Happy 100th Birthday to Joe DiMaggio. An overrated all-time great.

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Joe DiMaggio was born 100 years ago today. On the occasion, John Harper of the Daily News talks with baseball historian John Thorn about the Yankee Clipper’s legacy. One that, in Thorn’s view, is a bit greater than the actual baseball merits. Or, to put it like the headline puts it, one that is overrated:

“Baseball is our national religion,” said Thorn. “And belief in DiMaggio is a central tenet. I’m not pooh-poohing him. It’s just that he has been the subject of so much apotheosis — the elevation to the heavens — that it calls for analysis from Dr. Freud rather than Branch Rickey.”

This is undeniably true. DiMaggio was a great hitter, but he was nowhere near the hitter of his contemporary Ted Williams. He was a good center fielder, but he wasn’t even the best defensive center fielder in his own family, for pete’s sake. While one can make a good argument that DiMaggio was the best all-around player on the best team for a handful of years, to suggest — as baseball fans and writers openly suggested for years following his retirement — that DiMaggio was, at any time in his life, “Baseball’s Greatest Living Player” is more than a little crazy. Indeed, at no time in his life was DiMaggio anything close to that, mostly because Willie Mays outlived him and still lives today.

But I think Harper and Thorn get at why the tendency to overrate DiMaggio persists when they talk about how DiMaggio was perceived. And it makes a lot of sense.

Part of it was the hitting streak in 1941 which truly riveted the nation in ways that no baseball event had ever done in close to real time like that. That’s pretty key. Also key: DiMaggio’s Italian-American heritage, which today may not seem like a big deal but certainly was in the 1930s and 40s, giving a lot of people a hero and role model who never truly had one in baseball. Also, don’t sell short the fact that DiMaggio was the star of choice for the parents of Baby Boomers. We’ve seen how outsized a phenomenon can be if Boomers talk about it. You have to figure that also applies to things Boomers talk about their parents talking about, which easily extended DiMaggio’s legacy into the 60s, 70s and beyond.

But Thorn reminds us that, whatever we say about DiMaggio on the merits, that’s not everything when it comes to talking about baseball history:

“But when you put it all together, I think the myth counts. The story counts. It’s not just stats. The DiMaggio myth transcends history and you deny it at your peril. I admire his performance, I’m just letting a little air out of the balloon.”

I think the same can be said about the Derek Jeter coverage of the past few years too. It’s possible to let some air out of the balloon because, man, there’s a lot of air in it, but let’s not forget why there was air there in the first place. DiMaggio (and Jeter) were important to a lot of people. They were leaders of teams that won and the exploits of those teams are, for better or worse, put in their individual columns. Which is fine because most baseball fans don’t consume baseball like analysts do. They have the game as memories and memories often need symbolic placeholders like that.

Anyway, happy 100th Joltin’ Joe. Overrated? Sure. But undeniably great for reasons that transcend our rating of players.

Brewers won’t punish Josh Hader for offensive tweets

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Some old tweets of Josh Hader‘s surfaced during the All-Star Game on Tuesday, containing offensive and hateful language. Major League Baseball responded by ordering Hader to attend sensitivity training and attend diversity initiatives.

The Brewers won’t punish Hader themselves, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. GM David Stearns says the club is taking its lead from MLB, which has already handed down its punishment to Hader. Additionally, the Brewers’ lack of punishment has to do with the tweets occurring when Hader was younger — 17 years old — and not involved with professional baseball.

Stearns also said of Hader’s tweets, “I don’t think they’re representative of who he is. I think they’re offensive. I think they’re ill-informed and ignorant but I don’t think they represent who he is as a person right now.” Stearns added, “I don’t know how he’s going to work through it. The truth is he has put himself in this situation. And he’s going to have to work very hard to get through it.”

Hader apologized on Wednesday, saying, “I was 17 years old, and as a child I was immature, and obviously I said some things that were inexcusable. That doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person today.” Hader said, “I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve said. I’m ready for any consequences that happen for what happened seven years ago.”

Lorenzo Cain, a black outfielder and teammate of Hader’s, said, “I know Hader; he’s a great guy. I know he’s a great teammate. I’m fine. Everybody will be O.K. We’ll move on.” Cain further defended Hader, saying, “We’ve all said crazy stuff growing up, even when we were 17, 18 years old. If we could follow each other around with a recorder every day, I’m sure we all said some dumb stuff. We’re going to move on from this.”

First baseman Jesús Aguilar also came to Hader’s defense:

However, Aguilar also retweeted a tweet from Scott Wheeler of The Athletic which had screencaps of Royals 2B/OF Whit Merrifield and Angels outfielder Mike Trout using the word “gay” pejoratively in tweets. Merrifield also used the word “retard” pejoratively.

The “he was 17” defense rings hollow. At 17 years old, one is able to join the military, get a full driver’s license (in many states), apply for student loans, and get married (in some states). Additionally, one is not far off from being able to legally buy cigarettes and guns. Given all of these other responsibilities we give to teenagers, asking them not to use racial and homophobic slurs is not unreasonable. Punishing them when they do so is also not unreasonable.

A study from several years ago found that black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than white boys. A similar study from last year found that black girls are viewed as less innocent than white girls. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Cameron Tillman, among many others, never got the benefit of the doubt that Hader and countless other white kids have gotten and continue to get in our society. When we start giving the same benefit of the doubt to members of marginalized groups, then we can break out the “but he was only 17” defense for Hader.

We also need to ask ourselves what our inaction regarding Hader’s words will say to members of those marginalized communities. Will it tell them that we value the comfort of those in power above everyone else? Will it tell members of marginalized groups that they are not welcome? In this case, it absolutely will. It communicates the message that, as long as you are white and can perform athletic feats, there’s no level of bigotry the league won’t tolerate. Furthermore, as the league and its 30 individual teams make more efforts towards inclusiveness with events like “Pride Night,” the inaction comes off as two-faced and hypocritical. This is why Major League Baseball — and the Brewers — should have done more to respond to Hader’s tweets.