Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dick Allen

(Click the picture for the whole story)

James' attack -- I wonder if he does those things in an attempt to avoid being too much of an outlier? He'd been getting marginalized for years as "just a stats guy" and in his writing seemed to go out of his way to avoid offending conventional wisdom when he didn't have statistical evidence on his side. Also, he played the character game a lot. If I remember correctly, he savaged Amos Otis (maybe it was Hal McRae?) for "immaturity" or some such, while praising George Brett for the example of his maturity, but Brett was known to trash bathrooms by busting up urinals with his baseball bat when he had bad games. Not a slam on James, but an observation about how difficult it is to make judgments about people, like Allen (or Al Gore, or Hillary) you don't really know, yet people -- even smart, insatiably curious people like James -- try to do it, and get it wrong, all the time.

Some of those pictures of Allen -- what a freakin' monster that guy was. He looked like he was using steroids back when nobody was using steroids. With a body like that, you'd think he could do anything. Yet I remember another baseball player, a guy named David Green, who had a magnificent body, the kind men spend hours a week in the gym to get and still not have, but who made no career for himself at all. In particular in baseball, where your eyesight is the big determinant in hitting, and your ability to throw hard determines your success as a pitcher, things like what your body looks like are misleading. Yet the tendency is to assume anyone who looks like a David Green or a Dick Allen should be superstars, and people build up these huge expectations about what they should accomplish, and when they don't live up to those expectations, accuse them of being lazy, unmotivated, underachievers. Blacks, in particular, suffer from this, as the natural racialist tendency is to see blacks as good, but animalistic, athletes who are, however, inherently lazy. Some of Allen's problems can clearly be attributed to his desire to slip that label -- he was a bright, sensitive guy, and I'm sure he understood the dynamics of his situation as well as anyone. But once people form an image of you, and aren't around you often enough to get a chance to change their minds (if they are capable of, and motivated to, do it at all), they just don't. There's a lot to learn in the Dick Allen story besides the troubles of a tremendously gifted ballplayer. His situation provides insight into how people tend to think and operate, including journalists.