At the letters: Sensitivity edition

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Ozzie Guillen went to sensitivity training this week. A lot of people think I need to join him.

The vitriol bubbled far beyond the Chicago White Sox manager's use of the word "fag" in describing Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti. It came from emails far and wide defending him and deriding homosexuality, and others excoriating Guillen and Major League Baseball for its lax punishment.

And people say sports are just games.

Not anymore. Baseball embodies all of the issues of our times: globalization, morality, huge sums of money, politics and, yes, sexuality and religion.

While I've got the pulpit the majority of the time, a free market of ideas demands other voices. So does Rog White, of Jacksonville, Fla., who wrote: "Possibly the real cowards are the sportswriters who almost always hide behind their last article, refusing to receive any response from readers."

Well, here you are, Rog, a sampling on everything from Ozzie to the Houston Astros' Craig Biggio to a guy who dreams of punching me in the face.

By the way, still waiting for that call from Bud Selig. Got another 500 or so e-mails from fans affected by baseball's silly television blackouts. I look forward to seeing the commissioner at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh this weekend so I can ask why the man who runs the game doesn't seem to care about alienating millions of fans.

OZZIE GUILLEN ("Guillen doesn't get it," June 22, 2006)

Thanks for going to bat against Ozzie. For many years I was a well-known sports fan known as "The Bleacher Preacher." A few years ago, when former Chicago Cubs pitcher Julian Tavarez made anti-gay remarks, I outed myself (again) in a Jay Mariotti column that got picked up nationally. I realize that in this day of instant news that the media sometimes makes a story out of a sound bite that's not news, but in this case it was. That incident made me wish that in the 21st century that racial slurs and name calling would be a thing of the past, like the asterisk on Roger Maris' 61 homers. For over 30 years I have been fighting for all kinds of rights including human, civil, equal, gay and even fan rights. I realize that there are "gays" who are hetero-phobic just as there are "straights" who are homophobic. Thanks for telling it like it should be now and forever, on and off the playing field.

Jerry Pritikin

Found that column. Tavarez called the crowd in San Francisco, among other things, "faggots." Mariotti wrote: "For that reason, I urge the immediate involvement of Bud Selig, whose heavy-handed stance on (John) Rocker represented some of his finest work. A suspension of 10 days and a $500 fine would hit the spot, recalling the arbitrator who reduced Rocker's suspension last year from 73 days to 27 days and a fine from $20,000 to $500 – the maximum a commissioner may fine a player while using his 'best interests of baseball' powers." Like Guillen, Tavarez was fined and ordered to attend sensitivity-training classes.

Ozzie Guillen is in America. The Taliban does not rule here. Their ideology of controlling the verbal output of people with whom they disagree does not apply in America. It never will. I can't stand Ozzie Guillen's behavior and his speech, but that's what I love about America. Even a pompous, publicity-hungry schmuck should and must be able to speak and speak freely here, as if he was an inner-city rap star making his latest hit. Or a journalist trying to impose his brand of social and speech control on people in the sport he covers, rather than covering the sport itself.

John Ziccardi
Myrtle Beach, S.C.

This isn't a freedom-of-speech issue. It's about a public figure, a man whose wisdom resonates deeply in one of the country's biggest cities, using a word that, no matter the aim, is harmful and hurtful. Guillen is a tremendous manager, maybe the game's most adept at getting his players to trust in him and his decisions. But the same qualities that translate well in the clubhouse do not in the public, and that's where Guillen must watch himself.

Get off your high horse. You've never called someone that you didn't like a bad name? Personally, I find Guillen's straightforwardness refreshing. In this era of canned quotes, it's nice to have someone speak what's on their mind. I've read at least a dozen articles this year from your contemporaries citing the rise of the White Sox due to their adoption of the rough-and-tumble, not-so-politically correct personality of Guillen. The guy makes a semi-off-colored remark in the heat of battle and you're calling for his head? I would call your article idiotic, but you would probably spend a night in a mental ward desperate to get a "mentally challenged" person to vilify me for being insensitive.

Jeff Brown
Louisville, Ky.

Thanks for your article about Ozzie and going to Crew. I was actually there that night watching the game intently – that is, when the guy next to me didn't obstruct my view on a regular basis by standing up.

I have read everything written about this online, and was most impressed by your insight. I am a gay man who is a Sox fanatic. I wrote the Sox this morning, demanding an apology. Gay teens actually commit suicide because of the hate that radiates from that word. It's not about PC, it's serious stuff.

Tim Winkler

Why keep bashing Ozzie? When I was growing up we had a saying. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. We live in a time when people can't say what they feel. So who cares what Ozzie says?

Jim Eplin
Huntington, W.Va.

This remark is aimed at your column about Ozzie Guillen calling a reporter a fag. It's kind of ironic that he uses that word so freely, yet during the playoffs last year, he was kissing guys on the lips on national television. Weird, huh?

Torrance, Calif.

Not really. I don't think Guillen is a homophobe. While talking about his gay acquaintances seems like a lame excuse to trot out, I absolutely buy it. He's an engaging person who has friends male and female, black and white, gay and straight. He also goes on soliloquies that sometimes end in bad places.

I found your story on Ozzie Guillen and homophobia particularly absurd. Not only are you patently out to vilify Guillen from the first word of your article, but you also choose for your case study a bar in Uptown? Go where the story is. Think south of Madison, for a start. Gay Sox fans probably have more interesting things to say than North Siders, whose main interest in the story is taking offense from it.

You write, "What Guillen does not understand, and what's difficult for so many to grasp, is that intent never assuages the power of words. They are like fired bullets, capable of severe damage and incapable of being taken back, weapons of the reckless."

Intent never assuages the power of words? Where does this count for wisdom, let alone truth? Have you ever said anything in anger, and later said, "I said some things I didn't mean"? Then you're pretty much counting on intent assuaging the power of words. People say things they don't mean. Mature people understand this, and let people off the hook. Petty people claim words can never be taken back.

One big problem with the whole "fired bullets" analogy is, and perhaps you're unfamiliar with this custom, that with hurtful words there is this curious phenomenon called "the apology," which can do a lot in service of mitigating their damage.

I'm not sure why you chose a piece of journalism to advance your theory that every word spoken is an uncorrectable verbal act. At best it's a bit out of place. And the theory isn't true anyway.

And the cherry on top, your bravado in calling Guillen a coward is the final absurdity. If your over-the-top political correctness is to be taken at face value, you might busy your mind on whether differences in courage are any less worthy of your lukewarm, offend-no-one mentality, than are difference in sexuality. Don't you worry that you might be offending some cowardly people who are also fans of good journalism?

Alan Brady

Crew was the biggest gay sports bar in Chicago. I knew the White Sox game would be on there. Because I didn't know which gay bars on the South Side showed Sox games, I didn't want to risk hopping around ones in search of just the right place. Anyway, there were plenty of Sox fans at Crew.

If not for the public and organizational pressure, Guillen would not have apologized. He believed what he said – that Mariotti is a wretch for not showing up in the White Sox's clubhouse, and that he needs to grow some cojones. That is his right.

A man, though, is only as good as his word. In this case, Guillen's was wrong.

I'm 15 years old and a lifetime baseball fan and player, not to mention a die-hard White Sox fan. I play on the same baseball team as Kenny Williams' son, the Clubbers. Anyway, I think that this whole subject about Ozzie calling Mariotti a fag is being blown way out of proportion. Ozzie definitely should have used a more careful choice of words, and he realizes that. Even after 20 years here, he is still learning the ways of the United States. So by no means do his actions call for a suspension. Since nowadays the word is so common in everyday language, most gays think nothing of it, like you said in your article. Kids don't get suspended from school for calling one another fags. And by no means am I implying that using the word is OK. I most certainly am not. It is derogatory and still offends the other portion of gay people. Also, it is true that "intent never assuages the power of words." But Guillen was not trying to bash gays, he was just trying to get Jay Mariotti off of his case. I watch Around the Horn, and Mariotti gets a bit "overheated" at times, and if I were Ozzie, I would have done the same thing, but using a smarter choice of words.

Gabe Henriques

Please, for the love of all that's holy, someone please take the voting away from the fans for the MLB All-Star team. If not, is there anyone out there who can explain why Mark Redman makes the AL squad with a record of 5-4 and a 5.59 ERA? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Kevin Siegel
Altoona, Pa.

Since we're on the subject of Guillen … we'll refrain from tearing into him for choosing the worst All-Star in major-league history. No Kansas City player is worthy, and as long as home-field advantage in the World Series depends on the All-Star Game, the 32 best players from each league should represent. Which is to say: Cut the farce and award home-field advantage to the team with the best regular-season record.

CRAIG BIGGIO ("Biggio nears gold standard," July 3, 2006)

I agree that Biggio deserves a great deal of credit, as do most of the individuals that you mentioned. However, I think you did not mention perhaps the best hitter of his generation and a guy that has a shot at 3,000 hits as well: Manny Ramirez. Because Manny is Manny, many people do not really look at his stats or, for that matter, take him all that seriously, but when you evaluate his numbers we are watching, or missing, depending on your perspective, one of the great hitters of all time.

His numbers this year certainly do not signal that he is slowing down, and being in a good hitting Boston lineup, he should continue to flourish barring injury or a sudden decline in production. With over 2,000 hits, he certainly has an outside chance at the 3,000 mark, and unless he tailspins quickly, he should surpass 600 home runs and 2,000 RBIs, both numbers that only the true giants of the game have approached.

Frank Campney
San Antonio, Texas

Lots of sentiment similar to Frank's. My only reason for excluding Manny is that I just don't see him playing until he's 40 years old. He's good for about 170 hits a season, and in order to reach 3,000, he would need another six years after this year. Ramirez is one of the greatest hitters ever – his 165-RBI season in 1999 stands up against the best of all time – and is probably a shoo-in Hall of Famer. Three thousand, though, is a stretch.

If Harold Baines had limped along for two more seasons to reach 3,000 hits, would you put him in the Hall of Fame? If not, why not? His career average is higher, and he hit about 150 more home runs. If you look at all the sub-.300 players who amassed 3,000 hits (Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Cal Ripken Jr., Dave Winfield, Robin Yount), they all have other distinguishing qualities, such as power, stolen bases or MVP awards. Nothing against Biggio, but it's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Consistent Decent Fellers.

Steve Lubliner
Petaluna, Calif.

With all due respect, if Biggio gets into the Hall of Fame with 3,000 hits over a 21-year career, then there has to be some type of formula to get Jim Rice in.

Now, playing 21 years in the big leagues is truly a great physical feat. However, if Jim Rice did not have vision problems, he would have played 20 years.

Biggio is a fine ballplayer, but has he ever been feared? Rice was the most feared hitter in MLB from 1976-1983. Look at his three-year stint from 1977-1979. Not even Ruth, Bonds, Williams or Aaron can say they had a better three-year run.

Biggio is a tough grinder, but if you baseball writers put him in the Hall, then you better have the best argument in the world for not putting Rice in there.

Tim Fram
Methuen, Mass.

The sentiment of the last two letters is similar, seeming to discriminate against longevity. It's the inevitable backlash against the modern-day player, who is able to sustain his career to a later age because of nutrition, advancements in treatment or, dubiously, performance-enhancing drugs.

Point is, staying around as long as Biggio has would test even the heartiest of players. There is an element of greatness to consistency over a long career. No, Biggio does not have one special characteristic – an element that I advocated in pitching Omar Vizquel for the Hall of Fame – but he does have numbers: 20th in runs currently, and likely to finish the season 17th, ninth in doubles, with a good shot to leap to seventh, and an outside shot at 300 homers and 400 stolen bases.

As for Jim Rice – if I didn't have talent problems, I'd have been a 20-year big leaguer, too.

By the way, I'll take at least six of Ruth's three-year marks (1919-21, any of the five from 1926-32), three of Williams' (1940-42, 1946-48, 1947-49), three of Aaron's (1959-61, 1960-62, 1961-63) and, steroids aside, one of Bonds (2000-02) over Rice's overrated 1977-79 stretch.

I didn't think it was possible to get me to say anything in defense of "The Crook," but your comment in the Biggio piece crossed the line.

Pete Rose absolutely doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball. He isn't baseball's all-time hit leader in my book, either, because he used his position as manager to keep himself in the lineup three extra years. (Anyone with shame would have retired after hitting .245 with no homers in 1983.) Had Ty Cobb been willing to play until he hit .219, he probably would have had 5,000 hits.

But linking him to Rafael Palmeiro? That's messed up. No way Palmeiro is anywhere close to 3,000 without chemical help. Even I don't think Rose was using – and he was a good player for about 3,400 of those hits. (Another 300 to 400 if you like banjo-hitting first basemen, which I don't.)

Heard of the phrase "give the devil his due"? This is one of those cases. Rose is the Black Knight, but he belongs at the grownup table.

Woodrow L. Goode

I stuck Rose with Palmeiro because they are both shamed for their actions. And while Rose probably did not use steroids, he admitted to Playboy in 1979 that he used amphetamines, which certainly helped contribute to his dirtbag style of play.

As much as you like to extol the negativity that surrounds Barry Bonds, the very least you could have done is mention that he also stands a good shot of entering the 3,000-hit club near the end of next season. He currently has 2,784, just 216 away.

Todd Jordan

Same thing with Ramirez. Can't see Bonds playing that long, even if he does move to the American League to become a designated hitter.

Now there's a question I'd like to have answered definitively: When do we start considering Ichiro for the Hall of Fame? Sure, it's early, but as you mentioned in your column about Craig Biggio, if we count Ichiro's hits while playing in Japan, he is closing in on 3,000 and beyond.

Do we count international service? For example, didn't Ichiro play on the team that won the first international competition this past spring? Add that to two batting titles, an MVP and breaking the hits record for one season, when can we count him in?

Mike Wallace
Tallahassee, Fla.

Great question, one I had myself two years ago when I wrote about Ichiro's chances at the Hall. The answer depends on who you ask. Tracy Ringolsby, the Hall of Fame writer, said he won't include Ichiro's standout seasons in Japan. Larry Stone, the Seattle Times baseball writer, said he would. Sentiment about Japanese baseball might have changed, too, with their victory in the World Baseball Classic. Of course, the discussion could be moot. If Ichiro continues to play like he has, he's in based on his play in MLB alone.

You forgot to mention Julio Franco. If he plays until 60, he will be a shoo-in for 3,000 hits!

Morristown, N.J.

Why not go for 4,256? Franco will still be playing when he's 80, right?

THE CUBS ("Cubs' Baker feeling heat," June 27, 2006)

I happen to be one of the few living people who has actually seen the Cubs play in the World Series, in 1945, seventh game with the Detroit Tigers. I sat in the first row in the center-field bleachers. I think the ticket cost $2.50. Even then the Cubs disappointed their fans when Detroit scored five runs in the first inning. Quite a letdown for me after standing in line since 3 o'clock that dark and cold Chicago morning. The only good thing about the episode was that I am and have always been a White Sox fan. Do you think in any of our lifetimes we will ever see the Cubs play in a World Series?

Lester Kaplan
Las Vegas

Only if Ponce de Leon comes back and finds what he was once looking for.

Why not point the finger at Jim Hendry? He's the GM who put this team together.

Martin Gruner

What? For giving Jacque Jones $16 million to keep him from going to the Kansas City Royals, which has a wonderful track record with personnel decisions? And for trading three pitching prospects 25 years old or less for a one-year Juan Pierre rental? And for getting bupkis for Corey Patterson? Yeah, lots of this does fall on Hendry. But he's got a two-year contract, two more years than Dusty Baker. Sometimes, the wrong person takes the sword. In the Cubs' case, the right person might be everyone.

INTERLEAGUE PLAY ("Hits and misses," July 1, 2006)

As a baseball purist I don't like interleague play, but I have come to appreciate the rivalry games and have enjoyed going to the ballpark to see teams I wouldn't otherwise see.

But I have to contend with your statement that the rivalry games outweigh those games that don't make sense (Kansas City-Pittsburgh, Arizona-Oakland, etc.). If that were true, then people, baseball writers especially, wouldn't criticize these matchups. These matchups exist because you just can't have the Mets and the Yankees play without having the Devil Rays and the Nationals play each other. That's why there are no flaws in the system. If there is, then the system should not be incorporated into the schedule.

If interleague play is truly a good thing then those illogical matchups wouldn't matter. But since the writers complain about them every single interleague weekend I can only deduce that, on the whole, interleague play is not something that should be continued.

David Small
Minot, N.D.

Sorry, but it's not "The Facts of Life" – just because you take the good and take the bad doesn't mean there aren't flaws. A positive outweighing a negative doesn't erase the negative; it makes it palatable. That's what interleague play is: Great sometimes, awful others with scant in between – and something that should continue.

What a nice story about Joe Mauer. Would be nice if someone wrote a nice story about the best team in baseball, the Chicago White Sox.


Aren't the Detroit Tigers the best team in baseball?

There's a simple solution in baseball (and any sport) to steroids, hGH, etc: Don't test for any of them. Instead, require an annual polygraph. You pass, you play. You don't pass, you watch on TV (where it's not blacked out). Sure, go ahead and stipulate that polygraph results cannot be used in court. We're not in court. You pass, you play. Simple. As for individual baseball statistics, asterisk every stat since 1994 (the year the rich whiners quit … or rich quitters whined). The asterisk signifies "chemically assisted." If a player wants the asterisk removed, he can pass a polygraph. No pass, no removal. Yes, this presumes guilt. So? We're not in court. But at least this way we'll know who we can cheer for honestly, and which players to encourage our children to look up to.

Tyree Campbell
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I want to dislike this idea. Lie-detector tests, while good barometers, are not infallible and not 100 percent accurate. And the unbelievable lack of trust it shows would destroy any hopes of a good working relationship between the owners and the players. But … if MLB truly wants to root out doping, at the cost of civil liberties and symbiosis, polygraphs are a possibility.

I am afraid to read your articles. I very rarely agree with you, and even when I do, I still want to punch you. I guess my question would be: How much hate e-mail do you get in a one-hour span, on average? One hundred, 150?

Missouri City, Texas, and Iraq

People from Texas can read?

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