Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bull Durham, Politics, and Catching Prospects

Rob Neyer (Sorry, Insider only) weighed in on the Hall of Fame's Bull Durham do-over with some uncharacteristic political commentary. Regarding Dale Petroskey's idiotic cancellation of the event back in 2003:

When this happened, I swore to myself that I wouldn't support the Hall of Fame materially until Petroskey was gone. I know that wars often bring out the worst in us, but that doesn't mean we should accept such behavior blindly. In 2003, Petroskey and his ilk equated dissent with treason, which is about as un-American as anything you can think of.

I broke that promise.

The Hall of Fame -- or more precisely, the Hall of Fame's Research Center -- has been too good to me, so I've been a dues-paying member for some years now. But my visit to Cooperstown this summer would have been somewhat less satisfying if Petroskey hadn't been fired a few months earlier. As for Petroskey wishing for a do-over, that's easy to say after the fact. Just ask this former Republican official. Or this one.
A lot of sports bloggers spout off about politics from time to time, but Neyer usually isn't one of them. As such, when he does venture into the political, we can probably assume that his sentiments are about something very important to him and -- given that Rob has an editorial layer above him who answers to a large, controversy-averse media corporation -- you can bet that he had to fight to get those sentiments published.

The point here, is that Rob isn't one to engage in partisan hackery or waste his editorial capital on silly, of-the-moment political stuff. In this case he's talking about large concepts like political expression and patriotism that are more than a little important no matter what party you call home. Nevertheless, some of his commenters had an immediate, negative reaction:

Holy hell, we get it, all you guys are giant freakin liberals who hate republicans. Can we just stick to baseball please?

Yeah, really Neyer, you don't mix in politics with baseball, do you? Making mistakes is clearly something only conservatives do.

Rob, I wished you follow your own advice. You don't do a lot of it, but it has increased a good deal lately. I don't have any interest in reading your politics in your articles, whether its the things I agree with you or the things I disagree with.
There are some defenders in the comment thread too, but these kinds of reactions -- "don't you dare talk about politics in a baseball forum!" -- are pretty common whenever a baseball guy touches on politics. I've gotten similar comments here myself from time to time.

I understand that to a degree. A lot of baseball's appeal is escapism, and who the hell wants real life to intrude? But I can't see how pretending that politics doesn't exist is at all reasonable. Politics is a part of life. Baseball is a part of life. Anyone who overloads on either of them is probably not the healthiest person in the world, but to deny that politics exists within the virtual walls of a given blog is kind of silly. The important thing is to maintain civility, decency and perspective when politics comes up and to remember that even if it's the subject du jour, the primary focus of the forum should remain baseball. It would take approximately 17,000 straight political posts by Neyer for the balance of his blog to tilt even slightly away from baseball content, so let's cut the guy some slack, OK?

Besides, there is something more troubling about Neyer's post than the fleeting intrusion of politics, and that's a criticism of my favorite baseball movie I am not currently prepared to counter. From commenter Amerlis:

Here's the real point. How is it possible that a catcher with power never even made it up for a cup of coffee? It's the premise of that movie. I reject that premise. Therefore I can't stand Bull Durham. It is NOT the best baseball movie ever made. Far from it.
Oh dear. I love Bull Durham, but I'll admit, I have never really considered that aspect of it before. How does a brainy catcher who hits a lot of homers, makes his manager happy, and handles young pitchers with aplomb not stick in the bigs for longer than a cup of coffee? It's one thing to challenge my political assumptions, but man, to go after one of my favorite movies like that is rough, especially when I don't have a ready response.

See? It all comes back to baseball eventually.

32 comments:

Mr. Thursday said...

It's possible that those lessons of being a good teammate and mentor were learned somewhat late in life for Crash Davis, and by the time he got the callup, it was too late for the Big Club to give the guy any real consideration. Maybe.

Vegas Watch said...

His OBP was probably like .270.

Sara K said...

I heart Bull Durham, so much so that I wrote about it for a Lit Crit class as an undergrad. Literary analysis has a way of sucking the fun out of books, movies, TV, and life in general. Case in point: I cringe every time I hear people call the film a "chick flick" or when Susan Sarandon describes Annie Savoy as a powerful female character, since I spent 5 pages writing about how she was essentially a tool of the patriarchal system and the film reinforces the binary opposition of male/female with male being in the priveleged position (see what I mean about ruining the fun? It's hard out here for an English major!). But sexism aside, no amount of overthinking can kill the joy of "Lollygaggers!"

As far as credibility, go back to Ball Four: baseball is not known for its love of free thinkers. Crash was just too durned independently-minded for The Show.

Anonymous said...

APBA Guy-

I think of Crash as a 4A guy-not quite good enough to stick in the majors, but too good for AAA.

He went up, pitchers saw that long swing and abused him (remember "ungodly movement")and his pitcher handling skills, though good, were no better than the guys already on the big club. Plus his arm was suspect.

Down he went.

Anonymous said...

To Sawx fans who have to put up with Schilling, Wakefield, et al. puckering up to Bush/McCain, then Neyer's politics seem fairly tepid.

Anonymous said...

To APBA Guy - If you already knew this, forgive my presumption, but: You can select the "Name/URL" option and give "APBA Guy" as your name. You aren't obliged to supply a URL.

Peace out!

Johnny Wills said...

What I find so remarkable (and so appalling) is the fury and rage that these kinds of commenters hurl at people like Neyer. The thinking seems to be: "if you disagree with my views/values/beliefs, then you are an evil human being and I loathe you." The idea of civilized political debate would appear to be dead. In this and in all fields, perhaps we would be best served by all taking a step back and looking at each other with a kinder eye.

John Peterson said...

I am in the camp of those who are disappointed with baseball bloggers who write about politics. I am a conservative, and know my conservative commentary would not be welcome on my blog. It's just so damn disappointing to find out that a blogger you respect is just another silly liberal. It's not at all surprising, but I'd prefer to imagine that these writers were reasonable in all aspects of life, not just baseball.

Craig Calcaterra said...

John -- Are you suggesting that your disagreement with a baseball writer's politics would cause you to lose respect for their baseball writing too? I can't tell if you mean that, but if you do, I don't understand how one necessarily follows the other.

I also don't understand the equation of reason with conservatism (and the exclusion of liberalism). There are perfectly reasonable, evidence-based liberals, unthinking, emotion-driven conservatives, and vice versa. The only basis for equating lack of reason with liberalism is if you define liberalism as the epithet elective politicians and harsh partisans have come to do in recent years.

This goes back to what Johnny said in the comment above yours. Why do so many think it impossible to disagree on politics yet agree about other things? I bet you and I disagree about health care policy, but I think your post about Jim Bowden made a bunch of sense. Why is that so hard?

Pete Toms said...

Petroskey ripped off the HOF. I was surprised to see him resurface so quickly with the Rangers. And yes I know the HOF is independent of MLB, but still the optics....

As for the pissing match between him and Sarandon & Robbins...ok, they agreed not to politicize the event but who knows if they would have lived up to their end of the bargain. They've yet to meet a microphone they didn't like....

sean b said...

Sport and politics go together like PB&J... if it didn't, i would never have much of a career (and probably still won't, but that's another story).

people who claim that sports are or should be apolitical have extremely selective vision... send me your email and i'll send you a bibliography of 100+ works chronicling the connection between the two.

it's one of the best parts about sports... and politics as well.

christopher said...

If it's handled intelligently, and in moderation, i don't mind writers (especially bloggers) or athletes espousing their political beliefs at all. It makes for more interesting stories. KLaw seems a little too free-market for my taste (in politics at least), but knowing that doesn't diminish my enjoyment of his scouting analysis, and it helps me better understand his baseball critiques.

I don't necessarily agree with most of the stuff that comes out of schilling's mouth, but it makes him a much more complete person. I know people like him, so i feel like I know him. And I'd rather root for people I feel like I know, warts (or opposing political beliefs) and all. Of course that's only when they are on the Red Sox. These days I wish Johnny Damon would shut his jerk face, and I saw him reading Mein Kampf the other day*.

(*We all know i'm kidding. Johnny Damon can't read)

Lou said...

Well, let's examine the actual stats here. Crash hit 247 homeruns in 21 minor league seasons. That's 11.7 home runs a year. This does give him some pop, but is it enough to make him a power prospect?

Here's something else to consider. Crash starts that last season 20 home runs from the record and breaks the record that year. Thus in his age 39 (or is it 40?) season he nearly doubles his career average. Isn't that a bit suspicious?

Amos said...

aw, come on, lou! you're saying crash was juicing?

what's next?

nuke laloosh went 0-4 with a 3-to-24 K-to-BB ratio and wasn't even invited to spring training the next year?

pedro serrano lied on his birth certificate?

wild thing was only pitching in the california penal league because of unpaid parking tickets?

willie mays hayes got tired of nailing up those 100 pairs of gloves on his bedroom wall?

Craig Calcaterra said...

Crash Davis does not want to talk about the past.

mooseinohio said...

One thing lots of folks love about baseball is the notion that it is one of the few sports where records matter as Babe Ruth's 714 HRs or Maris's 61 have some relevance to Barry's HRs and the whole McGuire and Sosa show. Folks compare stats from today to yesteryear all the time so if history matters to baseball and baseball excluded African American and Latino ballplayers for decades - how is it that baseball and politics don't mixed?

dtro said...

Oh God, Blastings Thrilledge is a Bushie.

Durham was A ball, right? And Nuke LaLouche went straight to the show? And Bissinger thinks that guys nowadays don't get enough time in the minors. Geez.

TLA said...

I subscribe to the following rule: If you don't like it, don't read it. It applies pretty much universally, but works quite well with political speech. I see no reason that Neyer should be someone different because it offends the tastes of a certain segment of people who read his columns, books and/or blog entries.

If you're so outraged by someone pointing out that people of a particular political leaning screwed up that you automatically attack the author or assume the author is unable to recognize the failures of the opposite end of the spectrum, then you are clearly a mouth breathing, knuckle dragging sub-human -- regardless of your political beliefs. I kid. What I really mean is come on, get over it and get over yourself.

Kenny said...

Crash did have a cup of coffee.

"All the girls have long legs and brains!"

Further, if we assume he hit 20HRs a few times in his prime, the answer is simple. His organization was a pre-SABR team that trusted scouts, drafted HS pitchers (like Nuke), and hated stats.

Shame on them.

RoyceTheBaseballHack said...

It is virtually impossible for any writer of substance, be they a columnist, blogger, novelist, or screen writer, to not have their politics laced into their work. Once you acknowledge that there are political currents in virtually every aspect of life, it's an easier concept to get your arms around. There is politics in Baseball - lot's of it. Like a lot of us, I see baseball as being about balls, strikes, hard grounders, grass stains on elbows, the crack of cork and leather meeting ash, ripped sliders disappearing over fences and cold beers on a Summer day. My own views and regard for the game are a result of my personal experiences - who I watched and played it with growing up, the traits I admire in players, and what I watch for in a game. However, I understand there are profound political elements surrounding every roster in the league. For a writer to ignore this, particularly a writer worth reading (eg, Neyer, Shyster..), is, in my opinion, irresponsible. Happily, these same writers, the good ones, bring us back to The Game.
I'll also jump on Shyster's statement that the current Conservative doctrine has somehow morphed into a cohesive group of lemmings who insist that disagreement with any part of their doctrine labels you a tree-hugging homosexual kommie with no soul, no spine, no conscience, no taste in music, and no intellect. Personally, I grew up in a heavily Conservative house, and fully embraced that line of thinking for the better part of my adult life (I'm 47). I didn't exactly hold the Liberal line of thinking in contempt, I just didn't understand it. However, what Mr. Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al., have been shoveling from their trough as Conservatism has me repulsed. BTW - I'm a fan of Bull Durham, even though Sarandon never really did anything for me.

Grant said...

Didn't everyone always assume Neyer was a liberal? He lives in Portland for crying out loud.

nickolai said...

It's supremely odd to me that Neyer is coming under attack for getting political in his writing -- when his original point in his Bull Durham post was that he didn't like that Petroskey, inserted politics into his work, presiding over the HOF.

But to the real issue at hand: Crash's problem wasn't power, it was batting average. In that drunken moment of self-pity, he was lamenting over the difference between hitting .250 and .300. He's Mickey Tettleton with less power.

John Peterson said...

Craig, I am equating mainstream liberalism with unreason for myself. I am reading a baseball blog and a guy starts with some liberal politics, yes it does make me question a guy's judgment. Why wouldn't it, if I think my opinions are correct and generally reflect solid judgment? Wouldn't I think that about myself?

So rather than have to just ignore stuff like that, I'd rather just pretend that so-and-so doesn't have political opinions, that the writer doesn't have the presumption that since his judgment about baseball is sound and worth sharing, so his judgment about human affairs and politics. Too often I find that while a writer is extremely talented and verges on genius in his chosen field, he also feels the need to weigh in on politics, where he is not so insightful and in fact quite amateur and childish. Noam Chomsky would be a good example. Brilliant linguist, insipid pedant.

That is precisely why I do not write about politics on my blog, because I know that while people are interested in my baseball judgments, they would probably not be as impressed with my conservative political judgments. It would be presumptuous of me to assume a common starting point and even a definition of justice between me and my readers, but that is precisely what baseball bloggers do when they write about politics. They make jokes and quips that assume a common understanding, much the same way we use sabermetrics as a common understanding. However, there is no common understanding with politics and I am left confused and alienated.

Like, out of nowhere comes some nonsense like "the current Conservative doctrine has somehow morphed into a cohesive group of lemmings who insist that disagreement with any part of their doctrine labels you a tree-hugging homosexual kommie with no soul, no spine, no conscience, no taste in music, and no intellect." This is not some cute little treatise on the intersection of politics and baseball, it's just pure hackery.

Politics is full of corrupt jerks, grievance mongers, and shameful duplicity. The worst of baseball is using performance-enhancing drugs and leadoff hitters with low OBPs and #2 hitters who can't hit and players not running hard to first base.

aarif said...

John, I understand what you are saying to a point, but I still find it irrational. You will never find someone who agrees with every single thing you believe in, nor should you. I'm personally socialist, but it doesn't mean that I automatically discount the opinions of conservatives on baseball matters, or any other matters... that's just intellectually lazy. It's taking the easy way out by saying that I'm right, everyone else is wrong, so if they don't agree with me, by extension everything else they believe in is suspect... slippery slope, there. For example, as christopher said, I love reading Keith Law, both his baseball musings, as well as his personal blog. We disagree on much, but it's fun, and I respect his opinions on both sports and literature, etc.

Also, Rob's post didn't really show a liberal bias. Yes, he is liberal, and he probably has shown flashes of that in postings in the past, but his point was that it was wrong for Petroskey to not show Bull Durham because of the political views of 2/3 of its stars... that's not Republican vs. Democrat... that's forcing your opinion on an apolitical insitution vs. not doing so. It just so happens it was a Republican viewpoint Petroskey wanted to push. If on the other hand Petroskey was anti-war, and didn't want to show a Ron Silver or Billy Baldwin movie because of their conservative politics, I would (and presumably Rob would) find that reprehensible, as well.

Mr. Thursday said...

I see no reason to suspect that most writers have the time, resources, inclination or know-how to put the same thought and energy into their political opinions as they do for their sporting ones.

If Neyer were a militant liberal, I don't think it reflects any lack of thoughtful contemplate in regards to baseball.

Personally, I LOVE when people whose thoughts I respect do not share my opinion. It gives me the chance to consider that I could be wrong. Being wrong, to me, is valuable. If Law or Neyer or Shyster disagree with me, intelligently, I'm given the opportunity to re-examine my arguments. Even if I find myself correct, I become stronger in my position.

RoyceTheBaseballHack said...

Your points are well made, John. While I refuse to concede my opinion, I will concede my blast was a bit harsh, and this is not the venue for such things. My apologies to Craig and yourself.

mooseinohio said...

John -

Overall I with your statement however I must disagree with the following: "Politics is full of corrupt jerks, grievance mongers, and shameful duplicity. The worst of baseball is using performance-enhancing drugs ..." Really that is the worst of baseball - how about the exploitation of young Latino ballplayers that occurs partly because of the Antitrust Exemption baseball resulting in no oversight as to how MLB and the union takes advantage of others.

This same Antitrust Exemption also grants Bud Selig the right to hand select new ownership groups and franchises owners like pieces on a chess board (e.g. Henry from Marlins to Sox, Loria from Expos to Marlins, Expos to MLB and ultimately Lerner). Like Mark Cuban truly stands a chance buy the Cubs in what is supposed to be a free market economy when Reinsdorf is Selig's buddy and know that his White Sox suffer if Cuban owns the Cubs.

Lastly - baseball history is full of politics being woven into its past from the exclusion of African American and Latinos, the Black Sox scandal, the financing of stadiums with public funds, and the party lines drawn during the embarassment know as the Clemens' hearing.

mooseinohio said...

John -

Overall I with your statement however I must disagree with the following: "Politics is full of corrupt jerks, grievance mongers, and shameful duplicity. The worst of baseball is using performance-enhancing drugs ..." Really that is the worst of baseball - how about the exploitation of young Latino ballplayers that occurs partly because of the Antitrust Exemption baseball resulting in no oversight as to how MLB and the union takes advantage of others.

This same Antitrust Exemption also grants Bud Selig the right to hand select new ownership groups and franchises owners like pieces on a chess board (e.g. Henry from Marlins to Sox, Loria from Expos to Marlins, Expos to MLB and ultimately Lerner). Like Mark Cuban truly stands a chance buy the Cubs in what is supposed to be a free market economy when Reinsdorf is Selig's buddy and know that his White Sox suffer if Cuban owns the Cubs.

Lastly - baseball history is full of politics being woven into its past from the exclusion of African American and Latinos, the Black Sox scandal, the financing of stadiums with public funds, and the party lines drawn during the embarassment know as the Clemens' hearing.

mooseinohio said...

Apperently I wanted to be heard so badly I got in twice - forgive the heavy handed pinky on the enter key.

John Peterson said...

Moose, I agree with your points and what other people have said as well. I too find it helpful when someone I respect differs in opinion from me.

However, usually I get my baseball from one source and my politics from another. Doesn't anyone think it's strange to suddenly hear talk of politics when the blog is supposed to be about baseball? I think it's fine if both sports and politics are the stated subjects of the blog (see Baseball Crank) but on the whole, I self-select my sources in both areas. I groan just as much when someone on The Corner (a National Review blog) refers to batting average as if it is the most significant measure of a hitter's production.

On the other hand, I can enjoy both Baseball Prospectus and FiveThirtyEight because they are difference places, even if they share an author and methodologies.

I don't know. It's a taste thing, I guess. And it certainly is irrational that because I disagree with someone's political opinions, I would therefore disregard him on baseball. I guess I would just prefer to keep the worlds separate. Being jarred a little, by an unexpected source offering a political opinion, is sometimes helpful.

mooseinohio said...

John,

Definately see you point about not personally selecting to integrate talk of baseball with talk of politics especially if one (hopefully baseball) is the place you go to 'escape' from the reality of your everyday life. For example, golf for me is about relieveing stress from the daily grind so betting while playing adds an element of stress I do not want in my relaxtion activity. Cool by me.

Pete Ridges said...

Looks like I'm the last one to the party (August, kids, Disneyland...) but here goes.

Imagine a well-respected political commentator who finds a little time to root for the Yankees, and to follow them through the NY media. Then one day, he thinks, "All my readers say I'm a brilliant writer. I think today I'll write about Derek Jeter's defense...maybe it could be the first in a series, I could go onto his leadership, and then his clutch hitting"...you can guess how popular that would be among the baseball cognoscenti.

Rob Neyer spends a lot of time thinking and reading about baseball, and it shows. Unlike Rick Reilly, who can never be mocked enough, it's clear that Rob has understood both sides of the steroids debate, both sides of anyone's Hall of Fame case, both sides of absolutely any baseball matter. And he's willing to upset his sabermetric friends (e.g. supporting Ichiro for MVP in, er, 2001).

Now I won't criticise Rob's political writings, because I've seen hardly any over the past 12 years. What I will say is that if any sports blogger wants to write even one word about politics, they had better show that they understand where both sides are coming from. To do that, they had better read, regularly, one or two leading blogs from each side. Otherwise, they'll turn into Talk Radio Guy: "My two will be a brilliant Pres and VP. The other two are a complete disaster. All my friends agree with me. I simply can't understand why 45% of Americans don't. They're either stupid, or morally inferior, or (more likely) both."

And the absolutely most annoying thing a sports blogger can do is the analysis-free political comment, usually intended as a joke: "If you think that Houston's Lance Berkman should be MVP, you probably think that the vice-president should come from Alaska, wherever that is!"

Not that politics is all about race, but let's give Bill James the last word, writing the other day:

"Well, ONE of the issues that this raises is whether one can co-mingle a discussion of race and behavior without making a lot of people angry. The answer to that would be "No". "