He let the audience live Belfort’s life vicariously until we were sick from it, not because it was ultimately unrewarding but because the longer you snort the rewards, the more grotesque they become.

In short, if Scorsese ever makes a movie about Rodriguez—an entirely possible event—it will likely feature a neurotic number of florid scenes of A-Rod staring up at a centaur rendering of himself during sex. You can’t ever suspend Rodriguez enough games to make his malfeasance seem undesirable to the rookies. All you can do is show him rutting to a portrait of himself, over and over, until people begin to wonder if that’s really what they want.

Falling Up, A-Rod Edition

by evanmcmurry

It’s bad enough when the most expensive player in baseball history hits so poorly in the postseason that he’s benched. But I have a feeling that following the Yankees’ record-low .188 BA in the playoffs, this is what’s on management’s mind the most:

Rodriguez has five years and $114 million remaining on his contract, not including milestone home run bonuses.

It’s not the money you paid for a lemon that hurts; it’s the money you still owe once you realize it’s a lemon. The Yankees better hope the Miami Marlins are as stupid as they seem: the team that bought a slew of expensive free agents last summer only to finish far in last place is eyeing Rodriguez as a hometown draw.

Thus begins one more chapter in ballclubs’ baffling insistence on doubling down on overpriced players. Here’s what I wrote after the Sox/Dodgers trade a couple months ago:

The Sox just traded a very good (but still massively overpaid) player in Adrian Gonzalez solely for the opportunity to unload [Carl] Crawford’s contract. This should be an advertisement for reigning in ballplayer salaries. Everybody should be looking at what happened to the Sox with Crawford (to say nothing of Dice-K, Lackey, etc.) and concluding that massive salaries are not worth the risk.

Instead, the opposite just happened. The Los Angeles Dodgers willingly took on Crawford’s overvalued salary solely for the opportunity to pay Adrian Gonzalez his overvalued salary…The Dodgers essentially doubled down on the overpayment of players, effectively hoping through this trade that not only will Adrian Gonzalez be worth $25 million or so per year in five years, but he’ll also be worth Crawford’s $20 million a year. In other words, the market, rather than returning commodities to their normal exchange value, is participating in their over-valuation. Rather than reigning in irresponsible behavior, the market is encouraging it. I realize that Major League Baseball isn’t a perfect simulacrum of capitalism, but still, isn’t this the opposite of how it’s supposed to work?

If the Marlins buy A-Rod’s contract, it’ll be an even more egregious example of the above complex. Once again, isn’t this the opposite of how markets are supposed to work?

Serious Question: Is A-Rod’s Salary Making Him Go Blind?

by evanmcmurry

Little is as satisfying right now as watching Alex Rodriguez go 0-for-everything while he swings his bat like a four year old trying to chop down a Redwood. There’s something existential to a guy like Josh Hamilton flailing: Hamilton’s addictions, his caffeine-induced-vision-problems, his poorly-timed chewing habits all suggest a man whose extreme talent has jarred him out of sync with the universe. No such quasi-noble explanation exists for A-Rod, who, as he makes more than the entire Tampa Bay roster, is paid too suprahumanly to be this humanly fallible.

I had a conversation with someone the other day who asserted that A-Rod only cared about money to a certain point and after that his pride kicked in and mandated that he try as hard as possible. I asked the dude what proof he had of this, or if he could think of any other players who had played well or poorly at A-Rod’s salary. But the problem is A-Rod has no equal in earnings; Tiger Woods is the only comparably-paid athlete, and we all saw what happened to him. Indeed, far more likely than A-Rod’s money having little impact on his hitting is the chance that his money is having an extraordinary effect on his performance, one we can’t even begin to measure because we’ve simply never paid an athlete this amount before. I’d wager $300 million $10 that A-Rod himself doesn’t have the slightest inkling to what extent his atmospheric salary is warping his career.

Given the increasingly absurd contracts being bestowed upon free agent sluggers, we’re about to find out just how much money corrupts a player’s performance; with Pujols having a lackluster 2012 and Carl Crawford crumbling upon impact with Fenway turf, the initial data doesn’t look rosy. I argued a few weeks back that slugger salaries are becoming a mini-bubble that threaten the financial viability of the sport. But never mind the effect the ballooning salaries will have on ballclubs: what if there’s an annual amount a ballplayer simply can’t handle? For all we know, when you pay an athlete as much as the Yankees pay A-Rod, they stop being able to see the ball at all.