Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Bull Durham decision smacks of McCarthyism

The Tennessean

Many consider Bull Durham the best baseball movie of all time. Personally, I'll go with the quirkier Bang The Drum Slowly, with a young Robert DeNiro, but I won't quibble.

We detour into the world of movie reviews because of recent developments at the Hall of Fame. They've pulled the plug on a scheduled tribute to Bull Durham on the 15-year anniversary of its release.

The reason: The guy who played pitcher Nuke LaLoosh is Tim Robbins.

His character in the movie was a right-hander, but the real-life Robbins definitely pitches from the left side. Nuke is anti-nukes, among other things. He and significant other Susan Sarandon (who played Annie in the movie) are among Hollywood's most outspoken liberals. Their cause du jour is the war in Iraq.

This mix of left-leaning politics and right-minded baseball does not sit well with Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey, a former assistant press secretary for Ronald Reagan. The thought of Robbins and Sarandon darkening the doors of the Hall of Fame was deemed unacceptable so he black-listed the Bull Durham exhibit.

Joseph McCarthy would've been proud.

Look, if they wanted to ban Robbins, they should have done it because the guy was in Howard The Duck, not because he is anti-war.

I guess it could've been worse. If the Dixie Chicks had been on the movie's soundtrack, Petroskey might have ordered all videos of Bull Durham burned in the parking lot at the Cooperstown Blockbuster. (Personally, I started boycotting the Dixie Chicks when they recorded Fleetwood Mac's Landslide. Free speech is one thing; replacing Stevie Nicks' voice with a twanging trio is a crime against music.)

But back to the matter at hand. Wearing his politics on his sleeve, Petroskey wrote a letter to Robbins that said, in part:

"Public figures have platforms much larger than the average American's, which provides you with an extraordinary opportunity to have your views heard - and an equally large obligation to speak and act responsibly.

"We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important - and sensitive - time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which could put our troops in even more danger."

I've got a problem with this hogwash on any number of levels, but let's get to the heart of it: When Petroskey writes that public figures have platforms much larger than your average American's, he should note that his beloved Hall of Fame is full of individuals who wield great influence because they were star players.

Would Petroskey muzzle a Hall of Famer if he came to town to speak on the merits of the war in Iraq? Of course not. In his skewed view, that would be in keeping with the all-American theme of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and domestic vehicles.

Petroskey wields the power of his position like a weapon of mass dysfunction. He wants to keep politics out of the Hall of Fame as long as those politics are not to his liking. Baseball, he has decided, is a Republican sport.

Now, though, the Hall of Fame is getting an intentional walk. Roger Kahn, author of the celebrated ode-to-baseball book Boys of Summer, has canceled his appearance at a separate exhibit out of protest. Kahn's letter to Petroskey said the Hall of Fame president is "choking freedom of dissent."

If he keeps this up, Dale Petroskey will find himself running the Hall of Infamy.

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