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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Zirin on MannyI'm not a big fan of Dave Zirin -- I think he's going on his 50th straight column in which race, class, Bush and Nixon are prominently mentioned, and that's overkill even for me -- but you can't say the guy isn't passionate about his subjects.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 1:12pm
Don’t forget public funding for stadiums, Shyster. I’ve read Zirin’s Nation stuff for some time (it’s the price you pay for excellent analysis of Third World politics), and according to him you can blame everything on American taxpayers subsidizing athletic venues.
Posted 05/13 at 01:44 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
That’s prepostrous, Scarf. There are a couple of things (e.g. certain diseases; most extinction-level meteors) that can’t be blamed on public stadium financing. It’s pretty much to blame for everything else though.
Posted 05/13 at 01:46 PM
fifth of said...
Craig, your attitude towards Zirin is pretty uncalled for. I understand that your blog and career generally take laws as a given, but not all people have the luxury of believing the law will be on their side - something you clearly acknowledge. What exactly is wrong with having people cover sports from another perspective? While I understand that your comments are not per se a contention that Zirin is ‘wrong’ to pursue these angles, there is a clear pattern of disparagement in your comments on Zirin. The last time you wrote about him, you included an ad hominem attack on his writing for focusing on race that was not inspired by the article you linked to and that you refused to provide supporting evidence for when pressed. This time, you characterize his writing with a patently absurd quip about 50 consecutive references to Bush and Nixon. Can’t you please just treat Zirin seriously or provide evidence for why you don’t treat him seriously?
It may be “overkill” to you that there is a writer who sees his task as creating “people’s” journalism and history on sports, but it is not as if you refute any of his claims about race or class. You are not marshaling scholarship on race and class to refute his writing. You are merely asserting that you find it distasteful. Well, I find it beyond distasteful that you are so dismissive of his journalism without feeling the need to offer evidence or analysis of it. This type of journalism/blogging is, in my opinion, not worthy of The Hardball Times, which has been my favorite baseball site since its inception and which is founded, IMO, on honest and reasonable discourse.
Your preference for baseball writing to only occasionally touch on these issues flies in the face of the professional and journalistic realities of sportswriting. Specialization is endemic in this field - I should not have to point that out to a baseball blog that specializes in lawyerly analysis and humorous tone. Zirin does not cover baseball exclusively - his previous column was on the Kentucky Derby, and it uses “race” in a significantly different meaning of the word.
There are competing perspectives involved in your blog and Zirin’s writing. You support, to some extent, a non-totalizing political, legal, and corporate systemic structure for producing norms for human behavior; Zirin, influenced by centuries of major political, social, and historical theorists, is trying to critique the systemic functioning of these structural determinants of behavior. He is far from alone, but unfortunately in the world of sports - highly focused as it is on formal rules and managerial control, and dependent as its institutions are upon corporate funding at all or nearly all levels - his type of analysis is in the extreme minority, owing in no small part to the institutional politics and ownership of the media that cover sports.
You specialize in forms of intrasystemic analysis. He specializes in forms of suprasystemic analysis - why are the systems as they are now, and what do these systems produce? Either engage his arguments, or stay out of the business of encouraging people to dismiss him. As he states in the linked article, “This is not a column that aims to ‘defend’ Manny Ramirez, but condemn Major League Baseball’s steroid idiocy.” The only time I have found in your archives where you have engaged Zirin’s arguments and called them into question, you made him out to be a nutjob who believes in an Area 51-type conspiracy of baseball owners to collude against Barry Bonds. Your evidence was only to rehash the same rationales that baseball owners were citing for not signing Bonds. The conflict between your coverage and Zirin’s was that you viewed “collusion” as a magic word that meant backroom meeting, cigar smoke, and secrecy. Zirin, who used the word once in the article you’d linked to, was using the term more broadly to refer to the systemic processes that enabled those rationalizations in the first place. Zirin’s point was that Bonds was a baseball player entitled to continue playing the game, and that the innuendo surrounding him, fueled in some ways by racism, yielded a situation where the “social contract” of baseball was not honored by the teams. Your response was to compare him to UFO believers.
Personally, I take issue with a number of things Zirin has written, and those issues stem from my own immersion in scholarly study of the issues that he raises. I do not consider him a perfect theorist in these issues by any stretch, and I find that his work is sometimes undersourced, though generally it runs circles around the standards of evidence that predominate in sports journalism, and *especially* the sports journalism that covers the same issues he focuses on. My hope is that his claims can be engaged realistically and with evidence, and the way you address his writing I view as a detriment to that cause.
Posted 05/13 at 03:40 PM
fifth of said...
The recent lovefest for Jackie Robinson was, to me, profoundly disturbing, as the model for a successful black athlete continues to be one who follows the words of the architect of the contemporary baseball economic model of player production: “Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” The systems of player procurement and development as we know them are neither an accident of history nor the natural evolution of the game of baseball. They reflect situated histories and knowledges, not eternal truths. How baseball acquires, develops, and disciplines players is very much still caught up in processes of knowledge production that have been passed on through owners, management, players, lawmakers, and fans with a high degree of familial and demographic continuity. The obsession with Robinson - though, of course, emanating from multiple phenomena - reflects a continuing culture of obsequiousness that is not “race, class, Bush and Nixon”-neutral. Baseball fans continue to view Branch Rickey as a type of prophet who doubly saved baseball with integration and the affiliate farm system. In each respect, however, Rickey supported a future premised on players dependence on a white ownership structure. If we take corporate ownership as a given, then Rickey saved baseball, but what if we approach the subject from the vantage point of making the game more democratic and less subject to corporate interests? Then we see that Rickey devised durable systems for maintaining a hierarchical system, systems whose very durability causes them to be largely unquestioned in the present day.
It is, from my vantage point, undeniable that political and corporate power in the US as a whole and in baseball specifically are wielded by the white and wealthy in vast disproportion to their numbers or social contribution. The people who profited off of segregation and their offspring continue to wield enormous power in this game and, while this power is certainly not exclusive and does not prevent other agents from causing change, their actions continue to be guided by a reverence for the models of power that they’ve inherited. Zirin, like others, demonstrates that a result of this is not just policies and procedures that continue to empower management in a player-driven game, but a complex of linked institutions that prescribe management’s view of the situation as a universal and True view of the situation. The relationship between the game and the media coverage of it is at least to a large extent rooted in the media’s profit motive, which yields coverage that supports the power arrangements of the game.
Given the de facto role of the media as a democratic intermediary between fans/consumers and ownership, it seems absolutely crucial to have journalists whose role is to focus on race and class, since these have been and continue to be crucial constitutive elements of the dynamics of democracy in this country. When there is an undeniable reality in the demographic (“race, class”) ownership of baseball and its media relatives, in the demographic makeup of the political institutions of the US, and in the demographic makeup of the architects of the systems that they enact and preserve, it should seem obvious that the impact of these demographics should be interrogated in a press charged with fostering democracy. Zirin has, like many others, often highlighted the linkages between baseball’s drug hysteria and the drug hysteria that has fueled electoral politics in this country since “Nixon” and caused an astronomical increase in the prison “race, class”. That there is a significant linkage between the anti-steroids discourse and the anti-drug discourse would seem to be a subject in need of sustained research, interrogation, and analysis. Can you explain why such a sustained analysis is “overkill”?
Posted 05/13 at 03:40 PM
Matt A. said...
Hopefully somebody takes the time to read this dissertation above and make snarky comments about it.
Posted 05/13 at 04:09 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Fifth—first, you seemed to have doubleposted the part that began with the Jackie Robinson/Branch Rickey discussion, so I took the liberty of deleting the duplicate. If I inadvertantly cut something out, I apologize, but I trust you’ll be able to recreate it in a subsequent post seeing as you are no doubt a person who doesn’t find himself at a loss for words.
I find it interesting that such vitriol comes in response to such a small, “hey look at this item” post like the one I made. To truly dismiss Zirin would be not to link him at all, no? I even called him “interesting!” Moreover—and ironically—if you’ve read what I’ve had to say about Manny and the steroids mess for the past couple of years, you’d realize that, in many important respects, I agree with Zirin on this particular point.
But since I don’t endorse everything Zirin says—and since ShysterBall readers rely on me to some degree to steer them to things that don’t waste their time or try their patience—I feel obligated to make mild disclaimers like the one I made in this post lest someone construe me as unequivocally endorsing the piece (which I don’t, for reasons I’ll get into). My readers are great in that they indulge me my non-baseball-specific tangents from time to time, but everyone has limits, and I have an obligation to give readers the heads up when they’re about to enter something off the beaten path of sports journalism.
As for the content: my problem is not necessarily with Zirin’s arguments or subjects as such—I agree, specialization is good, and I’m happy that he’s got a niche to call his own. It’s a worthy one too! My problem is that all too often he falls back on race with little if nothing to explain why race is relevant to the subject at hand. “Cesspools of racism?” Show me. Where? I haven’t seen anything in the Manny coverage touching on race. Maybe I’m just missing it, but it strikes me as incumbant upon Zirin to make the case. Unless of course he’s interested in simply riling race-sensitive people up, in which case your argument in support of the seriousness of his work is severely undercut. So which is it: is he an attention whore, or is he lazy?
Same with politics. I enjoy me some Bush bashing as much as the next guy, but Zirin’s references to “Former Texas Governor George W. Bush” and Nixon (via the quote of the poet) ultimately add nothing to his arguments. They’re red meat for the like-minded.
If Zirin wants to examine the hypocrisy of baseball’s war on drugs and explode the conventional wisdom about the morality of PEDs he should do it with argument. Simply saying that a lot of old white men we all know we should hate are responsible for it is every bit as lazy as it is inflamatory.
Upshot: I often agree with Zirin. I just happen to think that if he was as interested in the themes he advances as he says he is, he’d deal with them in a more serious and non-charged way. Make an effort to engage people who disagrees with him rather than preach to the choir.
I’ll grant that that may not be in his DNA. Doesn’t have to be. It’s his column and he can do what he wants. But neither he nor you can expect everyone to take a shine to his arguments. I simply have a different temperament when it comes to these issues.
Posted 05/13 at 04:11 PM
fifth of said...
Craig, my “vitriol” comes from your *pattern* of discourse on Zirin. The pattern is a simple one. You partially agree but disparage with accusations of lack of evidence - accusations that are not themselves backed up with sufficient evidence, as I see it. You reduce his arguments to fallacies, dismiss those fallacies, and then say “heck, I’m still generous enough to link to him!” Couldn’t you do him the favor of, in your terms, “Fisking” him so that your actual disagreements are in the open and not concealed? The last time you linked to him I asked you to point to columns of his you disagreed with, and you refused. This time you can only point out that references to Bush and Nixon are “preach[ing] to the choir” - with choir supposedly meaning his readership. Well, I’ve read enough of his stuff to know that a) he’s developed these themes more and b) he encourages the reader to do further research. You see his own website as a space requiring him to engage people with very different views who read at most a small fraction of his worth - why? Maybe you should STOP linking to his individual articles and link to his entire website, because your piecemeal recommendations are tinged with disparagement. What service does it do to link to *individual* pieces with a *general* disclaimer? Why not link to him generally and criticize him when you think he’s off?
You assert that his Bush and Nixon references “add nothing to his arguments,” when of course their point is to tie baseball’s policy to a corporate-friendly view of law and politics that enables a massive prison class and PIC based on anti-drug rhetoric. They are not mere bashing but a thematic link - what’s the problem? You also think he’s in the wrong for calling the message boards “cess pools of racism.” I’ll admit I have not been venturing into them post-Manny, but this is a theme/story he has discussed using evidence at length in the past. I would have preferred some evidence there, but what is your point if there *is* evidence of racist message board posts on Manny?
Posted 05/13 at 05:02 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Fifth—I have to bolt now, but I’ll be back to continue this discourse later this evening.
Posted 05/13 at 05:08 PM
Mrs. Zirin sure is long-winded.
Posted 05/13 at 05:10 PM
Aaron Moreno said...
I bothered to skim that, and I feel that I can distill it down to this:
Craig, if you don’t like Zirin’s holistic approach to baseball, then don’t complain about it. Or something. *scare asterisks* for emphasis.
Anyway, to me, Zirin reads more like Zinn.
Posted 05/13 at 05:56 PM
fifth of said...
You can discount me all you want for writing a large amount. The origin of this dispute comes from this previous Shysterball piece:
I initially left a fairly short comment there. Craig went out of his way to specify that the DOJ prosecution of Bonds was not “a racial thing.” I questioned this position, as well as his decision to insert that position into a post linking to a column that itself was not arguing that the Bonds prosecution was a “racial thing,” and pointed out that the column did include evidence that would have supported the “racial thing” analysis if Zirin had pursued it in that column. Craig’s response was much longer than my question, and I found his response intellectually lacking in a number of regards. After I tried to respond thoroughly to his points, he issued a shorter response that dismissed my requests for evidence from Craig to establish the points that he’d made. He concluded by saying “none of those arguments are helpful to us in practically assessing the legitimacy of a specific case, which is where my interest in this subject lies for purposes of this blog.”
So, my long posts above are responding to the way that Craig continues to raise issues with Zirin’s writings that Craig himself seems to concede are beyond the scope of this blog. If Craig just wanted to share Zirin’s viewpoint, then why did he attach hyperbole designed to discredit or discount the author’s body of work?
I had probably only read one or two Zirin articles prior to the DOJ link above. After seeing the lack of evidence used by Craig, I went back and read a large amount of Zirin’s work precisely because I wanted to give Craig the benefit of the doubt. Like I said, Zirin is not beyond reproach, and I found issues in his reportage in a number of places. But an overall lack of evidence to establish the case that racism has a large significance in determining the scope and tenor of the steroids coverage is certainly not a charge that can be levied against Zirin’s body of work, and that is the main charge that Craig has levied.
To Craig and his audience, whether or not it is clear - though I hope and suspect it is becoming clearer - my criticisms are intended to be constructive. I could write volumes on all sorts of subjects raised on baseball blogs - that’s why I had my own blog in 2004-5, which I worked $@*&ing; hard at, it’s why I’ve written long-winded articles for THT, and it’s why I have a less-updated baseball blog that’s seen off and on posts since 2006. I’m a quick typist and I try to refrain from limiting myself to snark for persuasion’s sake - I would really prefer to just lay out the entire case and not rely on some unarticulated “common sense.” I’m writing to be truthful and honest, and if you search ballhype or insidethebook you will see that I am similarly long-winded in discussing technical issues of sabermetrics.
So now I have added some more long-winded paragraphs, which I know does not help my cause with the Aaron Morenos of the world. (BTW, Zirin has an obvious influence from Zinn and wrote a book on sports in a Zinn-edited series of “People’s History of…” books.)Here is my one-sentence synopsis:
“Craig, if you don’t like Zirin’s ‘race and class’ analysis, can you first establish why this is before expressing your general dislike every time you link to him?”
The second sentence would be,
“I understand that not all bloggers or writers are held to this standard, but because of your influence, THT venue, and the overlap between your specialties, I think it is fair to hold you to a higher standard in your comments on Zirin.”
Posted 05/13 at 07:23 PM
Having never read Zirin’s work prior to this, where’s the outrage at the media for not reporting on this? Placing the blame strictly on the owners seems a bit harsh doesn’t it?
I’m staying out of the race stuff, but when did Zirin post this?
He does realize far more details have come out that contradict this failure due to a “personal issue”?
Posted 05/13 at 08:18 PM
Craig Calcaterra said...
OK, too much crap going on this evening, I’m tired and I’m not feeling particularly well, but for what it’s worth:
Fifth: both in the thread to that Bonds post and here you have misunderstood the fundamentals of the burden of proof. When you and/or Zirin make a claim—say, Barry Bonds is being colluded against, people are crying “racism” over Manny’s suspension, etc. you generally need to bring something to the table. When someone says “I don’t see the evidence to back up the claim,” you don’t say “where’s your evidence that I don’t have evidence.” Or you can, your call, but it makes you something less than a serious commentator. Otherwise:
“Craig, my “vitriol” comes from your *pattern* of discourse on Zirin. The pattern is a simple one. You partially agree but disparage with accusations of lack of evidence - accusations that are not themselves backed up with sufficient evidence, as I see it. You reduce his arguments to fallacies, dismiss those fallacies, and then say “heck, I’m still generous enough to link to him!”
I partially agree because there are points worth agreeing with in his pieces. I disparage for lack of evidence because the claims often lack evidence. I reduce nothing to fallacies. I’ve noted that his points are occasionally weak because he prefers hyperbole to marshaling evidence, and that’s true. And yes, I link, because I think his posts have some value and others ought to see them. Would you rather I not link? I’d guess not, but if that’s what you want it can be arranged.
“Couldn’t you do him the favor of, in your terms, “Fisking” him so that your actual disagreements are in the open and not concealed?”
This isn’t fisking material. My primary issue with Zirin—as explained in an earlier comment—is one of temperament, not facts as such. I think he does a disservice to his points by casting every issue in unnecessarily stark terms and doing whatever he can to put everything in tired old left/right rich/poor black/white boxes. It’s a difference of opinion and tone, and no amount of my arguing is going to make him change how he operates, or vice versa. So I link, I note that I have problems with tone and let folks figure it out for themselves.
“You see his own website as a space requiring him to engage people with very different views who read at most a small fraction of his worth - why?”
Because anyone can convince those who are predisposed to agree with you of something. Progress is made in life by convincing people who don’t otherwise agree with you of something.
Like I said, I’m running out of time this evening, so I’ll cut this short. Know, however, that ultimately we’re disagreeing on tone and approach, and I doubt seriously that any number of words we throw back and forth at each other is going to convince us that the other is right on this.
Posted 05/13 at 09:02 PM
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