by | Apr 13, 2003 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There aren’t many great movies about sports but there is one about baseball and it’s called “Bull Durham.” It was made in 1988 and people today still swear by it. It was funny and warm and acerbic and crazy, much like the game itself.

So beloved is this film, that the Baseball Hall of Fame had a 15th anniversary celebration scheduled for it later this month at Cooperstown, N.Y. I say “had” because the event was just canceled. The reason it was canceled was because the president of the Hall of Fame, a Michigan native named Dale Petroskey, didn’t like the antiwar comments made by two of the film’s stars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

Never mind that Robbins and Sarandon are only two characters in the film.
(Kevin Costner is the big star.) Never mind that Robbins, who was stunned, said he had no intention of speaking politically at the event.

“I was looking forward to getting away from the war and politics for a weekend,” he said. “Of course I wouldn’t have said anything. It’s an event about a movie.”

Never mind all that. Mr. Petroskey, who worked under Ronald Reagan as a White House assistant press secretary, apparently sees Robbins and Sarandon as unworthy of an appearance in Cooperstown, a place that, over the years, has enshrined drunks, racists, drug addicts and adulterers.

“We believe your very public criticism . . .” he wrote in a letter released to news agencies last week, “helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger.”

Oh boy.

Infield fly rule and Mideast

Where do you begin with such misguided patriotism? First of all, it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame, not the Pentagon. Petroskey’s political views are no more appropriate there than Sarandon’s and Robbins’. Who is this guy? Who decided the Hall of Fame’s position on the Middle East?

Secondly, let’s get beyond this “putting our troops in danger” thing. A couple of Hollywood types expressing their opinions does not put bullets in the face of our troops. Half the world spoke out against the war: I haven’t seen our men and women going down because of it. What I have seen is President Bush, in a message to the Iraqi people, saying
“you will soon be free.” Saying “the tyranny will end.” Saying “the government belongs to you.”

That’s funny. What Bush wants to give to Iraqis, Mr. Petroskey won’t share with his fellow Americans.

You know what you get when you cross patriotism with censorship? McCarthyism. We lived through that once. We’re supposed to be smarter.

Petroskey is not being smart. He is being smug. Perhaps he is swept up in this notion that the more you hug the flag, the more popular you become.

I say hugging a flag is simple. Hugging what it stands for is harder.

Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh

At one point in “Bull Durahm,” Costner teaches Robbins the cliches he’ll need for baseball. He teaches him how to reveal nothing, how to say what people want to hear, like, “We gave 100 percent” and “I’m just here to help the team.”

At first Robbins objects. He says it’s not honest. Costner tells him that’s the point.

It’s a funny scene. But there’s nothing funny when someone wants you to live that way. I may not hold with things that Robbins and Sarandon say — in fact, I don’t — but their right to say it and not be ostracized is a cherished tenet of American life.

Which is why these new “super patriots” like Petroskey are actually more un-American than the people they criticize. “Public figures, such as you,” he wrote to Robbins and Sarandon, have an “obligation to act and speak responsibly.”

“Responsibly” apparently means agreeing with him.

We’re on dangerous ground here, folks. Rather than let hatemongers divide us into right and left, pro-war vs. antiwar, we ought to celebrate the things that bring us together: things like freedom, the right to speak our minds, and baseball.

Petroskey just struck out on three pitches.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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