Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Myth of "Fire"

In 1998, ESPN wrote that the Indianapolis Colts should take Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning. In their magazine, they wrote that while Manning was hard-working and diligent, Leaf showed that "fire," that "give-me-the-ball-coach" spark that proved winning itself. Manning in turn, was too cerebral, too highbrow. Leaf liked monster trucks, was a guy's guy, doesn't give a crap. Manning was a daddy's boy. Don't trust me, read for yourself. Here's the url of the article and look back in anger.

When Lou Pinella
was hired to be manager of the Tampa Bay Rays (Devil Rays at the time), the media went into a frenzy. From Sportscenter to talk radio, to even the Sunday New York Times Magazine, the media was united; Lou Pinella was exactly the guy the Rays needed to kick their butts and get them into contention. And while the Rays did improve somewhat, eventually Pinella's constant berating of his young players (prompting The New York Times among others to ask "Are the Devil Rays Tired of Their Manager") and his frequent public airings of complaints with Tampa Bay's payroll ("I ain't gonna take responsibility for this. If they had given me a better payroll..."), prompted the Rays to buy out Pinella, show him the door and let him take the Chicago Cubs managerial job, where he got the giant payroll he required. Meanwhile, the Rays hired longtime bench coach and baseball "teacher," Joe Maddon---he of the horn-rimmed glasses and quiet disposition. Currently, the Rays are 40-28, with a team salary of 43 million—2nd lowest in baseball. I guess maybe money wasn't the problem.

There's this myth, this cliche that travels around sports media. I like to call it the "Ray Lewis" myth. And that myth is this: that the fiery player, the guy who screams and shows undue emotion is the better player than the cerebral guy, the guy who doesn't have a scowl on show and doesn't needlessly draw attention to himself. Those guys, the quiet ones, are at a disadvantage in our society. Not drawing attention to yourself must mean you have something to hide, becau
se if you were great, why wouldn't you flaunt it? "Cerebral" has come to mean "not passionate;" in sports it's come to mean you're unathletic. Conversely, a "fiery" player, an "intense" player is desirable. Passion, screaming, that's what wins games, right? Just ask Rasheed Wallace.

Google Jeremy Shockey. This week alone, there have been a whole slew of articles saying teams should acquire him—because his "fire" and his "passion" are important. Clifton Brown of The Sporting News writes that while "Shockey is an emotional player who sometimes implodes for no good reason...he's always been a fiery player, and his emotions could be valuable...". Bob Mathews of the Buffalo Democrat and Chronicle agrees. He wants the Bills to trade for Shockey because as an "outspoken and fiery player...He'd bring enthusiasm, talent and star power to the Bills."

And "Star power" is what exactly? Did Jerry Rice lack it because he never concocted a nickname for himself like Ocho Cinco? Did Barry Sanders lack it as well when he ran 85 yards for a touchdown and calmly flipped the ball to the ref and jogged back to the sideline instead of doing a patented celebratory dance in the endzone involving a cell phone and a cheerleader? Having a "fier
y attitude" never got Charles Barkley a ring, did it? And a fiery attitude sure didn't help the Giants, did it? Did they need Shockey's "star power" one bit on their road to a Super Bowl—as Eli suddenly seemed more confident as he was able to spread the ball around without fear of Shockey's pouting and screaming?

More important than star power and intensity, maybe sportswriters should ask, "Can the guy play?" "Is he a right fit for this team?" Shockey has the numbers and the talent, no doubt. But maybe Kevin Boss is a better fit for the Giant's offense. No, Boss is not a better player. He clearly doesn't have the skill set of Shockey, but he is a better blocker, something the Giants' offense requires the TE to do a lot. So maybe in Coughlin's offense, he is a better fit, and not the circle in the square peg. So, why aren't sportswriters discussing whether Shockey's talents fit what the Giants need, instead spreading nonsense about "star power" and "an in-your-face-attitude?" Especially when you consider that his two lowest output games last year (1 catch in each), the Giants won. In his best game - 12 catches - the Giants lost.

The evidence goes back to Lou Gehrig and beyond that a quiet demeanor doesn't necessarily mean you can't play. And having a brash attitude doesn't mean you can (ask self-nominated people's choice Freddie Mitchell). Greg Maddux maybe never showed the "intensity" of
Scott Kamieniecki; John Stockton maybe never was the fiery personality Nick Van Exel was, does that mean that Maddux and Stockton couldn't play?

Well, maybe they were no Ryan Leaf.


Cecilio's Scribe said...

See: Isiah Thomas, Willie Randolph.

constantly called to carpet for lack of fire or emotion. when, in reality, zeke should be critiqued for just flat out sucking

P-Cat said...

Heck yeah. Good call on Zeke. Wasn't about his lack of emotion, but rather he couldn't judge talent, and then he couldn't coach it.