Monday, June 08, 2009

When Will the Shyster Write About DK Wilson?

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).

For Mr. Calcaterra, the job of the white writer evidently is not to convince everyone of his arguments, but to convince only the majority of his overwhelmingly white audience (myself included until I stopped reading his site after his latest refusal to offer any criticism to back up his anti-Zirin one-liners [sorry, "snark"] other than to point out that Zirin offered no evidence to substantiate his claim that the message boards on sports websites had racist comments about Manny Ramirez) that he is right. For the writer who writes about racism, however, the burden of proof is to fully convince the white racist reader *with every single article that is written.* The burden is not on the reader to consider the article in the context of the author's body of work (like, in the case of Zirin, TWO full-length books written to establish his case and flesh out the connections that cannot be fleshed out in the short pieces that Calcaterra links to, short pieces that scarcely even make the allegations Calcaterra objects to), but rather on the author to repeat his claims over and over again in some crystalline yet completist fashion so that every new development elicits an entire restatement.

(In the Manny Ramirez piece, Zirin was quite simply clowning everybody for going along and making a big deal out of Ramirez when it was baseball's drug policy itself that was "stupid" and since the evidence that Ramirez himself acted "stupidly", as at least dozens of commenters I saw wrote, has yet to be established - here's dwil with a piece that the Shyster neglected to generously link to that sure seems a compelling reason to me to suspend any discussion of what Manny Ramirez did or is responsible for until MLB acts responsibly in informing the public about what actually happened instead of merely helping the media chase its own tail. [I would also think it appropriate to wait for the details to emerge before writing an article saying Ramirez's suspension was good for baseball that apparently has been pulled from the site.] Here's an idea, Shyster: instead of reading a book that you KNOW is tabloid junk [Selena Roberts] to boost your traffic, why don't you read one of Zirin's books and tell us why he's as wrong as you claim and why you cannot "endorse" him to your audience? It's not as if, say, Jim Bouton ["Finally, the long awaited prequel to all the sports books you’ve ever read…. Dave Zirin’s writing is the opening shot in the battle to reclaim sports."] isn't willing to endorse Zirin, but hey, why not take some lawyer's word for it that Zirin is a mere incorrigible? Calcaterra is not, it seems, interested in taking seriously Jack McCallum's praise for Zirin's latest book: "You have to read Dave Zirin to believe him, and if you read him, you will believe him." Because Calcaterra doesn't want to read much Zirin or encourage his readers to read or believe him.)

Today dwil writes another solid piece that Calcaterra will, if I am not mistaken, ignore. In ignoring it, the Shyster will miss out on another opportunity to see why his "burden of proof" in discussions of racism is not merely illogical but misanthropic and disastrous. I mean, this cat went to law school, right? Alan Freeman already won this goddamn debate 30 years ago with his article on the perpetrator perspective in US law (Alan D. Freeman, Legitimizing Racial Discrimination Through Antidiscrimination Law: A Critical Review of Supreme Court Decisions, 62 Minn. L. Rev. 1049, 1052, 1978.). The notion that humanists who are trying to improve the conditions of oppressed peoples need to "prove" racism exists is a specter that white people have allowed to haunt all discussions of racism (and nearly all discussions of reality) in this country for the past 40 years. Instead of just admitting that racism, by virtue of being a structural component in the creation of our institutions and cultures, is something that must be systemically and honestly addressed and studied at all turns, those who recite the gospel of American law written by white racists insist on omitting racism from nearly all discussions, confining it only to those cases where data has been collected and vetted by white males and racist intent is established, so that villains can be slapped on their wrists. Because we know Clarence Thomas is on the Supreme Court, we simply know that the burden of proof is on white people to demonstrate that things as they are now are desirable to all human beings and do not have demographic borders or tendencies in their benefactors. And in the case of baseball and PED's, no sane person could evaluate the totality of the evidence and conclude that racism has not shaped the giant mess we are faced with; no sane person would think that the problems could be solved without a broader and thoroughgoing praxis (by which I mean unified study, theory, and action) to address systemic racism.

Shyster's blog is known for covering media, law, and politics. The undeniable fact is that in the US all of these fields are not merely run and financed and the majority by white people and middle- or upper-class people, but are DOMINATED by these people. Major League Baseball has a monopoly in this country that was granted to it by an all-white supreme court when MLB was all-white. A 99%-100% white US senate has, in the 87 years since, not even revoked the antitrust exemption. Tell me, Craig, why it is not incumbent upon this body - which is elected because the US has a constitutional system of democracy that subdivides the country geographically in such a way that an involuntary minority population remains a minority in any mass political body it can gain citizenship in - to invoke the Morgan Powers under the 14th amendment to not just obliterate the antitrust exemption for MLB but to repair the situation by ensuring that there is black community control and ownership over a sports league that is owned almost entirely by the same white male demographic that earned the antitrust exemption for its white male players only game in the first place?

Baseball's owners and its media allies have turned the question of PED into an utter running joke on the people of the US, baiting us again and again to blame the players, individually or collectively, for their own "cheating," even though the cheating in question evidently has more to do with careerism and competition for salary than stealing games from the other team (the conventional understanding of cheating); PED users who have spoken to the media have more or less admitted that coming back from injury to regain playing time from teammates who would otherwise gain from their absence is a strong motivating factor. Does not this mutation of the meaning of "cheating" from competitive advantage in a team sport to competitive advantage in a labor market demand that we consider why baseball has a system that encourages players to cheat against each other, as opposed to encouraging teams to cheat to beat teams? The owners have held on to an utterly corrupt labor structure premised on the owners owning not merely the operations of the teams but the entire careers of players. With the rise of the union in the 1960's and 1970's and the strikes of the 1980's and 1990's, reforms have been made to make it such that after either six years of Major League service time or being released (ie, two requirements that are dependent on the teams to further the player's career in the first place), these players have freedom of movement within MLB, but we are still left with the problem that professional baseball players have scant realistic options outside of MLB. And MLB still has a significant problem of being white-run and white-owned and catering to a mostly white demographic, leading to media fools castigating a team for signing a player because racists will try to rile that player up.

A racist white government builds a racist white monopoly. Over the next quarter century the monopoly becomes all encompassing by developing a minor league affiliate system that ensures the AL and NL can crush other independent leagues - including, oh, I don't know, the Negro Leagues. It then decides to start profiting off of the talent and skill of black players by incorporating them into MLB, historically using the rhetoric of integrationism that emerged out of the demand from black US citizens to be included in anti-fascist fighting forces in the 1940's. Concurrent with the ascent of integrationism from 1947-1965, MLB teams start integrating black players into their teams, though they do so piecemeal and demand that the players remain silent in the face of rampant fan racism (not to mention coach/management/ownership racism).
While writers like Calcaterra are likely unfamiliar with the bulk of scholarship and organic intellectual theorization of the numerous pitfalls of integrating into economies and institutions that have become dominant precisely through their own racism, this literature is highly salient to any discussion of baseball history and baseball present.

The reforms of the post-Flood era have, no doubt, put more money into the coffers of black and mestiza players from the US, Central America, and the Caribbean. (Then again, they have undeniably yielded much more profit for baseball's white owners, not to mention its management, media complex, or the white players whose boats have floated on the rising tides.) But the evidence of material reforms and incremental improvements is a universally-functioning mechanism for white/Eurocentric institutions to cut off criticism and offer facile counter evidence that does not address the root criticism. Tokenism is utterly useless in the struggle for humanity, as no less an integrationist than Martin Luther King explained in his must-read Why We Can't Wait. As long as MLB policy is determined by a confluence of white-dominated ownership, management, political and legal oversight, and media oversight, alongside white-majority fandom, racism is an obvious issue that is always on the table in discussing the historical causes of the status quo, the range of alternatives being realistically considered and the range of alternatives that ought to be considered.

White males shaped this game in such a way that the need for testosterone has kept out female players, and the chickens came home to roost when the '90's evidently saw the need for testosterone bloom into an outbreak of anabolic steroid usage. Baseball fields need not have the dimensions they have, and rosters need not have the compositions they have. Baseball teams need not be arranged in an absolute hierarchy with MLB on top such that the biggest class in baseball is the fan who does not play at all and can only follow the game, gaining none of the physical or emotional benefits of playing while being saddled with a consumptive drive for white-owned productions and an existential imprisonment in following their teams year in and year out (and, for so many, day in and day out).

White males riled up the fans about steroid use once the leaks became too big to contain, and they all acted as if they hadn't been responsible for the epidemic. As if they were not responsible for instilling careerism in the mind of every young player, as if they were not responsible for developing these people as players in a possessive-development scheme. As if they had fought hard for drug testing. Or, for the sanctimonious in the media who blame ownership for not imposing testing, as if the players did not have hugely valid concerns about letting MLB control the tests and the policy. It does not take much imagination to see that a bipartite solution could have been broached whereby MLB mandated that the MLBPA have its own drug testing system in exchange for a greater share of revenues. Instead, MLB held out until it could impose drug testing on a panicking MLBPA. I simply don't have patience for those who would like to "blame" the MLBPA. The MLBPA's very development was prevented for decades by baseball's racist monopoly. MLB is responsible for the corruption its union, since the union's task has, for the duration of its existence, been to try to fight against a system that continues decades of corruption within the confines of a pro-capitalist legal system; MLB is responsible for the failings of the MLBPA since the union depends on the leadership of players whose very notion of what it means to be a baseball player and what it means to be on a team have been shaped by many years being developed by MLB teams as well as a culture enchanted by the MLB monopoly.

White racism is a constitutive element of the baseball world that all of us have inherited. All of us constitute the present and future of this baseball world, and as such, it is our responsibility to study, theorize, and destroy the world of racism in order to make baseball a game for all humans and not a game mired in misanthropy. That means it is incumbent upon white baseball fans to read and study the works of those who challenge racism in baseball - and those who challenge it in general. Relying on the fictitious depictions of racism created by white people simply will not do; racism is not a mere illness of ignorance that wells up in the Cartesian minds of a few, a "thing" to be eradicated by having a couple of black friends and rooting for Hank Aaron or Ken Griffey Jr.

Critics of racism throughout history have challenged the definition of humanity proposed by racists, from Bartolome de las Casas and Waman Puma de Ayala to Ottobah Cuguano and Anton Wilhemlm Amo to Carter G. Woodson and Frantz Fanon. The concepts of "miseducation" and "sociogeny" that emerge in the latter two of these theorists, concepts that were only made possible by seeing the problems of humanity from the vantage points of those dehumanized by them, are central to how any believer in human life must proceed in improving the world. What it means to be a baseball fan - to be a fan of MLB teams that are as they are because of a history of racism - can only be answered by honestly addressing the question of how racism has shaped our pedagogy and culture, our ways of knowing the world and accepting realities. We cannot look at the development system and baseball and conclude that the baseball player is a mere biological organism put out in the world to fulfill its genetic destiny. Baseball players are produced through culture, a culture whose autonomy is overwhelmingly determined by people and institutions whose historical development has been structured by the imperative of maintenance in light of racist pasts, presents, and futures.

No reader of the Harball Times needs to be told that baseball and the baseball media have developed a culture of miseducation, of batting average, win-loss record, RBI, scouts who look for the "good face." And no sabermetrician can deny that, for all the objectivity they aspire to, the limits of sabermetrics as presently constituted are defined by the institution of MLB and its affiliate system. Sabermetricians thus far have, for the most part, sought objective knowledge on the relationship of players to teams and other players, to the study of how players perform over the course of games, seasons, and careers. The largely unexamined aspect of this objective sabermetric wisdom is how teams select players for inclusion on teams or in franchises; sabermetrics as simply the study of MLB and MiLB statistics (it is not my suggestion that all of sabermetrics meets this definition) lapses into a study of baseball that is epistemically dependent on MLB itself, and hence becomes the internal study of MLB as opposed to the objective study of baseball proper. In the discussion of the next wave of baseball analysis, as Sal Baxamusa wrote, "[Bill] James responded that the future of sabermetrics is to stop looking at how clubs are run and start looking at how the league is run." Will the role of the sabermetrician be to make the league more efficient, to help it maximize its profit, to help spread it globally? Or will the role of the sabermetrician be to denaturalize the monopoly, to integrate the data and debunking with an objective study of why baseball is as it is now and an opening of possibilities for what baseball can become?

Looking at the world from the threshold of its social orders - from the perspective of the poor fan who follows the box scores compulsively, from the perspective of the MLB player who is brought down in the faux-court of public opinion that has learned how to form its opinions from a racist criminal justice system and racist drug laws, from the perspective of the players who give up on baseball before they have a chance to be scouted - is the only way to learn the contents of those social orders, since their pedagogies and cultures determine how we see the world. To free ourselves from miseducation we need to start presuming the worth of those who are unafraid to brazenly call out racism when they perceive it; we need to start presuming that racism as a historical factor effects us and the world we perceive in ways that we cannot possibly perceive; we need to go beyond ShysterBall to analyze law, politics, media, and sports as they are, instead of how the snarkerati and the white legal system with its oft-abandoned integrationist reforms tells us that they are. These tasks are urgent, and they demand that baseball fans start reading Carter G. Woodson and the Willie Mays of Sportswriting.


At 1:53 PM, Blogger Craig Calcaterra said...

Fifth -- I realize you can't stand me and I'm fine with that, mostly because the basis you cite for not standing me are comprised of the most egregious forms of cherry picking and overreaction. Hey, it's your blog, and when you comment on mine, it's your comment, so you can say what you want.

But please don't claim the mantle of objectivity for yourself or those you admire. Contrary to your assumption, I did read Dwil's piece. And while I agree with him wholeheartedly about Greenberg being an idiot for what he said (and I'd argue on general principles too, but that's another topic) Dwill is dead wrong to take Greenberg's statement about a "special wing" for Negro League players at face value. There is no "special wing." Indeed, in a special bit of poetic justice, Satchel Paige's plaque is right next to Tom Yawkey's -- the man who worked his ass off to keep the Red Sox white -- in the room which honors inductees.

Even inductees who, unlike Paige, spent their entire careers in the Negro Leagues are honored along with everyone else. There is no asterisk. There is no qualification. While their 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, the Hall of Fame and many, many baseball scholars have worked very hard to assess, evaluate and honor their on-the-field accomplishments as accurately as possible. There people who have full time jobs combing old news reports, compiling stats 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 Dwil isn't interested in that. He's more interested in jumping at an easy, erroneous target (Greenberg's ridiculous "wing") and using it to beat a drum I'm guessing he's beaten before. And it may very well be worth beating. But I would hope that someone who, like you demands such exacting standards of accuracy from guys with whom you disagree likewise demand it from guys with whom you agree.

Dwill tars the Hall of Fame baed on a lie that is conevenient to his politics. Is that not a problem for you?

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Craig Calcaterra said...

If you're curious, I've expanded these thoughts into a larger post:

At 11:35 AM, Blogger mahnu.uterna said...

I'm curious - did you send Craig a link to these articles?


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