It wasn’t enough that we all had to be dragged through the Miguel Tejada ordeal by ESPN (yes, fine, big deal; but why make a spectacle out of it?), the Mother Ship from Bristol has decided to criss-cross the Caribbean from the sunny beaches of the Dominican Republic to the northern coast of Colombia to bring us the apparent bad blood between its two most prominent baseball players, Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Rentería.
According to an upcoming report in ESPN The Magazine (and published today at espn.com), there is rising animosity between the two shortstops originating in a business deal gone bad related to Colombian professional baseball, Cabrera and Rentería’s family.
To make a long story short, Cabrera bought the Cartagena franchise “Los Indios” last year from Rentería’s family business, Team Renteria (who runs the professional league down there) only to sell it right back after the short one-month season. Cabrera claims he’s owed money in from his cut of ticket sales, advertising and TV deals. Rentería alleges Cabrera bought the franchise only to run it into the ground out of what Rentería considers spite and jealousy; what’s more, he is saying:
“I won’t accept dealing with him. I think he’s disrespected so many baseball people in Colombia who have been working to improve the sport. And that’s not something I can accept, even with an apology from him.”
“He wanted to buy one team so he could wreck everything that’s been done with the league,” Edgar says. “I think he did it out of malice. You should ask him what he has against the Renterías. For several years, people have told me that he’s jealous of me. People have always known me more in Colombia than him, and I think that bothers him.”
There are a couple of things that surprise me about this story; one of which isn’t ESPN’s gullibility in believing there is a story here. Just like in the Tejada case, they found a fissure and wedged their press pass deep enough to create a gaping void. Again, there may have been journalistic recency to the Tejada story, but ESPN was marketing the thing like it was a heavyweight title fight. And in this case, just as the White Sox are playing the Yankees in prime-time, and as Orlando Cabrera is at the plate, the TV anchors point to the story as it’s being published on ESPN’s website. What? Does ESPN get the final say in what’s news?
But again, that doesn’t surprise me.
What does surprise me is Rentería’s handling of this situation. In Colombia, baseball is an afterthought; it’s like Lacrosse, you know it’s there, but you think only college kids are playing it every now and then. The exception to the rule is Rentería’s name. Just like ESPN correctly points out, he became a celebrity after his game-winning hit in the ’97 World Series. Hell, I was watching the game on public access TV in Colombia – There were three public channels back then. Unlike Rentería, Cabrera is lesser known, and that I dare say is a direct result of Rentería’s fame (and quite literally, Rentería was scouted by Cabrera’s father, who also gave the Expo’s Orlando’s older brother, Jolbert, before Cabrera himself made it to the big leagues).
Colombia’s major and most important daily, El Tiempo, relishes in Rentería’s success. Their coverage of Rentería’s career seems to imply that he is Colombian baseball. Check that, Rentería is Colombian baseball. If Rentería has a bad night, it’s news, if he hits a home run, it’s news. Ironically, just tonight as ESPN published their story, Rentería’s line at the plate sat under the “Grandes Ligas” headline (Major Leagues) on El Tiempo’s website (ironic also that El Tiempo was caught with their pants down, and in haste, after the embarrassment of being scooped, they decided to buy the story from ESPN and run a word-for-word translation).
Cabrera does gets some coverage, as he’s made a name of himself, mainly due to his leadership and gamer attitude. And he’s always mentioned every year when the Colombian media select the sportsman’ of the year. But make no mistake, ask any Colombian to name a ball player, and Rentería will be the overwhelming response.
So what does all this have to do with this squabble over the $25,000 Cabrera invested (keep in mind these two players make millions)? Nothing! And that’s why there’s no story here. ESPN makes it seem like because there just happens to be two Colombian ball players in the league, it’s news that there is some tension where one would assume would exist cordiality and friendship. What? Do all players from Hawaii have to get along? Canadians?
I don’t blame ESPN; the New York Times had a similar piece during the 2004 World Series (theirs was of the positive spin kind) that still commodified the difference these two ball players represent. And it’s a natural thing for the MSM to take a “cultural” angle to any story and run with it; but ESPN took it to the gutter.
Even after reading ESPN’s masturbatory story “Behind the story”, it’s still not clear to me how the reporter “discovered” it, or why it’s relevant to us. In fact, Team Rentería’s communication director, Fabio Poveda Ruiz, published an open letter on its website, criticizing the writer behind the story, Jorge Arangure, for various factual inaccuracies, and for relying on stereotypical descriptions of life in Colombia.
What is really sad, however, is Rentería’s handling of the situation. This is a personal matter between his family and his family’s business and Cabrera. It’s no secret that Rentería has had issues with being in the spotlight (main reason he got shipped out from Boston), but he didn’t have a choice in becoming the face of Colombian baseball, he simply was ordained by the nature of Colombian sports and sports journalism where idolatry supplants true, good-hearted sport fanaticism. In fact, it was because of his prominence amongst Colombians that I was able to land an interview with him for a magazine I work for here in Atlanta that caters to the Colombian community – instead of being open to the opportunity to engage, he asked me to get it over with quick after he took batting practice.
At the time I figured, hey, we’re a small magazine, I should appreciate any second I get. But it’s clear now; like many prominent Colombian sports figures, fame and fortune get to their head to a point where they forget what their role is. In this case, Rentería fell for the oldest trick in a reporter’s notebook. By speaking publicly about his problems with Cabrera, he dragged his fellow country man through the mud; Rentería says Cabrera is giving Colombian baseball a bad name, but what’s clear to me is that not even Yamid Haad, the next best Colombian prospect, who was suspended for using steroids, did as much damage as this “story” will.