What would Batman be without The Joker? Luke without Vader? The Smurfs without Gargamel? The answers are (a) still really disturbed; (b) still whiny and annoying; and (c) still strange, three apple-tall blue things that kind of creep me out. The point remains, however, that a good enemy always makes things more interesting. And for reasons that I still don’t fully understand, I seem to have made an enemy:
One of my many, many problems with Craig Calcaterra’s Shysterball Blog is that, though he defends his BS claims about Dave Zirin with the old “Hey, at least I link to him!” (‘I want his voice to be heard, honest! I just want my readers to know going in that he is wrong to raise the issues he raises, though I will offer no explanation or analysis as to why that is’), in searching his archives I have found ZERO instances of him linking to D.K. Wilson, aka dwil, who has written for many online and print outlets over the years and who presently writes at Sports on My Mind. Now, there are two obvious causes for this, as a) Calcaterra almost certainly does not seek out or regularly read either writers who discuss the interplay of racism and sports or black sports writers and b) dwil almost certainly does not meet Calcaterra’s strict scrutiny of a writer’s “tone” (which, judging from the way that Calcaterra writes and from many of the blogs and columnists he links to, is like the pot calling the water black).
It just kind of goes on and on like that, as does his previous post, albeit with far more colorful language. Obsessive ShysterBall readers will also recall that the blog’s author, Fifth Outfielder, has shown up in the comments to take me to task for being a tool of the racist establishment from time to time. More recently he has disappeared altogether, apparently boycotting the blog. I suppose it goes with with territory. If anything, I’m actually surprised that I don’t have more people angry at me.
But just because someone hates you doesn’t mean you have to hate them back. Batman once tried to redeem the Joker, and Luke did the same for Vader (the Smurfs, on the other hand, never showed an ounce of empathy for Gargamel because they’re callous, hateful little beasts). And to be clear: I have no ill feelings towards Fifth Outfielder. He’s obviously smart and committed to what he believes in, and I respect that, even if one of the things he believes is that I have my head in the sand about racism in baseball and America at large.
Which is the subject of his most recent post. In it, he challenges me to read writer D.K. Wilson’s post about the Mike & Mike thing from Monday, during which ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said that the Hall of Fame had “created a special wing” for Negro League inductees, and could do the same thing for PED users (more here). Wilson uses this assertion as a springboard to accuse baseball of racism, going so far as to call for a boycott:
That the separate wing is for those men who were forced to play in a separate league – Negro Leagues – from the majors just to make a living playing the game is an act so egregious that the Baseball Hall of Fame should be boycotted daily. That wing in the baseball hall is a classic case of racist, blaming the victim. The simple fact is that the special wing should be for the White players who compiled their statistics and played their careers separate from Black players, not the other way around. Think about it.
Except Wilson — and Greenberg for that matter — are dead wrong. There is no “special wing” for Negro Leagues players. They’re honored right alongside everyone else. Indeed, I’ve been told that Satchel Paige’s plaque is right next to Tom Yawkey’s. The same Tom Yawkey who worked his butt off to keep the Red Sox white. If true, that’s about the best bit of poetic justice one can imagine.
Contrary to Greenberg’s implication — which Wilson and Fifth Outfielder, via his enthusiastic and approving link, gobble up like candy — there are no asterisks. There are no qualifications. There are no hedges. Sure, I’ll grant that Negro League players’ inductions may have been, as a general matter and in the first instance, inspired by some white guilt rather than a genuine appreciation of their skills, but since then the Hall of Fame and many, many baseball scholars have worked very hard to assess, evaluate and honor the on-the-field accomplishments of Negro Leaguers as accurately as possible. There are people who spend considerable time combing old news reports, compiling databases, and doing hard work to make sure that the men who played in the Negro Leagues are given the same due as those who were allowed to play in the majors.
But neither Wilson nor Fifth Outfielder is interested in that. They’re more interested in jumping at an easy, erroneous target (the idiot Greenberg’s ridiculous “wing”) and using it to beat a drum each of them are always too eager to beat: baseball and everything about it is racist, and you’re a fool for thinking otherwise. In this they are doing exactly what they accuse me of: distorting the work of others based on lies that are convenient to their politics.
None of which is to say that they don’t make some good points about racism from time to time. There’s no denying that our country was founded on, among many other things, the principle that people could be property. There’s also no denying that baseball’s institutional embrace of racism and segregation lasted longer than its period of integration has so far. It’s there, and to deny that it existed is to exhibit true ignorance. But it’s not the whole story, and to start from the position that everything that happens in baseball (or in America for that matter) is a knowing and direct outgrowth of its racist history is to display ignorance of a different sort. What’s worse, it puts anyone who may very well need to think a bit about the legacy of racism in baseball and society on the defensive and causes people to choose sides in a way that does nothing but impede progress on these issues. I’m not a big fan of culture wars, and to the extent I refuse to join in with the Dave Zirins and D.K. Wilsons and Fifth Outfielders of the world, it’s for precisely that reason.
I was being a bit cute before in calling Fifth Outfielder my enemy. He’s not, even if he is someone with whom I disagree from time to time. And while I’m sure I’ll find a way to somehow carry on if he thinks differently, I do hope that he reads this and resumes engaging me and others on the topics which move him. Conflict isn’t always the best thing in the world, but the utter lack of it is about the most boring thing possible. Better to engage in some rather than retreat into the comfortable echo chambers of the blogosphere.