BBWAA, DJango Unchained and Revisionist History

Posted: January 14, 2013 in Collaborative Posts

We must protect our history.

“I may never go back to Cooperstown — it wouldn’t be a sacred hall anymore.” – Goose Gossage.

Goose Gossage is against the idea of including suspected steroid users in the Hall of Fame. He’s not alone, more than 60% of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) writers left Bonds, Clemens and Sosa off of their ballots. Two things motivate the writers: punishing the alleged users and protecting of the Hall of Fame. Steroid re-wrote the history books and now baseball purists are looking re-craft the narrative once again, but for whom?

We must protect our history.

“My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them” – Spike Lee.

For Spike, slavery is pain, slavery is about the heroic triumph of his people, and it’s his heritage. Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” re-writes Spike’s history by cataloguing the brutality of slavery through the use of a spaghetti western. By urging others the boycott, Lee and other critics of “Django” cling to the notion that the slave narrative must be fashioned in a particular manner. 

We are a country that attempted to scrub history by removing the “n-word” from Huck Finn and slavery from the Civil War in an attempt to simplify historical narratives. Confronting nuance has never been our strong suit. But it always felt as though the national pastime’s obsession with history would allow it to maneuver the nuances of their own history.

The MLB used to be a societal trendsetter. Think about it for a second. The MLB (with an unmistakable assist from Branch Rickey) leapt ahead of American society by placing Jackie Robinson (an African-American) on a whites-only field. By the time the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, every team fielded at least one black baseball player. Far before southern society ripped down their “Whites Only” signs from schools, water fountains and other publics spaces, African-Americans stole the show on nightly basis on the baseball diamond.  

Rather than ignore the MLB’s problematic relationship with the Negro Leagues, the Hall of Fame enshrined many of the Negro League greats into the Hall of Fame. They accounted for their embarrassing policies during the early decades of their inception.

There’s a lesson to be learned from that. Let’s put some ice on that black eye.

The steroid era, however, has caused baseball writers and analysts trouble alike.  It seems as though many have agreed to usher in the “post-steroid testing” era by muting their mentions of those who prospered during the steroid era. During Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season in 2012, there were many prominent journalists who proclaimed Cabrera had the greatest offensive season in the past 40 years; a slap in the face for anyone with 20/20 vision watching Barry Bonds from 2001-2004.

Baseball has lagged behind most of society when it comes to the steroid issue. Some of baseball’s prominent names are linked to Performance Enhancing Drugs: including, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro. It’s no longer 2006, where we can delude ourselves into thinking that PEDs were limited to Bonds, Canseco, Sosa, McGwire and Clemens. Steroids were as pervasive as amphetamines in 70’s and 80’s and spitballs were in the early 20th century.

Instead of having an adult discussion about how to reconcile the steroid era, with their vote this past Wednesday has decided to redact the black mark, rather than embrace it as many of us have over the past few years. No one was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013. It was the second time in 42 years and the first since 1996.  They would like you to believe that the careers of Barry Bonds, who holds the record for MVPs (7), Roger Clemens who holds the record for most Cy-Young award wins (7), Sammy Sosa (most 60 HR seasons) and Mike Piazza, the greatest hitting catcher are not Hall of Fame worthy.

Redacting the steroid era by omitting its best players is a counter-intuitive venture. Very few approve of the way the BBWAA handled this year’s vote. For every year we move further away from the steroid era, the closer the baseball community will have to come to embracing the PED era and its participants. The Hall of Fame voters already seem petty given their recent history: denying anyone who even hinted of PED use, Ron Santo and other absurd practices that keep deserving candidates off the first ballot. Keeping out some of the greatest players of all-time without banning them completely from baseball has the potential to ruin the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame.

Cleansing and sanitizing history into a neat narrative never works. Especially not in a social media driven society that does not follow the old static “baseball purity” narratives that are more fit for 1980s audience than one in 2013.  The Hall of Fame is the final frontier in baseball conventional wisdom. The walls are crumbling, the times are changing, hopefully they figure out before it becomes too late.

They can continue to follow a script written for yesteryear and risk irrelevancy.

Spike Lee learned very quickly after his critique of “Django Unchained”, that it wasn’t enough to just express an objection a portrayal of slavery written by a White American.  Substance and nuance was essential to any real critique of the movie and protesting the movie without viewing the movie in its entirety was insufficient for a more sophisticated public open to new ideas. Newer faces in the African-American media community, such as Toure, came out in support of the movie with an in-depth analysis of the movie more appropriate for times.

The steroid era records still stand; the numbers are still etched in books without asterisks or footnotes.  Bonds still has 7-MVP awards and Clemens still has 7 Cy Young awards.  It’s there. Tarantino will continue to collect Golden Globe and Academy Award recognition, despite the protests of a few.  Nothing will change and baseball has not and will not step in to alter those numbers.

One day Bonds, Clemens and the others will have their plaques in Cooperstown.

Until then we all get snicker at those old and out-of-touch writers of the BBWAA.

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