Moral Implications of the MVP — and Other Nonsense

I admit, I was hacked off when Albert Pujols again got robbed of a National League MVP award. When the Phillies' Ryan Howard won the award recently, it marked the third time in Pujols' six-year career that he'd finished second in the balloting. The Cardinals first baseman did win it in 2005, but he deserved it this year, too.

I won't get into the details of why Pujols should have won — yeah, Howard had a few more homers and RBIs, but those numbers tell only a fraction of the story — because that isn't the point I'm making. What disturbed me more than Pujols' getting shafted was my reaction to it.

I ranted about how ignorant the baseball writers must be, how Pujols is a well-rounded player and how easily the long ball reduces even the sport's cognoscenti to drooling dolts (see: Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and the 1998 Summer of Doomed Love).

I've ranted like this before, often in print. I've gotten quite worked up and indignant over the firings of coaches, the calls of a referee, baseball's wild-card system, NASCAR's esoteric rule book… I can be downright self-righteous about whether the women players should receive equal pay at Wimbledon (until they play as many sets as the men, they shouldn't; equal pay should only come with equal workloads).

Anyway, this is a phenomenon I've noticed all around me. Fans cursing at NASCAR drivers as if they were Osama's best friend, a parent cussing out a coach for not giving his son more minutes, sports writers treating those they disagree with like Satan's spawn. In sports, it doesn't take much for people to get their moral dander up.

We humans like to be self-righteous, and when our moral compass is out of whack, we find trivial things to be indignant about. Like how much the Red Sox spent ($51 million) just for the right to negotiate with a Japanese pitcher who received a lukewarm endorsement from his own manager. Why do we do this?

At least two reasons: (a) the more we know about something, the better we feel we can defend our convictions about it; and (b) it makes us feel good about our morality even as we push aside the personal issues, such as, say, our own sinfulness.

It's an old truth that putting down someone else is a way to lift oneself up. There's really nothing wrong with finding fault where there is legitimate fault to be found, but there needs to be more humility in our lectures. I've been on the receiving end of some pretty self-righteous, even vicious harangues, so I've come to understand how my own diatribes can be rather strong.

(As an aside, I realize this very column examines the moral implications of certain issues in sports, but only insofar as they reflect the deep inner workings of the human heart and mind. And I like to think I'm more thoughtful and calm in my presentation than I used to be.) Imagine if your every misstep was harshly criticized by some stranger.

The most bombastic among us would often, I suspect, feel the most vulnerable to being scrutinized. But there is Someone taking our moral temperature. We can be like the Pharisees and thank God we're not like those sinners over there, but we need to be more like the sinner in the street pounding his chest and begging forgiveness.

I'm not saying that I or anyone else shouldn't point out wrongs, and get angry about them — see again: McGwire, Sosa, the wool — even if they're in the sporting world, where an inflated moral sense exists.

However, we should not let what are really insignificant issues — like a minor slump by future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez — work us into a moral lather that leaves us looking and sounding like rabid dogs.

Brad Locke is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.

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