In a parallel universe, in which exists a society that values open discourse, Lance Berkman‘s recent comments that he felt “like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros” were met with a spirited discussion on the merits of the argument, as writers weighed in on the pros and cons and fans heretofore unfamiliar with the inside dealings of the commissioner started asking questions about the head of Major League Baseball. Regrettably, we live in the other universe, inhabited by the fearful and cowardly men who neutered Big Puma and drove him to apologize to Bud Selig.
This is of course the way that our brave new politically correct culture functions today, so the only question was how many days it would take for the thought police to demand Berkman’s prostration. But somehow it’s more disturbing that it has happened in baseball, which has in the past represented a kind of place apart from the fatuity and cares of “the real world.” Let’s review what Berkman actually said:
I feel basically like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros. If he called me, I would tell him. I think that’s exactly what it was. To tell [Crane], ‘We’re going to hold the sale of the team up until you guys agreed to switch’? It just happened that the Astros were being sold at an optimal time for that to happen.
Besides Berkman, the one honorable party in the kerfuffle is perhaps Crane, who after all was one of those implicated but who alone responded to the context of the criticism rather than sulk, like Selig, or kowtow, like Mike Matheny, Bill Dewitt and company. And for the record, Crane doesn’t even really deny Berkman’s core allegation, confirming that he received a conditional price reduction and saying “Would we have preferred to stay in the National League? Probably, yeah. But that wasn’t the deal that was presented to us.”
Not only does the mandated groveling and coerced apology lower the quality of our public discourse, it also limits and perverts our language. The word “extort” does correspond to a criminal law. But its meaning — “to obtain (something) by force, threats, or other unfair means” — is broader, and a person can use it without necessarily accusing someone of breaking a law. In this context, no lucid-minded observer thinks that Berkman truly meant that Selig should be criminally charged and face up to 20 years in the clink. And for the record, in using the word “like,” Berkman technically used a simile, which, for the benefit of those like Selig too concerned about bruised egos and image, is a literary device or figure of speech that compares two things. Here are some more examples:
- In reprimanding Berkman, Matheny and the Cardinals showed themselves to be as spineless as a worm.
- For being one of the richest and most powerful men in baseball, Bud Selig acts like a baby who needs his diaper changed.
- Political correctness has made us like a nation of castrates.
Lest anyone demand an apology, we sure hope we haven’t offended anyone.
One of the great joys of baseball is its legacy of notable, quotable characters, who have supplied fans with comments both humorous and serious. To the extent that baseball’s powers that be quash those like Berkman who merely express their minds about the game’s issues — well within the bounds of proper criticism — the sport is poorer and less interesting. We have enough stifling of human expression, hypocritical political correctness and grievance mongering in broader culture. Is it too much to ask that baseball take the higher road?