Arencibia battle with Media illustrates an important lesson

Dec 6, 2013 by

Arencibia battle with Media illustrates an important lesson

The departure of JP Arencibia from the Toronto Blue Jays this week should come as no surprise.    In early July, his disappointing performance on the field was exacerbated by making an enemy of the media – unsurprisingly, his season would spiral downward afterward.  Unable to handle criticism from local broadcasters Arencibia took it upon himself to orchestrate an interview with the Fan590 in order to “call out” and tarnish the reputations of Greg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst, saying their continued harsh criticism of the team and his play were unfair, irresponsible and too negative.   Additionally, he got personal by questioning the integrity of Zaun, attacking him over of an unproven allegation that he used PED’s while playing in the Major leagues (based on his name being listed in the Mitchell Report).  Arencibia basically tried to publicly embarrass two key and well-respected local sports commentators either to shame them into becoming homers or to have them fired.  One thing that sports history has taught us time and time again is that no one wins against the media.

After hearing this interview on the radio I knew Arencibia’s career was over with the Jays. He waged an unwinnable war on the media and brought an unnecessary amount of attention to both himself and the team and the consequences would be devastating.  It would take an MVP type of season to justify his comments and a major turnaround by the Blue Jays – neither of which took place.  Not only did things get much worse for Arencibia on the field, finishing the season hitting an abysmal .194 with a .227 on base percentage, the Blue Jays would go on to have an unexpectedly disappointing 74-88 season, good for last place in the AL East, in a year where playoff aspirations were highly anticipated.

Publicly pitting oneself against the media is a tactic very few professional athletes or coaches and managers ever win.  The writers and broadcasters will dictate a player’s legacy as much as ones on field play. Just ask Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, arguably the best pitcher and fielder in the last 30+ years (maybe even in baseball history), how quickly their historic feats have been mitigated and largely dismissed by the highly sensitive, critical and selectively moralistic national media.  Neither player had a good relationship with the media (Bonds in particular was frequently prickly and antagonistic), and it has damaged their public perception and will undoubtedly negatively impact how they will be remembered from a historic perspective.  The minute an opportunity arose to tarnish these players on-field performance, with allegations of PED use during the steroid era, the vultures in the media came out in full force to ensure they had the final say on these former greats. Unfortunately, it has provided an opportunity for critics to rewrite history as a type of punishment to players who did not conform to social expectations.  Some bear the brunt of the criticism in part due to their status in the game, but also because of their strained relationships with the media.

Clemens and Bonds are now outcasts from a game they once dominated; the perception of these men will always be tainted because they didn’t get along with the media and their indiscretions were heavily pronounced as a result.  Their on-field greatness has been portrayed as disingenuous and fraudulent because they may have used PED’s, for an unspecified time, to enhance their play much like a significant number of players from their generation.  How anyone can measure the true impact of PED use is a topic notably absent from the discourse surrounding drug use and its role in baseball.  It seems more important to vilify those who were implicated, and those who didn’t develop friendly relationships with media, or who have not apologised for their so-called transgressions have publicly suffered the most.  The truth that very few media members will state publicly, is that these athletes in particular are generally viewed as jerks and easy targets to villainize; hence, justifying any criticism or harsh punishment because they routinely displayed unlikable human traits.  This is a motif that can be found throughout the history of professional sports and is currently on full display once again with the witch hunt that has followed Alex Rodriguez.  Each player performed at a level rarely seen in the history of the baseball, but because they refuse to succumb to the demands of the media by apologizing and begging for forgiveness they continue to languish in baseball purgatory.

Harsh penalties for challenging the media are not reserved for the brutes in sport alone as illustrated with Arencibia’s recent experience.  On the surface JP is everything you want from a baseball player.  He’s confident, charming, handsome, a strong member of the local charitable community and unlike Bonds and Clemens, he is an extremely likeable athlete.  He also appears to have all the genetic talent and ambition to become a very good baseball player, but his inability to take criticism from the media for his failings on the field reveal a character lacking in emotional and intellectual maturity and his performance on the field is certainly being affected.   These are traits many young professional athletes need to develop, but most know better than to illustrate their weaknesses on a national stage and he’s been punished severely as a result.  Whether his release from the Blue Jays serves as a wakeup call or not has yet to be determined, but a once shining young star could very easily be out of the game in the next few years if he doesn’t find a way to turn his career around.  It goes to show you how quickly a highly talented young player can easily destroy his own career.  In addition, Arencibia’s feud with the media reinforces the idea that as a professional athlete it’s better to focus on performing on the field than battle the talking heads in print or in television.  Likeable or not, a professional athlete must succumb to the norms and mores of the medias expectations.  If you’re likeable you may get some leeway in times of adversity, but if you’re disliked there better not be any skeletons in your closet or they will be exposed in embarrassing detail.

Young Arencibia obviously didn’t learn from history and didn’t know how to “play the game”. He wasn’t mentally tough enough to overcome the deluge of criticism and backlash from fans and media alike that has followed him since he challenged Zaun and Hayhurst.  Having one of the worst statistical years in the history of the game did not help his cause – making it even easier and even necessary for the Blue Jays to find another starting catcher and to release the once promising rising star.  It’s a disappointing end to a popular and likeable athlete in the Toronto community; unfortunately, he did not learn from the failures of past athletes who thought they too could challenge the media and win.  History has proven it’s simply a battle not worth fighting.





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