I used to be really into baseball when I was a kid. I couldn’t play it, or any other sport, due to chronic awkwardness, but I collected baseball cards (I had a great collection that was stolen from my apartment’s basement in college) and followed every team with a statistical obsession from about 1986 to 1989. This chronicling urge went away late in high school, and since then, I have only watched the sport as if from a great distance, as if it were played on Mars – though I went to Fenway a few times while I was in Boston and I’ve watched a fair number of games  over the years.

One of the side effects of my falling away from baseball is that I didn’t follow baseball during most of the years where it became more and more associated with illicit drug use. I remember Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, for example, as exemplar players on the 1988 A’s, as future certain Hall of Famers, not as disgraced cheaters. So I look at the current A-Rod controversy with a different eye than some.

Baseball is infamous for having an unforgiving memory. Shoeless Joe is a fixer. Forever. Roger Maris is an asterisk. Forever. Pete Rose is a gambler. Forever. McGwire, Canseco, Bonds, etc are cheaters. Forever. The same culture that enshrines men in Cooperstown for eternity is just as quick to bury them in disgrace for all time. Some of this is due to how records are made in the sport – the great players are the ones that seem incapable of screwing up anything. DiMaggio’s endless hitting streak, Ripken’s endurance, Aaron’s general inability to hit less than 40 homers for 20 seasons, all are testimony to how the sport values quantitative consistency and reliability. It’s a very conserative sport, in that sense, a position that has benefits and disadvantages. The main benefit is that it inspires players to great heights. The main disadvantage is that in such a system, success can very quickly become its own reward, and the means can become fuzzy.

In other words, baseball brought drug use on itself to a certain extent; the intense competition to maintain consistent numbers in the MLA combined with the availability of drugs that would help players produce (and continue to produce) those numbers more or less guaranteed many players would use them. There was no prexisting clubhouse culture, until recently, that frowned upon them; the game looked the other way because quite frankly, McGwire and his ilk really helped baseball by hitting a lot of home runs and reinvigorating interest in a struggling sport.

I don’t expect Bud Selig, the commissioner, to do anything that I would suggest, and I know the managerial culture, established a billion years ago by Landis and others, would forbid this on principle. But I think Selig should make an important addendum to the current hardline stance on drug use in baseball, and that’s to expressly pardon everyone who used banned substances before this year.

It would be a nice move for several reasons. One, it would firmly close the door on a sour period of baseball’s history and show that the sport is more interesting in looking forward than obsessing about past drug use.  Two, it would acknowledge that baseball, well, dropped the ball on drug use two decades ago. Three, it would encourage people like McGwire to finally open up and tell their stories without fear of reprisal. Four, it wouldn’t change the way the game is played – banned substances would still be banned, but now there would be a moral charge behind not using them as well as a legal one.

Of course, this won’t happen in a million years, because baseball is something of a feudal monarchy, Selig still hasn’t figured out that pardoning Pete Rose would be magnimous, and plenty of fans and players, not to mention the notoriously picky HoF voters, would, with some justification, complain that a bunch of cheaters had gotten off soft. But it’s just a game – it’s got a ton of money in it, but there is no crime in baseball, including the use of banned substances, that rises to the seriousness level of a speeding ticket. And those are forgiven all the time.

Ehrman at Rhodes

Bart Ehrman is giving a talk at Rhodes College here in Memphis Thursday. The topic is “Is the New Testament Forged?” – a loaded question if I’ve ever seen one. I’m planning on going, along with a few other people I know, and I’ll give a report here afterward.

Ehrman is an interesting cat and I look forward to this, as well as to the response of the Memphis audience. I have a number of his recent books, which are of the “popular scholarship” variety, though certainly not lacking in quality. I expect if questions are allowed afterward, he’ll be queried about the Gospel of Judas translation. I have a different area in mind, if I get the chance.


Judd Gregg just walked away from the Commerce Secretary job. I’ve been trying to ignore the GOP’s new quest to make Obama fail by spitting on the floor in response whenever he makes a biparistan gesture (such as nominating a Republican for a crucial Cabinet position) but this is beyond the pale. It will be interesting to see how Obama responds. There aren’t many other moderate Republicans to pick. The high road is the more difficult road, but I would expect him to continue to take it.

I’m boycotting Kellogg

That’s right. I’m starting a boycott of one (maybe two, if H joins in) of Kellogg, who have dropped Michael Phelps from sponsorship for the horrible crime of smoking from a bong whilst 23. Their list of products is somewhat formidable (No Corn Flakes, Eggos, Cheez-its or Pop-Tarts!) but I’m betting they’ll flinch before I do.

The kid won eight gold medals for his country. EIGHT GOLD MEDALS. EIGHT. GOLD. MEDALS. Not that I advocate breaking the law, but the last time I looked, pot isn’t a performance-enhancing drug. If he won any of those medals after partaking, I say the Olympic Committee should give him a ninth.

The President of the United States – the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES – admitted during his campaign to smoking pot when he was young. I wonder if Kellogg thinks President Obama’s behavior isn’t “consistent with the image of Kellogg.”

I can’t do anything to hurt USA Swimming, which suspended him for 3 months, but I’m going to miss my Eggos.

Still with us, apparently

N.T. Wrong has given an interview after ceasing the publication of his great, irreverent blog. I particularly like this part:

It goes without saying that I continue to see a valid distinction between ‘use’ and ‘interpretation’ (and I like Umberto Eco’s theoretical approach here), and I place scholars whom I encounter somewhere along the continuum between them. Frustratingly, in reading the publications of biblical studies, there are too many of these scholars far closer to the ‘use’ end of the continuum, so much so that it is just annoying to have to continually second guess whether a particular biblical scholar is interested in discovering what is true or only has an interest in defending what is already believed to be true. The state of biblical commentaries — a ‘primary secondary’ source for biblical studies — is a simply appalling example of this.

I talked about this problem in the diss repeatedly. I didn’t use the word ‘annoying’, of course; I think it was ‘frustrating’. Speaking of words, I’m also glad to see that we don’t share hobbies.

Of New Doctors and Februarys

I had my public defense last Thursday, and it went swimmingly. I should probably change the description of this blog to ‘newly minted Ph.D.’ I could have done that last October, of course, but I’m superstitious and cautious.

February is shaping up to be an intense month, work-wise. I just made a list of what has to be done before March 1 (or at least what I know about right now) and it’s pretty scary. My decision to go for the dissertation award last fall is looking like the right one; the time freed up as a result has proven invaluable.