The Washington Times - April 7, 2009, 12:51PM

It isn’t often one athlete calls another a dork — like Dustin Pedroia did to Alex Rodriguez the other day. Dork is a word usually confined to message boards and Blogland. Do a Google search and you’ll find the term attached to Sean Avery, Dirk Nowitzki, Scott Van Pelt, Jay Mariotti, Billy Packer and countless others in the apparently dork-filled world of sports. One posting even referred to Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, himself a blogger, this way — as in: “Cooley is a dork and he married a smokin’ HOT cheerleader” (giving hope to dorks everywhere).

The definition of dork seems to have a certain fluidity, but most take it to mean: a socially clueless person; one who is totally uncool. Look up dork in the dictionary — if, indeed, your dictionary includes it — and you’re likely to see picture of Michael Scott, the bumbling boss on “The Office” played by Steve Carrell. Napoleon Dynamite also might be considered a Definitive Dork.

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One of my favorite scenes in “Pulp Fiction” is when Harvey Keitel hoses down hit men John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, who are covered with blood from an accidental shooting. After they dry off, he has them put on some knock-around clothes provided by Quentin Tarantino. (Travolta’s outfit is highlighted by a — don’t we wish we all had one — UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs T-shirt.)

Harvey looks them up and down and says, “You guys look like … What do they look like, [Quentin]?

Quentin: “They look like a couple of dorks.”

This is what Pedroia has accused Rodriguez of in an article in Boston Magazine. The author, Tommy Craggs, reports that Dustin asked “that his comments about A-Rod be stricken from the record” – but then he quotes the Red Sox second baseman saying of his rival, “That guy is a dork.” (story: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/dustin_pedroia)

A dork in this instance means, I suspect, a guy who doesn’t know how to act around other guys, a guy who isn’t a good teammate. It might also mean: A guy who slaps the ball out of the fielder’s glove in the American League Championship Series. Anyway, Pedroia has branded Rodriguez with the Scarlet D, and it can be pretty hard to wash off.

Some athletes wear their dorkiness well — glory in it, even. During his time with the St. Louis Cardinals, Will Clark had a sticker above his locker that confessed, without explanation or apology, “I am a dork.” Davis Love III, meanwhile, has always seemed quite comfortable in his own skin, despite the perception, as articulated by one blogger, that he “is a dork with his trucker Titleist hat and his preppy Polo shirts.”

Here’s another Dork for Our Times: Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan who interfered with the fly ball in Game 6 of the ‘03 NLCS and helped keep the Curse of the Billy Goat intact. Had he made a smooth one-handed catch, though, we might view him differently … as an party pooper and Obstructer of History, perhaps, but not a dork. What made him a dork as much as anything is that he muffed the catch.

And now A-Rod has been branded the New York Dork. Any day now, I expect William Safire, the New York Times’ language cop, to weigh in on the subject, to discuss the etymology and assorted definitions of this undesirable label, this all-purpose putdown. To borrow — and slightly rework — the words of a famous football coach, better to have died as a small boy … than to have a fellow competitor call you a dork.

- Dan Daly