Almost as though he had read that I’d not be missing him when he’s gone, the Red Sox’s David Ortiz reached out and touched my heart over the weekend. He did so in perhaps my favorite way possible: by telling an old man to sit down and shut up.
The old man was Goose Gossage. The previous week, Richie G. had loudly, and repeatedly (because those appearance fees aren’t going to drive themselves up), shouted at clouds in the shape of abstract concepts like "fun". There are any number of things actively and egregious wrong -- ignoring that they are just washed out retreads of "number crunching nerds have ruined baseball" arguments that died a decade ago -- with what Gossage said from an actuarial standpoint.
But it’s how he said it that should rub pretty much anyone with half a brain (or a quarter of a social conscience) the wrong way. And the "how" is likely what set off Ortiz on his path to ether not just Gossage, but any pitcher dumb enough to open their mouth about hitters celebrating after taking them yard.
Toronto masher Jose Bautista was singled out in particular by Gossage, who charmingly called the batter a "f*cking disgrace" to the game and Latin players as a community (he also mentioned Yoenis Cespedes, as presumably Yasiel Puig was too risky of a name for him to try to pronounce). This lecturing of players like Jose Bautista is the latest in a decades long line of old white men telling everyone else how the world should be run. Ben Folds Five had a song about it. It’s good.
It may seem like a stretch to call Gossage an outright racist instead of just "old" and "living life buried under decades of institutionalized racism". At least, in the sense that I can't imagine (and am certainly not implying) that he'd think any less of someone because they were a person of color. He is by all accounts a widely beloved, if a little kooky, member of the baseball family for good reason. What he said about Bautista might even be seen in some circles as him standing up for the traditions and legacy of Latin ballplayers that came before Bautista, men who Gossage proudly called teammates and presumably friends.
That’s almost assuredly the idea he had in his head when he said it.
But the problem with that is this: it presupposes that Jose Bautista does, has ever wanted or claimed to, represent the entire history and legacy of Latin players in the Major Leagues. It presupposes that there’s a monolithic view among all of the Latin players who have ever played as to what is and isn’t okay. And most egregiously, it presupposes that Goose Gossage should, in any way, be speaking for that community under any circumstances about anything.
Even a cursory understanding of concepts like intersectionality -- and what happens when you say stupid things into a live mic -- would have likely kept Gossage from breaching a divide he had likely never even contemplated existing. But we live in a world where the only thing more popular than cultural appropriation is telling communities of color and other groups when they shouldn’t be offended by things. Because, as my friend David Roth once put it, "It takes a special and singularly stupid sort of narcissism to have the predominant response to a crowd chanting a demand that their lives be taken seriously be "you are making me uncomfortable and talking much too loud."
Which we have.
And that’s how you get some mustachioed grandpas telling entire communities he doesn't belong to what’s what as it relates to their representation.
For his part, Ortiz largely side stepped the race issue -- despite two Latin players being the only ones, outside of Cam Newton, Gossage publicly named (this despite the interview coming in the wake of Bryce Harper’s comments about baseball in flux, and despite the existence of the very white Rob Gronkowski uh oh now it's a trend) -- and instead focused on the very core of Gossage’s argument: that he was trying to Make Baseball Great Again.
This core conceit -- that he was only standing up for the old school values that made the game great his day -- allowed Gossage, and has for ages angry old timers just like him do the same: to pass off problematic, idiotic, and altogether useless babble as something of real value. It creates this false narrative about what the game used to be, and by extension what it meant. This in turn creates a dichotomy between eras that are questionable, at best.
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These appeals speak to that constituency Aaron Sorkin once referred to as "a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time". And that longing is fed by a nostalgia that runs deep not just in players but some of the Best Fans in Baseball, and other communities.It’s poppycock, of course. Pure and simple. Gossage’s prime -- or at least when he was winning Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award -- saw players like Reggie Jackson (who Ortiz cites specifically to highlight Gossage’s hypocrisy) celebrate just as much as the modern day counterparts. And lest we forget, in terms of flash, Ozzie Smith's gymnastics routine.
"Old school" is what people use when they aren’t comfortable with admitting that change scares them. Even when that change isn’t anything more than the reality of what happened to them pushing up hard against how it felt to them when it was happening.
Ortiz knows this. He also knows exactly the reason that Gossage and others make comments like this about players like Baustista: they are upset about not being good enough at baseball to stop what causes the celebration -- some crazy jack to the upper deck off a hanging curve that got lost in the zone -- and don’t know how else to deal with it.
But, as Ortiz says, that’s a problem that's not on him, or any other group of players, to solve. Or as he puts it: ""This ain’t no old school. This is what it is in today’s day. You pull yourself together and get people out, or you pull yourself together and you go home. That’s what it is."