You Know it's You, Babe


Can't teach a hitch like that in college! Also, banksters!

Bill James, who is probably my favorite living writer, has a wonderfully rambling piece up for Slate that jumps from Babe Ruth, to Barry Bonds, to Prohibition, steroids, the American habit of disrespecting rules, Martha Stewart, financial regulation, Roger Clemens, and the criminalization of everything. You don't need to like baseball to enjoy it, though it surely helps. Some chunks:

Ruth knew perfectly well that he wasn't supposed to eat eight or 10 hot dogs between the games of a doubleheader, but he did it anyway. In 1930, the Yankee players were introduced to the president of the United States before a game at Yankee Stadium. The other Yankee players said things like, "Thank you for coming, sir" and "Honored to meet you, Mr. President." Babe Ruth said, "Hot as hell, ain't it, Prez?" Every story about Babe Ruth, every episode, reflects this very deep belief in the importance to Babe Ruth of not obeying the rules.

You know that we could use a man like Warren Harding again

I am not saying that we should not admire Babe Ruth, that we should not respect him, that we should not honor him. What I am trying to get people to face is the cast of mind that made Babe Ruth what he was. It was not very different from the cast of mind that made Barry Bonds who he was, or made Roger Clemens or Ted Williams who they were. I myself am a stubborn, sometimes arrogant person who refuses to obey some of the rules that everybody else follows. I pay no attention to the rules of grammar. I write fragments if I goddamned well feel like it. I refuse to follow many of the principles of proper research that are agreed upon by the rest of the academic world. An editor said to me last year, "Well, you've earned the right to do things your own way." Bullshit; I was that way when I was 25. It has to do with following the rules that make sense to me and ignoring the ones that don't. It doesn't make me a bad person; it makes me who I am. I started the Baseball Abstract, self-publishing it when self-publishing was cumbersome and impractical, because it was my book and nobody was going to tell me how to write it or tell me what people were interested in. […]

Normal rules did not apply. Especially as regards fitness.

People write that Babe Ruth was "allowed" to develop a hitting style based on a powerful uppercut because he was a pitcher, so nobody worried that much about his hitting. Bullshit; he hit that way because he was Babe Ruth, and he was deeply convinced that the rules did not apply to Babe Ruth. Like a scientist, like you and me, Babe Ruth did not believe that what everybody "knew" was necessarily right. A lot of what people "know" is nonsense, and the rules based on that knowledge are fetters and hobbles. […]

There is no real difference between sending Babe Ruth to jail and sending Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens to jail. The only relevant difference is the difference between America in 2010 and America in 1940. […]


So now it is Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in the crosshairs of the prosecutors, and the question I would urge you to think about is not only "Are these people guilty?" It is also, "Is this prosecution necessary and appropriate?"

Link via Baseball Primer. Me on Bill James here and on Barry Bonds here. Steve Chapmen on Roger Clemens here.