By Louise Ure
I’m a San Francisco girl, so I’ve been especially interested in baseball this last few weeks.
Unless you’re a hermit living off the grid, you probably know that Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s longstanding home run record of 755 on Saturday and tried to reach the magic 756 at a home game last night. Alas, to no avail.
And while that’s a lot of pressure, that’s also pretty cool, right? I mean, he’s making more money than God and he’s a master at his craft, even if he is an arrogant SOB with all the credibility of Alberto Gonzales in front of a Senate Judiciary committee.
I could have hoped that Hank Aaron and Commissioner Bud Selig would be better gents during this home run hunt, but I guess they’re doing what they have to do.
Does Bonds deserve to be called the best home run hitter in all of baseball? Will his name ever be typed without an asterisk?
Don’t give me any shit, you sports nuts out there. I don’t care if he took steroids. We’ve all got our crutches. So what if his head and feet are three sizes bigger than they were a couple of years ago? I know writers whose heads swell up with the slightest compliment. And my shoe size can increase with a big lunch.
Whether you come down on the asterisk or no asterisk side of the argument, one thing is clear: Barry Bonds, like just about any major sports figure today, lives under a microscope.
For a moment I’d like you to walk a mile in those size thirteens of his. How would you like it if your performance … like that of any baseball player or quarterback or point guard or golfer … was followed and publicly critiqued at every turn?
Imagine if authors were subjected to the same analysis, scrutiny and statistics that sports figures endure. Your every move would be analyzed; each sentence parsed and graded.
“He’s been in a slump. Only sold three books at his last signing.”
“Her Ingram sales numbers are down this week from the same week last year.”
“His word count is up, but the sophisticated analogies and literary references are down.”
Sure, we’ve got our share of folks who tell us just what they think of us. We start growing a thicker skin well before publication, back when that first critic in our writers’ group says the characters are dull and the writing is flat.
The skin hardens with each subsequent rejection … first by agents, then by editors.
“The willing suspension of disbelief does not mean that you have to grab it by the throat, suspend it in mid-air and then shake it until it is dead.”
“I just wasn’t as wowed as I’d hoped to be.”
Later, even the copy editors become critics of our work.
“On page 37 you’ve described the cowlick on the back of his head. Please note that on page 246 it has moved to the front of his head.”
“This courtroom scene is set on a Sunday. Did you intend that?”
And they rarely add a smiley face notation.
By the time the book is published, we’ve practically grown a carapace.
Reviews can be elating, illuminating or just plain hurtful. Maybe you learn to take them all with a measure of salt after a few books. At this point though, I still disbelieve the good ones, learn from the thoughtful ones … and memorize the negative ones.
“Despite a clunky and obvious plot …”
“I read this book so you don’t have to.”
But, even with all that commentary, we still don’t have to put up with the daily microscope of the media or the analysis of every day’s work like those sports figures do.
“She promised a new scene, but only wrote five hundred words today.”
“Her Amazon ranking has slipped in the last hour, and now a full 80% of the people who click on her page wind up buying Laura Lippman’s book instead.”
“He’s oh-for-four in awards nominations this year. Doesn’t look like he’s going to the Edgars.”
You’d think we’d all be turtles by now, jaded and hard-shelled when someone comments on our words and our work. And mostly we are.
But then along comes some nameless blogger or Amazon reviewer or dull-witted relative who can still cut us to the core with a hasty, inexpert jab. And we still bleed. We put our hearts out there on the tracks and wait for the train to come along. And so it does.
But hey, things could be worse. We could be Barry Bonds.
"To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."
– Elbert Hubbard
Oh, my heart is bleeding. With the salaries these guys get? For playing ball?
Sorry, Louise – this is a non-starter! 😉
They get paid to play. Not to be flayed. (Although I agree with you about the salaries. Don’t get me started on how much teachers should make!)
Oh Louise, you might just have pressed one of my buttons! The baseball player story even made the UK papers, and what your average Brit knows about baseball can be written on the back of a postage stamp, with enough room for the complete works of Ed McBain alongside it :O)
Our equivalent is what Premiership footballer (soccer to you!) players earn. And I’m firmly of the view that once you’re in the public domain and charging people money to come and see you play, you’re then fair game for *fair* comment.
And as a reviewer, I’ve said often enough that once writers are published, they’re fair game for *constructive* criticism.
As always you get me thinking!
I think to do really well in fiction you absolutely have to be somewhat masochistic.
I mean this with total sincerity.
You’ve got to LIKE to be fucked with.
But then in complete juxtaposition to this — to be really, REALLY good, you’ve got to have the heart of a child and eyes as wide as Jimmy Stewart’s in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
It’s rare that those two extremes find their way into one soul.
Shaz, “fair game for fair comment?” Absolutely. But oh, I would hate to be under the scrutiny that some of these players (and celebrities) are. What you buy at the drugstore, what you wear, how you smile, who you love. Ugh.
“You’ve got to have the heart of a child and eyes as wide as Jimmy Stewart’s in ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'”
Stacey, nobody’s ever said it better. And I do know a couple of folks like that.
I wish you could hear me clapping, Louise!
Another good one, Louise! (I agree with you and Alex, et alii, about the obscene salaries these players get, especially in juxtaposition to teachers, and those who captain the ship of state.)
Do you think the daay will ever come when authors will charge for autographs (barring charity events, of course)?
Do love your wicked jabs!
Seriously, I agree with Alexandra on this one. You can call me an idiot every day of the week in front of the world if you’re paying me $18 million a year. I’ll just sit back and light another cigar with a hundred dollar bill.
Hi Elaine. Is that thunder I hear or applause from the north?
And welcome back from your travels, Tom. Let’s hope that authors never start charging for their autographs. (Although the price of a book could be considered a “fee.”) Remember Carroll Shelby from the Shelby race car fame? He lost a lot points in my esteem when he started charging for his signature.
Scott, I get called an idiot every day of the week for a lot less than $18 million. But your post made me grin. Thanks.
Applause. How’s thunderous applause? 🙂
People who use steroids are cheaters. People in the public eye should expect attention–good and bad. The more money you make the more some people hate you. Dang! I love it when I get philosophical.
So well said, Louise. Players get paid what they do because people go to see the games. If people stopped going, players wouldn’t get that kind of payday. I agree with Shaz’s fair game comment. That said, I think the media and Americans have lost all perspective as to what is ‘fair’ and what constitutes news anymore.
I guess I have more gray areas in my world than you do, Patty. But you sure do look good in bright black and white!
Not only have we lost our sense of news … we’ve lost our sense of celebrity and prominence as well.
Famous for being famous. That just about says it all.
The salaries these guys get for playing ball? Hmmm.
How about the salaries these guys (King, Grisham, Patterson,) get for telling stories?
Teachers getting more money? You bet! In spades!
But, those who captain the ship of state? Current crop? They don’t even deserve minimum wage!
Bonds doesn’t make near as much as J.K. Rowling,(more power to her!) and, as you pointed out Louise, has to put up with a lot more shit.
Steroids? Does the fact that we create at the alter of an electronic keyboard, make our work less worthy than that which was scratched out with a quill? You can’t compare eras.
Talent and work ethic will out. My computer won’t make me Melville, and all the drugs in the world won’t make a mediocre player Bonds.
Louise, your week to week diversity is a treat. Keep em coming.
Jacky B., you have a world view in your comments! And I love the steroids versus keyboard analogy. It reminds me of a Keith Olbermann comment from last night about a baseball player from the 1900’s who pitches almost two times as many games (god I don’t have any of the facts in front of me) as today’s award winners … but because the plate was only 50 feet from home plate instead of today’s 60 feet and 6 inches, his feat is discounted. My, how the times do change.
Louise, I’ve been a Giants fan since the days of Willie Mays. Right on! I pray that I will see them win a World Series before I pass on the the slush pile in the sky. Anyway, I have a feeling Barry might be a better guy than people give him credit for. Blogged about this myself athttp://keithraffel.typepad.com/dot_dead_diary/2007/08/barry-bonds-and.html
LouiseI love the post.I’m thinking, a pair of Doc martens, size 13. with steel toe caps, just in case, not that we’re expecting attacks on anything, I think you touched on some wondrous isues with that lightness of compassion and sensitivity that has become your trademarkAnd behind it is that amazing awareness, it’s like what they say here , you personify the words…………..dont steal what is freely given………..in your case Better notsize 13-eens, rememberloveken
Great blog post, Keith. I, too, loved the celebration and love shown in that home plate reunion of father and son.
And Ken, the image of those size 13 Doc Martens should make a few readers gird their loins.
Ishmael … fishmeal.
I think that there’s definitely a parallel between Bonds’ pursuit of the home-run record and the situation of our best-selling colleagues. I watched the game last night and saw the disappointed faces when he hit a grounder. He’s got to hit a ball out of the park–with everyone watching his every move. In writing, when you reach that all-star status, writing a book that sells fairly well is not enough. It’s got to smash records and be on the List. That would certainly stifle my creativity, although I’m sure plenty of writers would love to be in that position.
Maybe it’s not even “smash records,” Naomi. Although I’m sure publishers expect even the biggest sellers to keep selling more each time. But the WORK itself has to be even better with every oeuvre. I know we all strive for that, but it’s tough.
Barry’s a juicer — a pox be on him!Nay a pox — dreaded ASTERISK * * *
Hemingway* Faulkner* London* Melville* Fitzgerald* — juicers all.
Different kind of juice? — Shit, juice is juice. Per-form-ance en-hanc-ing! Beckons the muse it does.
Now I know. The secret!Quart of Beam, case of Bud, carton of Winstons, I’m off to write the “great american novel!”
Don’t ya fuckin get it? IT’S THE JUICE! Talent? Craft? Who needs it. You got the juice!
Alas when Barry hits 356, and it sails out of the park —- one thousand ASTERISKS, bunched up like sour grapes, ain’t gonna bring it back.
Sorry, but you have hit a real sore spot with me on this one.
Barry Bonds does not deserve to have his name spoken in the same sentence with Hank Aaron’s. He is a discrace to the sport, to all sports.
Here we are celebrating the idea that it is alright to win at any cost, even if it involves cheating. Great lesson for the Little League teams out there.
About the shit he has to put up with, he has brought it on himself. Not every one in the puplic eye get’s this kind of treatment…..look at Tiger Woods, Labron James or even J. K. Rowlings for that matter.
And while I am not a Bud Selig fan, it is good to see someone in professional sports show a little back bone. A lot more then the owners of the Giants have shown.
As for authors receiving this kind of treatment……how about Frey and (forgive me forgetting her name) the woman author who posed as the teenage male hooker. If anything, authors are harder on their own then any one is in sports…..plagarize someone and watch how fast your name turns to crap.
And the comparison between Bonds drug use and a modern author using a keyboard is misplaced….like saying you are cheating by driving a car to work rather then riding a horse. (Unless maybe you’re a jockey) There are advancements……..and then there is cheating….not the same.
Sorry for the rant, but as a former Little League and high school ball player, this just rubs me as wrong.
756– Seven-fifty-six — 756! Sorry.
Let he who is without Viagra – – cast the first stone.
Jacky B, I fear those sour grapes will cluster. But I’m all for cutting slack these days. As I said, we all have our crutches.
And Doug? I do hear you. And I understand. As my mother always said, “You have the strength of ten because your heart is pure.”
But Keith’s blog, mentioned above, gave me pause. If the pitcher who pitched Bond’s home run #755 was suspended for steroid use … why is the object of our scorn such a moving and flexible target?
Wow! What a thrill. Barry hit #756 tonight and I was there!
Awright, Keith! The air must have been electric.
Congratulations to BB on his success.
And great tidings, too, to Hank Aaron, who last night was the gentleman we all know him to be.
The problem with Barry, for me, is that he’s never seemed to appreciate the talent he was given. If after years of being congenial, polite and humble, I certainly could understand any frustration he might have had at the unbelievable scrutiny.
But he’s consistently – going all the way back to ASU when his college teammates voted him off the team, despite Bonds being their best player – been a guy who has acted like playing baseball was his right rather than a privilege, which is sad for those of us that would give up nearly everything to play in a major league uniform for just one day.
He’s wanted to be the center of attention his entire career, been furious when he wasn’t and often invoked race when the attention didn’t come his way. When the attention did come his way – not for the steroids, but yrs earlier, when he began being recognized as the greatest talent of his era – he was bitter and angry that it hadn’t happened sooner and blamed everyone but himself.
I just have zero empathy for the guy because everything the guy’s gone through – good and bad – he’s brought upon himself.
As I understand it, Barry Bonds was a fantastic baseball player before he (allegedly) started juicing – which was when his stats, already good, went stratospheric. But the whole point about the ‘juice’, and BB’s place in the media glare, is that he’s a role model. And that’s not a matter of being a moral hero to kids, it’s a matter of monkey see, monkey do. Every kid grows up to develop their own brand of immorality, and Barry Bonds and all the rest of the juicers aren’t responsible for that. But for every kid who juices and wins, there’s thousands who wind up crippled, poisoned and sometimes dead. Is that really worth an extra 100 or so homers to anyone?