On enemies, racism and a little bit about Smurfs

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.

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Comments

  1. Jason @ IIATMS said...

    Good luck defending yourself from “you’re a racist” claim.  Like defending yourself from a “you used steroids” allegation. 

    Kudos to you, CC, for choosing to confront this.  It’s a heavy issue.

  2. The Common Man said...

    Craig, I love your reasoned, thoughtful, but playful explanation above.  It’s posts like this that make me excited to hit refresh on this page every afternoon.

  3. shoelesschris said...

    Great post Craig. If conflict results in smart and reasoned posts like this, then I hope there’s plenty more to come.

  4. Chris said...

    He comes off somewhat extremist and possibly crazy, butI’m actually curious as to a response in regards to his opposing Milton Bradley posting.  The article seems formatted poorly and it looks like there’s probably a logical/statistical fallacy in there, but I think he raises some interesting points.

  5. Aaron Moreno said...

    Craig, I don’t pay attention. Anyway, the only part about The Killing Joke that matters is the ending.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Chris: Allen’s conclusion was as follows:

    “The difference between the pre-2009 and 2009 zone is very slight, and if anything the 2009 zone is slightly smaller. Taken pitches in 2009, correcting for distance and count, are slightly less likely to be strikes. But this effect is very non-significant. There is over a 90% chance the difference between pre-2009 and 2009 zones is just due to chance alone. There is no statistical difference between Bradley’s zone this year and his zone in 2007 and 2008.”

    I have no clue where in that (or in the charts above) Fifth OF found any evidence tht Bradley’s beef about his strike zone was legit.  I think this was an instance of Fifth trying to pick a fight with me regarding what he felt were my intemperate remarks about Bradley. And maybe they were intemprate, but I see no evidence backing up his claim that Allen’s study was flawed.

  7. Eric/OR said...

    I get the sense that this fellow is well-intentioned, but I find him less insightful that the second-year undergrad papers I’m grading.  The worst sort of hack writing is that which tends to diminish the public credulity on an important topic, and I think he’s guilty of that.

  8. mike in brooklyn said...

    I’m sick and tired of you calling Luke whiny.  Solo would still belong to Jaba if Luke hadn’t gone to rescue him.  He lost his hand fighting for the rebels.  And he had to give up a budding incestuous relationship with his then-HOT sister.

  9. Craig Calcaterra said...

    I’ll grant you Solo, but he lost his hand because he wouldn’t listen to his master, stay in Dagobah and complete his training.  That hand is all on him.  As for him and Leia, I think that, more than anything, proves that Lucas was making things up as he went along, the fraud.

    /go back to Toshi Station for your power converters, you whiny little . . . wink

  10. Sara K said...

    Boy, if there’s anything I can’t stand about ShysterBall, it’s the lack of analysis. (rolls eyes).

    So, dude took exception to your remarks about Bradley…I wonder what he made of your remarks about Bob Feller?

  11. Richard in Dallas said...

    I’m thinking that maybe he’s next going to bring up the systematic lowering of testosterone levels in American men, and somehow blaming you for it, as well as asserting that steroids are a GOOD thing in professional sports.

  12. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Sara—if he takes issue with my Feller remarks, he’s an incredible ass.*

    Richard—those two joining forces is about the only thing that would make me consider giving up this blog.

    *To date, the phrase “incredible ass” is one of the most frequent search terms used to find the old ShysterBall page.  I’m wagering that very, very few of those searchers expected to read about Bob Feller when they were typing the term into Google.

  13. J.W. said...

    You know what I don’t get? Luke’s plan for saving Han basically boiled down to using his lightsaber and jedi jumpy abilities to take out some enemies, grab his buddies and bolt. So why go to all the trouble of getting three more of your friends captured, AND hiding your lightsaber in your little droid friend all in the long-shot of long-shot hopes that said droid would be used as a serving tray and have convenient window access. Why not just keep the lightsaber in your pocket and do your thing from the get-go? It’s not like there was a metal in Jabba’s palace. Seems like a case of over-managing, if you ask me. Just leave the righty pitcher in to face the lefty slugger, ok? He’ll be fine, Girardi, he’ll be fine. You don’t ALWAYS have to play the matchups! What’s that? I’m rambling?

  14. Michael said...

    To get back on point (though I understand the reasoning for taking the Star Wars tangent):

    Racism is ugly in two ways: when it’s purposely done, and when the word is used as a verbal tar and feathers for someone the accuser doesn’t like.

    The latter is curiously growing, and I cringe every time I see it happen, because I know that when the truth is revealed it harms people who are truly oppressed.

    Every single person, white and black and blue, would do well to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before branding anyone anything. Funny that this, which is the exact problem with reporters proclaiming long and loud that Sammy Sosa is a big fat steroid using cheater who will get in the Hall over their dead bodies, is also the exact problem with “Fifth Outfielder.”

  15. Melody said...

    Discussion of Luke and the Smurfs aside (Hmmm, crossover sequel?), the issue of race and sports is, obviously an intense and emotional one. Salon.com’s former sportswriter King Kaufman, in whose alliterative footsteps Craig is clearly following, often commented “In America, it’s never not about race.”  The issue is so intertwined with our lives, often in ways that are difficult or impossible for us (especially the white us) to see. 

    I think it’s better all around if we can choose not to respond defensively, but instead to acknowledge the message behind the words, even if we sometimes disagree with the words themselves.  At the same time, it is important to engage these issues thoughtfully, and insist on a high standard of truth.  It’s easy to get tired of the drumbeat about racism, I know, and yet the focus on it doesn’t come from nowhere.  If no one was arguing from that perspective, injecting it into the discussion, there would probably be many instances in which legitimate problems would have gone ignored. 

    I think being female has helped give me a different perspective through which to view these issues, and it’s been helpful to me over and over again.  If I change the context and think about how I’d feel if I were the one struggling to have my voice heard, or to make my point to a group of people who were predisposed not to understand my perspective, the scene suddenly looks very different to me.

    This is an incredibly complex topic and I’ve spent lots of time thinking about it, but as the magnitude of the subject makes itself felt once again, I’ll leave it at that for now.

  16. Richard in Dallas said...

    Craig – That being the case, you should NEVER mention Fifth Outfielder again.  If you-know-who reads about him here, it is quite likely that he would find a home there and be welcomed with open arms!  I don’t want to see that, because I enjoy your work far too much…..

  17. Alex said...

    well Craig, from the way you carry on about Juan Pierre and Jeff Francoeur, it’s clear that you are prejudiced against the French

  18. Mike said...

    Know who practiced reverse-racism? Smurfs. They hated the white Gargamel.

    Do you want to know why I think the Smurfs hated white people? “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” – Han killed Greedo. Greedo had to be the first Smurf.

  19. MooseinOhio said...

    As I have shared in the past I am a white man married to a black woman of African American and Puerto Rican heritage and the father of a beautiful 3 yo little girl who say she is ‘brown like mommy’ and I also work in a diversity office at a large university – so issues of race and ethnicity as very salient to my life.  While I do not always agree with Craig’s opinions on issues I have never sensed, or been concerned, that he harbor racist thoughts or intentions.  I appreciate Craig’s willingness to have dicussions on some challenging topics (e.g. Chief Wahoo, openly gay ballplayers) and know from years of work in the area of diversity that such topics will evoke a wide range of responses. 

    I also agree with Melody that we should not disregard the issues that may be brought up because of who brings them up or how they bring them up.  While I may not appreciate their methodology I may need to see beyond such matters and recognize the issue on its merits and learn how to separate the message from the messenger.

  20. Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

    FWIW, and it’s not much, I did quick scan of the AL’s “5th OFs” and found that 11 of 14 were, or appeared to be, of non-African or Hispanic descent. Wonder if our Manichaen friend has noticed and is petitioning the powers that be?

  21. tadthebad said...

    Reverse racism?  I know what you mean, but to me, it’s all racism.  Either way, it disgusts me.

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