When Darryl Strawberry was arrested last week after allegedly cruising for a hooker and having cocaine on his person, or possibly cruising for cocaine and having a hooker on his person—honestly, who can keep track anymore?—the New York Yankees outfielder made a strong case for himself as baseball's Jerk of the Week. A formal dishonor, a kind of Bobby Knighthood, the Jerk is bestowed every seven days on a few baseball and basketball personalities by the custodians of www.jerkoftheweek.com, a Web site that monitors Kevin Brown and Barry Bonds in the same way that Greenpeace monitors seal poachers.
So when new Baltimore Orioles outfielder Albert Belle said in spring training, "I'll put forth the effort to work with the media," and less than two weeks later announced that he would never again speak to the press, he was named a Jerk, and not for the first time. Indeed, Belle is on his way to the Irving Thalberg Lifetime Achievement Award for his unrivaled body of jerkwork—or was until he became a subject of a Web site this season and revealed himself to be a self-effacing, life-embracing Roberto Benigni.
"Hey everybody," is the salutation at www.athletedirect.com, where the sanguine slugger has described "the pageantry" of Opening Day, played a superhero in a series of Saved by Albert Belle comic strips and challenged visitors to complete a crossword puzzle faster than he did. What's a six-letter word for Magnanimous Marylander? A-L-B-E-R-T, who will one day make the author of The Joey Belle Sucks Page! eat his words. Or eat something, anyway.
Big leaguers past and present have found a place where their reputations can be overhauled, their legacies Armor-Alled: It's called cyberspace. What Pravda was to the U.S.S.R., the personal Web page is to MLB. To read of Steve Garvey's "conservative defensive moves" and "great hands" on the Steve Garvey Mr. Consistency Home Page is to wonder if the phrases are unintentionally resonant or are superdeadpan references to the off-field interests of the politically right-wing serial philanderer. This is, after all, the Los Angeles Dodger who inspired the most memorable item on David Letterman's Top Ten List of Least Popular Exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame: "Number 4—Steve Garvey's bed and on-deck circle."
Ty Cobb, Steve Carlton, Bonds and Brown are among other ornery cusses who have had their images burnished—their skeleton closets refurnished—on the Internet. Among the contributors to these pages are enabling fans, cyber-stalking groupies, memorabilia profiteers and the athletes themselves. A home run hitter who once gave a rat to a female reporter is pictured as an adorable baby in a photo posted on the Official Dave Kingman Site; visitors to www.reggiejackson.com will see a leering Mr. October surrounded by endearing Mr. Octobears, stuffed animals that can be yours if you call a toll-free number. (Have your major credit card handy.)
As a Yankee, Jackson declared himself "the straw that stirs the drink." New York's latter-day Straw can be worshiped at, among other places in cyberspace, the Darryl Strawberry Tribute Page and a grammar-challenged site called The Man That Built New York. The anonymous author of that page, writing before last week's arrest, seemed convinced that history would vindicate his subject. "Someday," reads a caption, " New York will be renamed the Big Strawberry."
What a World Wide Web we weave when first we practice to deceive.