By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Roger Clemens

Catching up with Ken Burns’ ‘Baseball’ nearly three decades later

What could have been

After we got home from Cooperstown in early August, we decided to watch Ken Burns’ 1994 documentary “Baseball.” Neither of us had seen a Burns film in its entirety since “The Civil War” (i.e., before kids), mainly because we don’t watch much television and we don’t like getting trapped into sitting through long series. But this seemed worth taking on, especially since the 2022 Red Sox weren’t doing anything that warranted investing time in.

On Saturday night, we finally finished with 11th and final episode — one of two post-production add-ons, this one largely about the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series triumph, which, based on the amount of airtime he got, the Sox apparently staged for the benefit of Mike Barnicle. The steroid-induced rise and fall of Barry Bonds got quite a bit of attention as well, and it warmed our hearts to see Roger Clemens administered a thorough thrashing.

The original nine “innings” were well worth the time we put into them. Running two to two and a half hours per episode, they started slowly, with an overdose of lyrical tributes to the quiet joys of the National Pastime. Once Babe Ruth arrives on the scene, though, the series really kicks into gear, with lots of great archival footage. The highlight is Jackie Robinson, whom we follow from his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 until his premature death in 1972.

Buck O’Neil signing autographs in 2005. Photo (cc) 2005 by kc congdon.

“Baseball” is done in Burns’ characteristic style, with a lot of talking heads, including Bob Costas, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Studs Terkel, George Will and — the best, in our view — Buck O’Neil, a Negro Leagues star who died in 2006 and who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2022. O’Neil comes across as calm and wise, with a slight edge of hurt and anger occasionally flashing in his eyes. We had the sense that he knew more about baseball and life than the rest of Burns’ guests put together.

The unevenness of the two add-ons came as a surprise — Burns’ attention to detail was largely missing, maybe because he farmed out much of the work to underlings. The sound editing was terrible, with the music often drowning out what the guest commentators had to say. Still, how can you not love watching the Sox dismantle the Yankees in the 2004 league championship series all over again?

We watched it by signing up for a PBS Documentaries subscription for $3.99 a month and then tuning in through Amazon Prime Video. If you’ve never seen “Baseball” and you’ve got 20-plus hours to spare, we recommend it.

Yes, Curt Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame

Curt Schilling in better days. Photo (cc) 2007 by Andrew Malone.

We have a good discussion under way on Facebook about whether Curt Schilling should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say yes, even though he’s devolved into a terrible human being who’s mocked trans people and joked about journalists being murdered in the years since his playing days ended.

The argument against Schilling, one of the great post-season clutch pitchers, is that the Hall of Fame has a character clause, and there’s no doubt that the Schilling of today is someone of exceedingly poor character. But the clause should pertain to how he conducted himself as a player. Schilling always respected the game, unlike cheaters such as Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose. With Clemens, it wasn’t just steroids; it was also his adolescent meltdown in the 1990 playoffs. Clemens was thrown out, and the Red Sox lost the game and the series. Of course, that probably would have happened anyway given Clemens’ miserable record in big games.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal wrote a terrific piece the other day about the man Schilling used to be before becoming a deranged right-wing extremist. I was particularly struck by McAdam’s account of Schilling’s leadership in awarding full shares of the team’s 2004 World Series money to low-paid clubhouse attendants and the like. Here’s how McAdam put it:

After the fact, I was told that Schilling was behind the gesture. (For those suspicious that Schilling was the source of this information, he was not). He argued that for the players, the difference between a full share of, say, $300,000 and $250,000 was minuscule, relatively speaking. But by including more non-players in the distribution of full shares, they could impact the lives of so many who didn’t make seven- and eight-figure annual salaries.

Indeed, some bought houses, paid off mortgages or paid tuition bills with that money. And indirectly, they have Schilling to thank.

None of us knows what happened to Schilling. Obviously something went haywire along the way. In some respects his Hall of Fame credentials are borderline, and we can only imagine the unhinged speech he’d give at Cooperstown if he were actually inducted. But that shouldn’t enter into it. He deserves a plaque.

Down in the dirt with Roger Clemens

The New York Daily News’ story that Roger Clemens may or may not have had sex with a 15-year-old country singer doesn’t seem to have much legs. But, I observe in my latest for the Guardian, that’s really the least of the Rocket’s problems these days.

The ugliest turn yet for Clemens

The New York Daily News shimmies nearly all the way out to the end of the limb today. Let’s not kid ourselves: Weasel words aside, you are instructed to believe that Roger Clemens started having sex with country star Mindy McCready when she was 15 years old. It depends on what the meaning of “romance” is, I guess.

What do you suppose Clemens’ lawyers are doing today? Researching libel law, or the statute of limitations? This is so ugly that the steroid allegations pale by comparison.

Roger Clemens’ crash landing

I was working and didn’t see any of Roger Clemens’ testimony. But this, from the New York Times, is enough for me:

Mr. Clemens testified that in those conversations with Mr. Pettitte, he was talking about his wife’s use of H.G.H. one time and on another occasion was referring to something he saw on a television show. Mr. Clemens sought to rebut Mr. Pettitte’s sworn and damaging statements to the committee that Mr. Clemens told him point blank that he had used H.G.H.

But Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, clearly did not believe Mr. Clemens, and pointed out that Mr. Pettitte’s wife, Laura, had also given an affidavit in which she confirmed that her husband told her about his conversation with Mr. Clemens shortly after it took place.

As ridiculous as Clemens’ insistence that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs may be, you certainly couldn’t throw the book at him on Brian McNamee’s say-so. A lot of observers have fallen for the ridiculous notion that McNamee had no incentive to lie. In fact, he had every incentive to say what prosecutors wanted him to say. Pettitte, on the other hand, is a longtime friend of Clemens who is facing no legal consequences for any of this.

It’s over. Never mind whether Clemens will go to the Hall of Fame. He could soon be facing much more serious problems. To quote U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., “Mr. Clemens, once again I remind you, you are under oath.”

Of pitchers and Patriots

This Sunday we can finally get that Super Bowl thing over with and start talking about baseball. Spring training’s just a few weeks away. Two quick hits this morning:

  • I’m actually glad that Johan Santana has gone to the Mets, preferring to watch the Red Sox win (or lose) with the kids. As Tom Werner says, at least he’s not going to the Yankees. And I know Pedro’s near the end of his career, but can he handle not being the Man?
  • Roger Clemens’ protestations of innocence don’t add up, but he’s made them so vehemently that I had decided to suspend judgment. But if Andy Pettitte is ready to say Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone, it’s lights out.

Oh, one other thing. Go Pats.

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