Sunday, February 12, 2012

Barry Bonds, Race, and the New York Times’ Mr. Subliminal

By Nicholas Stix
September 3, 2002
Toogood Reports

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine contained a long article on Barry Bonds by David Grann that was wonderful, if you knew nothing about baseball or Bonds.

Remember Kevin Nealon’s Saturday Night Live character, “Mr. Subliminal”? Everything he said out loud was a lie, which he would betray with the contradiction he’d mutter in his next breath. And so it is, with the New York Times’ Mr. Subliminal, David Grann. Grann claims he isn’t writing a story about race, but for Grann, in sports race isn’t everything, race is the only thing.

I will give a sampling of Grann’s lies, followed, in parentheses, by the mutterings the reader is supposed to subliminally pick up on.

Grann tells us that “A man had called a Houston television station and vowed to shoot him before he could break the record. Bonds thought it was because of his race, that he was being threatened the way they had once threatened Hank Aaron, but the caller insisted it was something else: like so many fans, he just hated him.”

(‘Yeah, right. Racists have become more sophisticated, in coming up with non-racial rationalizations, but you can tell they’re racists, because they always deny that they are racists.’)

“When Bonds’s contract expired at the end of his record-breaking season, not a single team reportedly expressed public interest in luring away the greatest player in the game.”

(‘They’re dirty, racist bastards, who will disrespect the greatest player in the game, based merely on the color of his skin. In baseball, nothing has changed since the days of Jackie Robinson being subjected to racial taunts.’)

Why won’t the reporter tell the truth? At the age of 37, Bonds wanted a five-year, guaranteed deal, when no team felt that at his advanced age, he was good for even four.

From 1968-1981, Barry Bonds’ father, Bobby, was an immensely gifted but inconsistent player who had personal problems. Grann suggests the reporters who wrote, ‘‘Bonds Charged With Drunk Driving’’ and ‘‘Bonds Confronts Rumors About Drugs, Drinking’’ were making up or exaggerating Bobby’s drinking, but then quotes Bobby as saying that, ‘‘What I was doing was probably no different than Mickey Mantle or a bunch of ‘em.”

(‘The racists covered for the Mick.’)

Grann leaves out that Mantle, a classic, falling-down drunk, drank himself to death. And that Mantle, who played his entire career in New York and traveled by taxi, was never arrested for DUI.

“Although Bobby still continued to put up good numbers year after year, he never lived up to expectations. ‘Anything I did that wasn’t what Willie Mays did meant I never lived up to my potential,’ Bobby once said. Yet there were whispers that Bobby’s failure was not just the result of the pressure of having to play in the shadow of Mays.”

(‘Racist whisper campaign!’)

Grann is patronizing the elder Bonds. For someone with Bobby Bonds’ talent, “good numbers” aren’t good enough. Besides, the elder Bonds didn’t mind superstar treatment and superstar pay; he just couldn’t stand the pressure to consistently produce like a superstar.

Grann overtly blames the change in baseball reporting on the game having become more clearly a business, with the first players’ strike, in 1972, killing many romantic notions. Were he familiar with his subject, he would have known that reporting was revolutionized by the 1970 publication of the irreverent, hilarious book, Ball Four, by former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton and sportswriter Leonard Schechter. In one passage, Bouton recalled a pinch-hit, game-winning home-run by a Mantle so hung-over he could barely see the ball.

Grann sees himself as a debunker of romantic notions, in portraying the game as having “actually” been played not by country boys, but by “urban toughs.” Cap Anson, “Home Run” Baker, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, et al., a bunch of city boys? Right. And as if Barry Bonds were a street kid!

(‘If they were honest about baseball’s roots, they would embrace “urban” types.’)

Grann: “In recent years, few players have been held up as representatives of the old ideal more than Jeff Kent, the Giants’ slender, tightly coiled second-baseman, who in 2000 Kent [sic] beat out Bonds for the M.V.P. and is said to despise Bonds more than anyone in baseball.”

(‘Kent is the Great White Hope. That’s why they lionize him, at Bonds’ expense.’)

Jeff Kent, the representative of an ideal? When Kent played for the New York Mets during the mid-1990s, he was almost universally considered a selfish crybaby, who slammed down his batting helmet when he struck out. As with Grann’s other broad statements lacking quotes or attribution, Grann does not cite one single sportswriter who idealized Kent.

At one point, Grann portrays Jeff Kent as an anti-gay bigot. A baseball player? Who’d’a thunk it? Grann is pandering to Times editors and reporters. In an oft-repeated story that was originally reported by Reed Irvine, a Times staffer observed that at editorial meetings these days, three-quarters of the staffers and editors present are gay. (And if any of those gay Timespersons are baseball fans, they keep such proclivities locked securely in the closet.)

Grann also does a “Great White Hope” number on Mark McGwire, “who despite a reputation for arrogance and rudeness became known as the antidote to Bonds.”

Not being able to recall McGwire’s “reputation for arrogance and rudeness,” I did a google search, and still couldn’t come up with any incriminating material. I do know that in McGwire’s later years, he worked hard to live up to his role as poster boy for the game, both on the field and off.

I think I know what is going on, when Grann attacks white players, while rationalizing away Barry (and Bobby) Bonds’ shortcomings. It is a common practice among racist blacks today — civilians as well as writers and academics — to run down any prominent white, with or without reason, while defending to the death any prominent black under fire, no matter how strong the case against him is (e.g., O.J. Simpson). Similarly, there are whites in the media, education, and politics, who consider themselves the friends and protectors of blacks. These whites read and listen to the most outrageous black claims, but instead of giving the mass of strangers whom they claim to love a much-needed reality check, they ape blacks’ prejudices. David Grann is one such enabler of racist, black, self-delusion.

While there are New York Times readers who will see through Grann’s agitprop, they tend to be over 50 years old, their numbers dwindling by the day. The current, dumbed-down Sunday Magazine, edited by pc featherweight Adam Moss, is geared towards younger readers with a limited knowledge of ... anything.

Consider the level of baseball knowledge of David Grann and his editors: Grann refers to Bonds’ Pittsburgh Pirates manager, Jim Leyland, as “Jim Leyland, the Pirates head coach,” and argues, “It didn’t matter that, unlike many players, Bonds never actually held out for more money.” “Head coaches” and “holdouts” are the stuff of the NFL. No student of the game would EVER make either mistake, and no editor competent to work on sports stories would let it pass.

(In case you’re wondering how a guy who doesn’t know a manager from a “head coach” gets assigned to write a baseball story for the New York Times Magazine, David Grann is the son of publishing executive Phyllis Grann. In a puff piece by Marion Maneker on Phyllis Grann that appeared in the January 21 New York magazine, Maneker described Grann, who built Putnam Books into a $100 million-per-year imprint, as “the undisputed queen of New York’s book business.”)

But then, Grann is an ideological warrior who doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. His opening rings so false, as to give baseball fans ear aches: “One night last fall Barry Bonds, the demon of America’s pastime, caught a glimpse of his own redemption.” Demon? Barry Bonds?

Grann emphasizes the business-like nature of today’s baseball, to disguise his thinly-veiled belief, from the Harry Edwards school of racist sports sociology, that it would demean black stars to entertain the (predominantly white) paying fans — even though Grann quotes a contradictory statement by Bonds, emphasizing that baseball is entertainment. ‘‘It’s entertainment. It will come back. A lot of companies go on strike. . . . And people still ride the bus.’’

[The bus isn’t entertainment, it’s a necessity. In fact, the typical person who relies on buses for travel cannot afford to go to major league baseball games.]

For Grann, Bonds is just ‘keepin’ it real.’ Grann doesn’t know where first base is. Those who do, understand fans’ distaste at having the men whom they pay rub fans’ noses in the dirt, and know that fans reacted so viscerally to the 1994-1995 strike, that it took five years, all manner of goodwill propaganda by owners and players, and the continued use of a juiced baseball, before attendance recovered to pre-strike levels.

Quoting Richard Ben Cramer, Grann speaks, in the context of Joe DiMaggio, of a “hero machine.” And yet, baseball fans and writers recall that when DiMaggio demanded a pay raise, he was roundly booed by Yankee fans for weeks. Some hero machine. But Joe was white, so I guess that fact wouldn’t fit Grann’s storyline.

Grann sees himself as deconstructing baseball’s “romanticized” past, in which players’ foibles were kept from the public. In reality, fans had much more access to, and thus knowledge of players’ personalities 50 years ago, than they do now. Brooklynites of a certain age recall riding the trolley car to Ebbets Field with the likes of Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider. During the mid-1990s, Bobby Bonilla, then playing for the Mets, made a ludicrous ad, in which he claimed to ride the subways.

I’ve never encountered a professional athlete using public transportation.

Reportedly, one player did ride the subways during his time with the Mets, during the late 1990s, but John Olerud would not fit Grann’s profile. Olerud is white.

Grann calls Bonds, without qualification, “the most [sic] dominant player of the modern era.” Willie who? Hank who? While Bonds is the dominant position player of his generation, I would not rank him above Mays and Aaron. For one thing, there is the “standing on the shoulders of giants” factor. Even under comparable conditions, a player must do more than slightly exceed the achievements of his forebears, before being considered their superior. Those who came earlier, were not competing with the future. And so, the Johnny-come-lately must shatter those achievements. The livelier ball notwithstanding, Babe Ruth was to all the sluggers who came before him, as Secretariat was to all the race horses that preceded him.

But conditions are not comparable. Mays and Aaron played initially without the dilution of quality caused by expansion (and only modest expansion later in their careers), hit in stadiums with deeper outfields (lots of long fly outs), had to contend with a larger strike zone, and hit against pitchers who stood on higher pitching mounds, and who threw balls that were not juiced. Last year, former Mets great Donn Clendennon vividly expressed the difference. Visiting Mets broadcaster, and Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, Clendennon spoke incredulously of “145-pound” players “jacking” the ball.

Had Willie Mays and Hank Aaron played under today’s conditions, they each would have hit at least 100 additional home runs during their respective careers.

Grann feigns disbelief that Bonds’ contemptuous treatment of sportswriters should result in their disliking him, and then suggests that the unwritten “rules” local sportswriters have developed for dealing with Bonds, are based in (racist?) fantasy.

In contrast to Kent, there were unofficial rules, I was told by reporters, to get to Bonds. Don’t talk to him when he is getting dressed. Don’t talk to him just before or after batting practice. Don’t talk to him when he is sitting in his chair. Don’t talk to him when he is talking to the trainer or to his son.

But Grann broke the “rules,” and got away with it. Bonds must have seen through to Grann’s inner goodness, in contrast to the “racist” beat reporters whom Bonds forces to jump through hoops.

It doesn’t occur to Grann that his easy access to Bonds might have derived from the institutional power of the New York Times, or that Bonds, who is a bright man, likely did a background check on the writer, and determined that he was a greenhorn when it came to sports, and painfully pc, so as to be at worst, harmless, and at best, useful.

Oddly enough, in the one clearly racial situation that Grann writes about, he shies away from its racial implications. He quotes Bonds as complaining of [white] sportswriters who disparage him in private, only to approach him in the clubhouse or on the field for a quote. Bonds brags that he has “spies” who tell him what the writers say in private.

So, there are sportswriters who act collegially with their peers in private, only to betray them to the athletes they cover. Bonds has no problem with such journalistic rats, all of whom should be fired for unprofessionalism. But they won’t be. Many of them are “racials”: black affirmative action hires who didn’t get their jobs based on their abilities, to begin with. Others are whites who like to suck up to blacks, and harm other whites. It never occurs to Bonds that he routinely plays with people he dislikes. Nor does he consider how he would feel if his confidants routinely betrayed his private thoughts to outsiders, much less that there is a word for people who do their job, even when it requires being polite to those whom they personally despise: Professionalism.

The young Barry Bonds was a schmuck, whose general surliness was made all the more maddening, by his occasional attacks of charm and goodwill. In Bonds’ record-breaking season last year, he showed a much more gracious side, but has remained a difficult customer.

In April, Slate’s Joan Walsh, an unabashed Bonds fan, did a more honest job than David Grann, in expressing her admiration for the player:

Contrary to stereotype, Bonds’ problem isn’t that he’s a callous asshole, but that he’s way too sensitive.... Besides, I’m a Bonds fan because of his frailties, not in spite of them.

What does it take to love Barry Bonds? Exactly that: Seeing him as shy and strangely fragile and slightly tortured, rather than as a pampered prima donna. I gave it up to Barry only recently, so I can sympathize a little with his detractors. I know their grievances, and so do you: He’s standoffish and not wildly popular with his teammates; he won’t run out routine ground balls; he’s a jerk to reporters; he’s not exactly Mr. October, batting around .200 in the playoffs; he’s got that big leather recliner, a huge TV and three lockers in the Giants’ clubhouse.

But then, Walsh succumbs to the same disease as Grann: Her beloved Barry is the victim of racist sportswriters.

The New York Daily News’ Bill Madden has provided the most succinct portrait of Barry Bonds as a latter-day Ted Williams. Writing on May 27, 2001, on the eve of Bonds’ passing of the Splendid Splinter’s mark of 521 home runs, Madden called his column, “Thorny Like Splinter.”

In so many ways, Bonds is the reincarnation of Williams, which is especially sad if, like “Tempestuous Ted,” Bad Barry doesn’t allow us to appreciate him until he’s an octogenarian.

For his remarkable, sure-thing Hall of Fame career, Bonds has chosen to be the sullen slugger, disdainful of the media and dismissive of the fans. Therefore, it is not surprising that after hitting his 10th home run in eight games on Thursday night, Bonds received a standing ovation from only about one-third of the Pac Bell Park crowd.

Williams was accustomed to the same lukewarm support from the Boston fans. Of course, he was known to go so far as to spit at the fans to demonstrate his contempt for them. Bonds merely makes it clear on a day-in, day-out basis he doesn’t give a damn how the fans regard him because he especially doesn’t give a damn how the media portrays him....

So we should not care if, at 36 years old, Bonds is on pace to hit 87 homers this year, just as the fans should not feel deprived by his avowed refusal to take part in the home run hitting contest at the All-Star Game. Plain and simple, Barry Bonds isn’t going to do anything to help promote the game. Like Williams throughout his career, he just wants to be left alone. Yet Bonds wonders why the Giants remain undecided about giving him a contract extension.

He’s by far a better all-around player than Williams was, but for all the other reasons, he seems destined to be forever compared to him. How sad, if Bonds, like Williams of recent years, does not start saying hello until the time comes to start saying goodbye.

It is apparently an unwritten rule among politically correct writers never to speak of a black as the “reincarnation” of a white, except perhaps as an insult to someone who’s not “black enough” — even when the description is dead-on.

I disagree with Madden, however, regarding Bonds’ attitude towards the fans. I think he wants them to love him; he just hasn’t been willing to meet them half way.

While giving the appearance of an intimate portrait, David Grann’s attempt to turn Barry Bonds into a race-political icon, only adds to the distance between informed reader and subject. Transparent dishonesty will do that. But then, what can you expect from a newspaper that is edited by people who hate sports, and who ran a front-page magazine story a few years ago, suggesting that baseball’s lack of popularity among black fans was indicative of some sort of subtle racism in Major League Baseball, Inc.’s approach to them? Once again, the mighty Times has struck out.

* * *

Il Ragno said...

As your article dates from 2002, I thought you might be interested - okay, okay: grimly amused - to learn David Grann has since graduated from profiling Barry Bonds and finding only Caucasian evil to a sober investigation of prison violence, in which he discovers only - wait; I'll let you guess.

Considering that the now-infamous report of the depressing omnipresence of black-on-white prison rape only (belatedly) confirmed what every sentient American already knew, you'd think Grann would find reordering reality to fit his usual narrative arc would be particularly tough sledding in this case.... well, you can never lose money overestimating the shamelessness of an MSM lefty.

Let me drop a single promo-blurb on ya - the book was an award finalist, of course - which ought to give you a concise lay of the land here:

"The Brand" by David Grann documents the rise and potential demise of the Aryan Brotherhood, a murderous gang that has spread its tentacles throughout the federal prison system and beyond. In his fearlessly reported and brilliantly written feature, Grann vividly depicts the brutal subculture of America's maximum security penitentiaries. He also tells the inspiring story of how a gutsy prosecutor named Gregory Jessner took on the gang, at great personal risk. Grann shows how by indicting the Aryan Brotherhood, Jessner is striking a blow for the rights of some of the least sympathetic victims in our society -- convicted, violent criminals who have become prey inside our prison walls.

Yup. Turns out that prison violence is indeed racial in nature; three guesses (but no prizes) on which race is the Guilty Party.

As Grann himself notes in the book:

"There are hundreds of gangs in this country: the Crips, the Bloods, the Latin Dragons, the Dark Side Nation, the Lynch Mob. But the Aryan Brotherhood is one of the few gangs that were born in prison. In 1964, as the nation's racial unrest spread into the penitentiaries, a clique of white inmates at San Quentin prison, in Marin County, California, began gathering in the yard. The men were mostly motorcycle bikers with long hair and handlebar mustaches; a few were neo-Nazis with tattoos of swastikas. Together, they decided to strike against the blacks, who were forming their own militant group, called the Black Guerrilla Family, under the influence of the celebrated prison leader George Jackson.

"Before long, they had merged with other whites at San Quentin to form a single band: the Aryan Brotherhood. While there had always been cliques in prison, known as "tips," these men were now aligned by race and resorted to a kind of violence that had never been seen at San Quentin.

"'Everything was seen through the delusional lens of race-everything,' Edward Bunker, an inmate at the time, told me. (He went on to become a novelist, and appeared as Mr. Blue in 'Reservoir Dogs.')"

If you ever get a breather between your other gigs, Stix, you might want to give THE BRAND a read - I'd look forward to one of your patented eviscerations of this fatuous ninny, and the barely-masked contempt for whites that continues to pay such rich career dividends for him.

In case you were wondering, your work is being read, and appreciated, and even furtively emailed around in the dead of night. Can't say I agree with you 100% of the time, Stix, but you continue to be among the best and most impassioned writer on race issues out there. Keep it up.


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