In his latest offering, Globe metro columnist Kevin Cullen uses the death of Dom DiMaggio and the probable steroid use of Manny Ramirez to argue, basically, that America is on the skids, dammit!
Baseball is more than our national pastime. It is a reflection of what we are as a people. And right now the reflection isn't very pretty. Comparing Dom DiMaggio and Manny Ramírez is not merely a reflection of the characters of two baseball players, but a reflection of what we have become.Americans have always loved winners. Now we tolerate jerks, as long as they can hit a fastball. We love to bask in the reflected glory of grown men who get paid millions to play a kid's game. Dodgers fans used to taunt another cheater, Barry Bonds, mercilessly. Now, everybody at Chavez Ravine is busy concocting excuses for Manny.Players like Dom DiMaggio thought nothing of putting their careers on hold and going off to war. How many players would do that today? Manny couldn't even be bothered to visit the wounded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center when the Sox went to the White House to celebrate their 2007 World Series win.If Dom was part of the greatest generation, what does that say about Manny's?
Sorry, got a bit agitated there! Just a few objections:
1) The point Cullen raises about ballplayers and war is an interesting one. To do it justice, though, you'd need to look at things like the skyrocketing salaries of professional athletes and the effect Vietnam had on popular conceptions of the military. Cullen doesn't do this, maybe because it would mess with his "Hey you kids, get off my lawn!" shtick.
2) Dom DiMaggio's membership in the so-called "Greatest Generation" says absolutely nothing about Manny's generation. Dom DiMaggio seems to have been a good guy and exemplary teammate, while Ramirez is known as a shitty teammate and space cadet. If Cullen really wanted to tease out some profound generational differences, he'd compare Dom DiMaggio to one of the good guys of today's MLB, or Manny to one of the "Greatest Generation's" bigger assholes. Again, though, a more legit comparison would make it harder for Cullen to justify his crankiness.
3) Reading Cullen, you'd think that, back in the day, the culture scorned athletes who had skill but lacked character. That's bullshit. Case in point: Ty Cobb topped the ballot of the first Hall of Fame class in 1936, ahead of Babe Ruth and a couple other baseball icons. This is the same Ty Cobb of whom Larry Schwartz once wrote:
The Georgia Peach was a southern Protestant who hated northerners, Catholics, blacks and apparently anybody else who was different from him. And, in turn, opponents (and some teammates) despised him. They disliked his aggressive behavior, his attitude, his maniacal will to succeed....In spring training in 1907, Cobb, considered a racist by many, fought a black groundskeeper over the condition of the Tigers' spring training field in Augusta, Ga., and ended up choking the man's wife when she intervened.
[O]ff the field, Cobb's uncontrollable temper continued to cause trouble. In New York he went into the stands after a heckling fan called him names. He punched, kicked and stomped the fan, who was missing one hand and part of the other because of a workplace accident. AL president Ban Johnson suspended Cobb.While his teammates might have disliked Cobb personally, they wanted him in the lineup. After playing one game, they went on strike. Faced with a fine if it forfeited, Detroit fielded a replacement team composed mostly of sandlot players. The result was a 24-2 defeat to the Athletics. Cobb urged his teammates to end the strike; they did, though he would remain suspended for 10 days.
Wow. A ten-day suspension. Why can't baseball get leaders like that these days?
4) I'll close with a quote from the Jackie Robinson/Pee Wee Reese memorial in Brooklyn, NY. Caps are in the original. Note that the episode in question was perpetrated by members of the "Greatest Generation":
In May 1947, on Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Robinson endured RACIST TAUNTS, jeers and DEATH THREATS that would have broken the SPIRIT of a lesser man.Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and STOOD BY HIS SIDE, silencing the taunts of the crowd.This simple gesture CHALLENGED PREJUDICE and created a powerful and enduring friendship.