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Why Ian Stewart's Suspension Matters

We aren't likely to see Ian Stewart in a Cubs uniform again, and maybe not in anyone else's big-league uniform, either. Here's why.

Mike Ehrmann

Here, first, the facts as announced Friday by the Cubs:

Chicago Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart is serving a 1O-game suspension without pay for violating the loyalty cause in his contract, according to a team official. The 1O-game suspension, which came after he ranted on Twitter on Monday about his status within the organization, began Wednesday.

Stewart is appealing the suspension, but let's count it out: 10 games, presuming a 162-game season (which you'd have to because Stewart has a major-league contract), is 6.173 percent of a year. No pay for that amount of time is a penalty of (approximately) $123,460, a not-insignificant amount of money for the player, and some small savings for the Cubs. The team is also trying to save more:

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday the two sides are talking about working out a way for Stewart to leave the team while giving the Cubs salary relief. Stewart has a one-year, $2-million deal.

My friend Grant Brisbee wrote this article last Tuesday, when the Twitter rant that got Stewart suspended first came to light. In it, he offered this defense of Stewart:

I've never been as good at anything as Stewart is at baseball; the odds are at least decent that you haven't, either. It was the kind of "great" that defined him, informed his every decision. It was the opening sentence on his personal résumé, the first thing people mentioned when his name came up. Ian Stewart? Great baseball player. Ian Stewart? Helluva baseball player.

Then he was bad at baseball at the highest level when everyone was watching.

I can't fathom what kind of mental jolt that gives a person. I don't care if your special skill is singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the shower or juggling six oranges, the second you can't do it anymore, it messes you up. In this case, it's a kid in his mid-2Os who has this happen to him. This isn't Clint Eastwood having trouble scouting when he's 8O, this is a spore of a human having to deal with failure for the first time at the endeavor that's defined him for his entire life.

While this is all true, I'm going to make precisely the opposite argument. It's exactly what made Ian Stewart a major-league baseball player that makes what he did unacceptable.

Next time you watch a major-league game, look at all the players on the field. Every single one of them was the best player on his team when he was 10. He was the best player on his high-school team (or other similar team if he's not from North America), and if he played college ball, he was one of the best, if not the best, players on that team too.

From the time these players are teenagers, they are catered to, looked up to, given exalted status that they may or may not deserve, and that they may or may not be able to handle. By the time they get to the big leagues and make salaries that, even for the minimum-wage player, put him into the upper strata of wage-earners in the United States of America, they have to do little for themselves. They fly on charter flights with first-class seating; they never have to handle luggage; they have people making housing and travel and contract arrangements for them and people who clean up after them after games.

Almost literally, the only things they are required to do for their jobs are to keep themselves in top physical condition, show up at the ballpark every day, and give 100 percent effort. None of us as fans -- the people who buy the tickets and the products advertised on the television broadcasts that pay their salaries -- can ask anything more of these athletes.

Some of them get it. Some of them understand that their physical gifts have allowed them to make enough money in a few short years of playing baseball that neither they nor any of their descendants will ever have to worry about money.

And some of them don't. I submit that Ian Stewart appears to be one of those who doesn't. He was given a contract paying him $2 million this year, even though there was considerable uncertainty whether he could play at all in 2013, let alone at peak level. This is more money than most of us will see in a lifetime. The management in charge felt that was a worthwhile risk -- and what they got, instead, was insubordination.

Publicly, Stewart put forth mostly an air of entitlement. I don't pretend to know anything about his personal life, but my perception is that Stewart doesn't get it, doesn't understand how fortunate he is that his physical talents have allowed him to make this kind of money. I'm not going to sit here and be one of those people who say, "Well, teachers are more valuable and they don't get paid like that and they should." The market is what it is. In the second decade of the 21st Century, baseball players get paid millions of dollars, whereas decades ago, they were paid more along the lines of the Average Joe, so much so that most of them took offseason jobs to make ends meet. Most players today don't have to do that.

Grant Brisbee wrote:

I don't think any of us can really understand what it's like to be Ian Stewart right now. It's a cocktail of frustration, and most of us will never have to deal with any of the separate ingredients. No one should feel bad for the baseball players who have made several million dollars before they realize that something's wrong.

But we can feel a little sympathetic for them, at least. Where Ian Stewart has gone, I have most certainly never been. So I can't judge what he's saying now that he's there.

While there is no doubt that Ian Stewart has run into an immense amount of professional frustration, much of it not his fault (injuries happen to players all the time), I submit that virtually all of us have had frustrations with our chosen professions. I know I have. That doesn't give me the right to go off on a public rant that Grant compared to:

the equivalent of grabbing his crotch and waggling at the regional supervisor when he or she was in the middle of a site audit.

As I wrote above, all I want from the athletes I watch play baseball is keeping themselves in shape, showing up on time and giving maximum effort. The rest of it is natural differences in the abilities, both physical and mental, of the players, the reasons we watch the games and care about the results. I don't have any sympathy for someone whose public statements reek of entitlement, instead of that honest effort, and I suspect neither will other major-league general managers. If you were in such a position, would you hire someone who acted the way Stewart has? I wouldn't. And a suspension of this length -- and I hope it's upheld -- sends the right lesson; players need to think more about where they are and how they got there, and how to act once they've hit the big leagues.