Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Blame Florida Acrimony on Athlete Entitlement

Many people look down on professional athletes for the money they make.

How often do you hear the phrase "He isn't worth that much money," or "Why can't we pay teachers, but (insert name here) can make $100 million?"

Reality is that most sports fans are smart enough to understand the business of sports. They know that players are going to make money because the owners are making it, and they're going to make more money as owners continue to find ways to rake in more dollars.

Fans don't really ask much in return for the big money. They want players to be accessible whenever it's reasonable to expect that, and they want the players to give 100 percent every time they're on the field.

A 162-game baseball season is quite a grind. It can become a real bear if you're playing for a non-contending team. While the Florida Marlins are a decent club, they're not really considered a threat in the NL East.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is one of the better young players in the game. He signed a six-year, $70 million contract in 2008, so he's stuck in Miami for a while, unless he can find a way out.

Of course, behavior like what we saw Monday might be his ticket.

After taking a foul ball off the shin, Ramirez had a ready-made excuse for half-assing a play in the field. Manager Fredi Gonzalez, incensed that his best player would do such a thing, took him out of the game.

Last year's NL batting champion, Ramirez committed a costly error in the second inning after Tony Abreu's looper dropped near him in short left field. The star shortstop accidentally kicked the ball about 100 feet toward the left-field corner and loafed after it, allowing two runners to score as Abreu advanced to third.

Ramirez, who eventually retrieved the ball, was replaced by Brian Barden the next inning. After the game, Gonzalez confirmed that Ramirez was pulled for not hustling.

Ramirez also was shaken up after fouling Edwin Jackson's pitch off his left shin in the first inning and was tended to by a trainer. Moments later, he bounced into an inning-ending double play.

"Hanley left the game because we felt -- he got smoked in the ankle -- but we felt whether he was hurt or not hurt or whatever it was, we felt that the effort wasn't there that we wanted," Gonzalez said. "There's 24 guys out there that are busting their butts. Cody Ross got hit with a ball 95 mph and it wasn't hit or thrown any slower and he stayed in the game making diving plays and battling, got two hits and an RBI.

"There are some injuries there, but we expect an effort from 25 guys on this team and when that doesn't happen, we have got to do something," he added.

Ramirez was not available for comment after Florida's 5-1 loss, which snapped a four-game winning streak.

"They don't leave the game without my permission, so I told him he needed to go inside and we are going to run Barden out there, who has a sprained ankle by the way, and he battled for eight innings in there with a sprained ankle probably killing him, but that's the effort we're looking at as an organization, as a team, and that's that," Gonzalez said.

Are you hurt? If so, and that's the best you can do trying save your team some runs, then you need to come out of the game. It's for your own good, and it's for the good of your team.

However, it seems that Ramirez was either dogging it to dog it, or he felt he could get away with it because he hit himself in the leg and appeared to be dinged up.

Either way, that's not cool. Too many people are paying good money to watch you play on a patch of grass. If you're hurt, come out of the game, get treatment, and let someone else who can go 100 percent take your position.

This is especially true when you're Hanley Ramirez, because it's not like you're going to lose your job by coming out of the game.

Oh, and when you do pull a stunt like this, at least have the decency not to bus-chuck everyone around you in response.

"It's his team. He can do whatever he [expletive] wants," Ramirez, referring to his benching, told reporters Tuesday.

... Ramirez said he didn't see the need to apologize to the team.

"We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls. They don't apologize," Ramirez told reporters, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Ramirez might have a point: The team's 36 errors in 39 games lead the major leagues.

Earlier Tuesday, Wes Helms said that Ramirez needed to lead by example.

"A lot of guys, coaches, staff have told Hanley. With his talent, he definitely needs to be the leader of this team," Helms told reporters, according to MLB.com. "Mentally. Vocally. Everything. For me, to be a leader of the team, you have to lead by example. If you just lead vocally, and don't back it, I'm not saying you have to hit .300, it's the way you handle yourself. That's the way a true leader is. He definitely has the play to be a leader. But you want him to lead by example. It's what you're looking for."

... Ramirez said he wasn't giving up on the play, but his injury limited him.

"I wasn't trying to give up," Ramirez said, according to MLB.com. "That was the hardest I could go after the ball."

Ramirez took a shot at his manager on Tuesday for removing him from the game.

"That's OK. He doesn't understand that. He never played in the big leagues," Ramirez said, according to the Post.

Sounds like Helms is more of a leader than Ramirez is. Perhaps Ramirez should worry more about the other 24 guys on his team, and less about himself.

Then again, what does he have to worry about? Baseball contracts are guaranteed, meaning Ramirez is going to make $70 million between 2008 and 2014. It doesn't matter how much of a jerk he might be, or who he plays for. That's going to be what he makes. Like it or not.

Such entitlement is dangerous for some people. Ramirez knows he's being paid like a star, and no matter what Gonzalez says about everyone being expected to play hard and every player being a Florida Marlin and no different from one another, there is a difference. Ramirez expects to get away with this because he's a star, and because he believes his team can't afford to bench him.

It's the thinking you leave a guy with when you pay him that kind of money on a team with such a low total payroll. While Ramirez is ultimately to blame for his attitude, one has to wonder how much of this is his fault, and how much is simply human nature.

After all, if you're paid like a superstar, and generally treated like a superstar, and you usually play like a superstar, how do you stop yourself from thinking you have earned some sort of special treatment?

And how mad are you going to be when you realize you don't always get it?

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