Thursday, February 14, 2013

Trevor Bauer's endearingly awful rapping and its context

Warning! Middle-aged white dude about to write about rap! Proceed with caution!

So, earlier in the offseason, the Diamondbacks traded pitching prospect Trevor Bauer to the Indians. A lot was made at the time, and in the preceding months, about Bauer's "attitude" problems. Many of the articles about his attitude would make mention of his rapping hobby. 

I always thought this a tad odd. How many players have been in really, really, really terrible rock/country bands? Several, it seems. Heck, they used to play Scott Spiezio's band on FOX during playoff games, for reasons I can't really figure out. I can probably still get Bronson Arroyo's record at Newbury Comics. There's a section in Tony Conigliaro's excellent biography by David Cataneo about how he fancied himself as something of a crooner. It's often used in those puff "player profile" pieces as something that gives a player some personality, a bit of a backstory. "Remember when you were in a crummy garage band? So is (insert player here). They're just like us!"

By contrast, mentions of Bauer's rapping seem to be portrayed. I'll speculate that it's because most of the people who write about sports are white guys over 45. I'm not really much of a rap guy myself, but I'm a 32-year-old who plays with LEGOs and stickers, so I'm in no position to call the hobby of another human being immature.

No, the fact that he raps isn't, alone, what's interesting. It's how incredibly bad he is at it

From Bauer's site:
https://soundcloud.com/consummate4sight


Deadspin has a story up today about Bauer's latest track, and posits that it may be a diss to an ex-teammate, catcher Miguel Montero. Really, it could be directed at anyone within the organization, I suppose. After all, there were rumors of him having a bad attitude for months, then he was traded for what seems like fifty cents on the dollar. The Diamondbacks certainly didn't do anything to quash rumors that the problems with Bauer were attitude-related. So I'd be kind of angry too.

But seriously - listen to that song for as long as you can put up with it. Suppose that was directed at you. Can you possibly do anything but giggle? He's really, really, really, really bad at rapping. To me, that's endearing - more endearing than if he were singing in a terrible country/rock band, because that's sort of expected. "This young prospect tore through the Big 12 and was picked eights overall and likes Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton, plays the guitar in his spare time, hunts in the offseason and ZZzzzzzz...." Seen that before. At least Bauer is clearly different.

This leads me to two pieces of unscientific philosophizing: 

First, I have to wonder -it's part of my nature, I guess - how Bauer's rapping would be received and reported if he weren't white. My guess is that many would be just as hard on him, but he'd also have many more people arguing that he's misunderstood. (Note: I'm definitely not trying to make one of those BS arguments that there's this huge double standard in society and that us white folks have it so tough compared to minorities who get affirmative action and preferential treatment. We don't, and if you think that you're wrong.) I find it interesting because it so defies societal convention and expectation. If it were a non-white player in the same situation, his critics and defenders would fall predictably in line. Heck, you can probably skip the Stephen A. Smith vs. Skip Bayless argument on First Take on your own. Bauer doesn't have a predictable base of defenders here.

Second, how much of the flak that Bauer takes is from being a rapper, vs. how much of it is that he's a bad rapper. I mean, the fact that he's bad makes the situation funnier in a general sense. In the context of his "attitude problem" though, what if he rapped like Jay Z? How would the perception be altered? The only difference in the story would be how good he is at his hobby, which shouldn't matter. Does anyone know if Roy Halladay is actually any good at hunting?

Maybe I'm making too much of the whole rapper thing in the way Bauer is discussed. Still, the fact that it's mentioned so frequently in discussions of him means that it's clearly altering people's perception. It's an interesting twist on the whole "attitude problem" story, because of the cultural facet. 

Ultimately, the most important factor in how Bauer is treated will be how well he pitches. If he takes over as the Indians ace and becomes a front-line pitcher--which is his upside--the whole "chip on his shoulder" angle will be played up, a la Michael Jordan, Dustin Pedroia, and countless others. If he busts, though, it will be interesting to see how frequently his attitude is blamed, and more interesting to see how frequently rap is used as an example of his attitude.

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