In This House He’s ‘Yadi’

Friendship, Objectification, and The Morality of Knees

Yadier Molina is probably not your friend. I’m sorry. He’s definitely not mine, no matter how regularly my girlfriend tweets at him or how hard I dream. Yet there he is on my screens and in my thoughts, and here’s me hollering every time he comes up to bat, and she’s yelling back “Yah-deeee,” and so on. And here, likewise, is the communal nature of our so-called Cardinal nation, by which we experience genuine human loss any time a player is traded, or injured, or sent off to Memphis, and cheer warmly upon his return, whatever colors he’s wearing.

Despite the fact that we’re not friends, I’m concerned for Yadi’s body. Principally I am concerned about his knees, which cannot possibly be getting any better, and will eventually, one day in the dark and terrible future, bring an end to an historic career behind the plate. Last year’s injury was either a knee “strain” or “inflammation,” neither of which augur well for a professional croucher. The team swears they are going to rest him, sure. But with his recent innings-caught as high as anyone’s, and the average number of pitches per ballgame at 146 at climbing, we have to wonder: for how much longer can he possibly go on? I shudder. I bite nails. I sweat now, long before the humidity arrives.

I can’t imagine the nature of my fear is unique. Did you feel a vague or floating relief when you heard the news that the Cardinal’s severed their ties with physician George Paletta after sixteen years? I did, despite having no hard or inside information regarding his effectiveness. I just know that I want the best mechanic money can buy and I know somewhere between my heart and gut that Paletta was no longer him.

But I don’t know anything. I read Bernie and believe Bernie, for the most part, and Bernie never quite trusted Dr. P.

Thinking down this path reveals pretty quickly just how easily we objectify the man or woman whose body we’re tracking for its capacity to perform. We use “professional athlete” as a kind of linguistic tongs. We’re either taking their performances for granted, assuming regularity and fortitude and stamina, the way we do, say, a carbon monoxide detector, or we’re exalting them for some feat of transcendence. When the bodies fail, we cart them quickly out of sight and begin to wonder (and write, and gripe) about what it means for us.

Of course, neither of these is even remotely compatible with a notion of “friendship.” And this is how we end up committing that great, routine human crime of forgetting how other humans are human.

So, distances get distanced, and we start to talk about how different they are, these athletes. Richard Sherman speaks and the non-athlete talkers start talking about different values, different “cultures,” even, at which point our spectacular viewership and commentary achieves peak hideousness. “Culture,” with its tenor of officialdom and hilariously transparent semiotics — America picks up what you’re laying down, Paul Ryan, wink. “Culture,” with its route of zero resistance, its cowardly, wholesale circumvention of any and all…

But this is a much larger conversation than a post like this can handle. For now: aware of our distances and aware the countless ways America achieves its otherings, I find myself back to Yadi’s knees, and have the following thought. Indeed, yes, a big part of my concern for these knees is, like yours, rooted in my love for the Cardinals in general and Yadier Molina, professional baseball catcher, in particular. However, another big part stems from my awareness of, and fear for, my own knees. At 35, my knees ache every time I stand, much less crouch. These aches result, I believe, in an experience of watching and worrying over Yadi that’s different than I would have, say, 10 years ago.

Let’s call this concern for another’s body that grows from concern for one’s own body something like somatic sympathy. We know, or should, that true empathy is impossible — in fact it’s probably time we stop hurling “empathy” about like some skeleton key to all the world’s problems, this singular and simple solution we so love to say, repeat and fill into our interviews and TED talks and soft-philosophy treatises so that now, like “culture,” it’s become a shortcut around the work the term requires.

But I suppose my suggestion is that we might do well to consider how, exactly, we obsess over athlete’s bodies. The risks of objectification are constant and varied — these men are othered by our media the second they assume a number. But it does also seems to me that the regular, devoted spectation of our favorite players performing for our favorite team can create a false but no less useful feeling of familiarity. And from this familiarity might come something almost like morality, one that takes its foundation in mutual embodiment — that only, only thing we all of us have in common.

In any case, it’s clear that whatever broad potential for moral improvement that sports might offer is radically increased when watching Yadier Molina play sports, namely baseball, namely as a member of the beloved and frequently world-champion St. Louis Cardinals. It follows thus that being a Cardinals fan increases your chance of being a good person, something we all know but it’s nice to be reminded of, anyway.

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