Bill James doubles down on the Joe Paterno defense

100 Comments

Yesterday we looked at Bill James’ initial comments defending Joe Paterno. His take: Paterno did what he was supposed to have done circa 1998 and what more could possibly have been asked of him? You know, apart from doing a single thing to prevent Jerry Sandusky from raping more children in the Penn State football facilities, which James apparently believes would have been some sort of super-human, above-and-beyond kind of thing.

One would figure that James would stop with that, but today on Doug Gottlieb’s ESPN Radio show, James doubled down. Not only does he continue to erroneously assert that Paterno did everything he could have done back in 1998, but he insists that the Sandusky coverup was the media’s fault. And that, sure, grown men showering with boys was something that was totally common 40 years ago.

The audio — about 15 minutes worth — is here.  The Big Lead transcribed the more critical bits, which included the following:

“[Paterno] knew less about [Sandusky] than everyone else there … He had very few allies. He was isolated. He was not nearly as powerful as people imagine him to have been … they kept it quiet because they had no idea what was happening … they just thought they were dealing with a little misunderstanding … people who are responsible for it are the media. The media created this smokescreen behind which Sandusky operated, and then they’re trying to blame Paterno.”

There are no words.

Wait, there are words: stop it, Bill. You’re talking total nonsense. You’re being a contrarian because you like being a contrarain and you hate what you consider to be rushes to judgment, mob mentality and piling on. But this is one case where your instincts are failing you and you’re making yourself look like a fool.

If people don’t think anything particularly bad is happening, they do not commit a coverup of the magnitude and nature of the coverup which was committed at Penn State. And even if one thinks that Joe Paterno’s power within Penn State was somehow less than what is generally assumed — which is silly, as the man was the closest thing to a God at that institution — what difference does it make?  One need not have some exalted status to pick up a phone and call the police. Indeed, the grand jury investigation which eventually uncovered all of this ugliness was launched by a phone call from the parents of one of the victims.

Any number of people could have stopped Sandusky. It has been conclusively proven that Paterno and many other members of the Penn State hierarchy had sufficient information as far back as 1998 and without question as soon as 2002 that could have and should have put Sandusky in prison and which would have spared countless young boys from his evil. Paterno chose not to act. All of them did. And they didn’t do it because they were ignorant and powerless. They did it because they feared bad publicity for their beloved football program, their own reputations and their careers.  They were rank cowards and, it very well appears, criminals in their own right.

How James, a man who can see so much that others cannot see, can fail to see this is beyond me. One need not muster some sort of moral outrage or make the worst assumptions about anyone to see what is plain with respect to Paterno and Sandusky and all that happened and didn’t happen at Penn State. One must merely look at the emails exchanged between the men who committed the coverup. To see what they cared about and what they didn’t care about, what they did and what they didn’t do, and what those acts and omissions allowed to happen.

It was the media’s fault? Please. That’s a pathetic canard when it’s deployed in normal circumstances. To cite that here when there are so many obvious people worthy of blame — real, damnable blame — is perverse in the extreme.

Of course, what James considers acceptable in all of this is eluding me anyway:

At the 14:10 mark Gottlieb asks James, “have you ever showered with a boy? Do you know anybody who has showered with a boy?” James says “Yes, that was actually quite common in the town I grew up in. That was quite common in America 40 years ago.”

Again. No words. This time I mean it.

UPDATE: One clarification here. That last bit comes off slightly cheap on my part. I don’t mean the curt response to be the equivalent of “gosh, look at that weirdo who thinks it’s cool for men to shower with boys.”  And I would prefer that the comments here don’t trend in that direction, because I don’t think it’s what James meant. And I don’t think Bill is saying that as a means of defending Sandusky’s actions or even Paterno’s coverup.  I think, though, that the answer is a tell that Bill doesn’t exactly understand what he’s commenting on, and that it remains significant for that reason.

That comment about men and boys 40 years ago came in response to a direct question. James, as is his wont, answered it directly. He didn’t provide any expanded context — Does he mean causally? Does he mean coaches and players? Fathers and sons? Innocently, as a means of water conservation? — but he answered it.  I think he’s the type who will answer any direct question you put to him directly, no matter how uncomfortable it makes the questioner. Maybe the more uncomfortable it makes him the better.

But again, I think this was a situation in which James is completely missing the forest for the trees and being a bit too cute in his answer. He had to know when he’s being asked that question that the host was referring to showering with boys in a sinister, untoward manner. When we speak of showering with boys and the Penn State scandal, we obviously cannot forget what we know. More to the point, what Paterno clearly knew as of 2002. That’s what James was being asked about and I think he decided to simply answer the question as if he was talking to a historian about the strange folkways of 1950s Kansas rather than a child rape scandal.

That’s really my criticism of James here. I don’t think he supports Sandusky at all or even Paterno to any serious degree as much as he finds it intellectually interesting to defend him. But I think his focusing on a couple of legalistic points misses the entire real point of the story, and the shower question is a microcosm of that.

Former outfielder Anthony Gose is throwing 99 m.p.h. fastballs in the minors

Getty Images
2 Comments

Anthony Gose played for five seasons as an outfielder in the big leagues. He never hit well enough to be a regular, and a series of altercations with his minor league managers and coaches didn’t do too much for his future either.

His fastball, however, may eventually make up for all of that.

Toward the end of spring training it was reported that Gose would begin work as a pitcher. Given that he was a highly regarded high school pitching prospect with a plus fastball, it wasn’t a crazy notion. When Tigers camp broke, Gose stayed in Lakeland in extended spring training, throwing bullpen sessions and stuff.

Now he’s seeing game action. As the Detroit Free Press reports, Gose threw an inning for the Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers against the Palm Beach Cardinals last night. He allowed one run on one hit with one strikeout and one walk, lighting up the radar gun at 99 m.p.h. This is the tweet from Lakeland’s assistant general manager:

The Free Press says that the Tigers’ vice president of player development, Dave Littlefield, is “very optimistic” about Gose’s progress.

Given that he’s still only 26 and he’s a lefty it wouldn’t shock me at all if he makes his way back to the bigs someday soon.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

30 Comments

Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.