Tom Garfinkel, San Diego Padres President and CEO, to Padres season ticket owners this past weekend:
"Zack Greinke is a different kind of guy. Anybody seen Rain Man? He's a very smart guy. He has social anxiety disorder. He doesn't interact well with his team; he doesn't have meals with his teammates. He spends his life studying how to get hitters out.... This is my opinion, and I can't say this publicly, although I guess this is public, so please don't tweet it out. We're in the trust tree here, in the nest. He hit him on purpose, that's what I believe. And then the next thing is, I don't know about you guys, but I'm 6'3", 225. If Carlos Quentin was running at me, I would not put my shoulder down."
Zack Greinke has a couple of problems right now, neither of which are his well-managed, much-documented, but largely misunderstood social anxiety disorder. First and foremost is that a broken collarbone, which he sustained while he was assaulted by the aforementioned Carlos Quentin during a baseball game, is keeping him off of the field for the next eight weeks or so. Those eight weeks figure to make it harder for an injury-plagued Dodger team to keep up with the Giants and Diamondbacks.
But the bigger problem that Greinke, and the 15 million fellow sufferers of social anxiety disorder (according to the NIH) and other psychiatric disorders face is with the smug ignorance of those like San Diego Padres president and CEO Tom Garfinkel. In audio acquired by Yahoo! Sports, Garfinkel uses shorthand like "Rain Man" -- yes, like the movie -- to lump together anyone with a mental illness or impairment and present their difficulty with socialization to be a kind of character flaw, as well as perhaps give the impression that Greinke, because of his disorder, has a savant-like ability to pitch exactly how he wants to when he wants to, and encyclopedic knowledge of hitters.
Rain Man came out in 1988, so you can be forgiven if you haven't seen it. It's about Charlie, a selfish jerk with money problems (Tom Cruise), who finds out his father has left almost his entire estate to his long-lost, autistic-savant brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who cannot function outside of a mental institution. Raymond (who's a baseball fan, by the way), has a photographic memory and is extremely high-functioning mathematically. Charlie kidnaps Raymond from the institution and takes him on a road trip from Ohio to California, where they both learn something and grow closer, as people tend to do in movies.
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports
It's actually a good picture, and Hoffman's portrayal of Raymond won him an Academy Award for Best Actor. However, it's also responsible for spreading a great deal of misinformation about autism that still is pervasive in the popular culture, since Hoffman was widely lauded for his "method" approach and the research he did going into his role. Many people who saw the movie went away assuming that people with autism belonged in institutions and had compensating super powers, whereas now we know there's a wide spectrum of disabilities, and the vast majority of those with autism aren't ever placed in asylums. Casual references like Garfinkel's continue to misrepresent autism to general audiences who aren't in the know -- i.e., most people -- and conflate the very different diagnoses.
Moreover, while this snide empty suit was busy insulting essentially everybody (including those Padres fans) who suffer from mental disorders, he was also criticizing the way a person responded to getting attacked on a ball field. Garfinkel goes on at great lengths about the supposed history between Quentin and Greinke, alleging that the ace has been throwing at or around Quentin's head for years. Despite what the Padres CEO thinks, Greinke almost certainly was not trying to hit the leadoff batter in the sixth inning of a one-run game. Moreover, as I pointed out last week, Quentin is the most hittable batter in major-league history. While I realize that charging the mound has been an acceptable part of baseball's history for the last 150 years, there's no batter alive who has less cause to blame the pitcher when he gets beaned. What happened to Zack Greinke is as close to an assault as you're likely to see during a baseball game -- okay, in today's game, anyway -- and saying Greinke asked for it and shouldn't have dropped his shoulder (you know, in all the time he had to think about it while a 240 pound Quentin was barreling in at him) is classic victim blaming.
This classless numbskull is sorry, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, "I was emotional the day after the game and regrettably, while defending our player, I said some things I shouldn't have, especially as it relates to Zack Greinke. I was out of line and I apologize." As well he should. He should issue apologies all around, to Greinke, to the Padres organization, to Padres fans, and especially to those who suffer from social anxiety disorder and autism, as well as anybody else he happened to offend along the way, are certainly warranted. Apologies are a good start, even if they're several days late and more than a few bucks short.
But it's what we do when no one is looking that truly demonstrates who we are as people. Garfinkel clearly understood that his comments were public, and practically begged the season ticket holders he was addressing not to publicize them. It's hard to take his apology seriously, and to accept it, when he didn't see fit to apologize for them immediately while he was still in "the trust tree."