The times, they are a-changing

December 4, 2013

The KidI’m reading The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams for an upcoming review on When I received the galleys, my first thought was similar to Rob Neyer’s, who noted in this post, “Hey, there’s another book about Ted Williams.” (Excerpt here. By the way, although I understand the title, it’s too similar to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Knowing how long it can take to publish a book, I wonder which title was created first.)

Neyer said he probably wouldn’t read the new bio, written by Ben Bradlee Jr. “How many of these do we need?” is the sentiment. But one thing I picked up on as I read about Williams’ early career: without being a psychologist/psychiatrist, it almost seems that if Williams was playing today and acting as he did, he might be “classified” as having some sort of attention deficit disorder.

Or worse. Bradlee was a guest yesterday on NPR’s Fresh Air. He was interviewed by Dave Davies, who has chatted with sports figures on previous shows. Earlier today I enjoyed an e-mail conversation with Davies who wrote, in answer to my curiosity abut Williams’ mental health, “I don’t think this made the edited version, but Bradlee said he thought Williams may have had bipolar disorders.”

Something else came up yesterday: this New York Times story: “Rockwell Biography Angers His Family.”

The family of Norman Rockwell is waging a fierce campaign against a new biography of him, bristling at the book’s suggestions that Rockwell, artist of small-town Americana, could have been secretly gay or harbored pedophilic impulses.

The story caught my attention because a) Rockwell produced a number of iconic baseball illustrations and b) he was my father’s favorite artist.


From the Times‘ story:

In the book, Ms. [Deborah] Solomon raises the question of whether Rockwell was gay, writing that he “demonstrated an intense need for emotional and physical closeness with men,” and that his marriages may have been a strategy for “controlling his homoerotic desires.” She described a camping trip in Quebec that Rockwell took with his male assistant, during which the men swam and played cards together late into the night, and Rockwell noted in his diaries that his assistant looked “most fetching in his long flannels.” There is nothing, Ms. Solomon cautioned in the book, “to suggest that he had sex with men.”

Later in the book, Ms. Solomon writes that “we are made to wonder whether Rockwell’s complicated interest in the depiction of preadolescent boys was shadowed by pedophilic impulses.” She again added a disclaimer: “There is no evidence that he acted on his impulses or behaved in a way that was inappropriate for its time.”

But the mere insinuations have infuriated members of the Rockwell family intent on protecting his legacy. Two family members, who spoke in an interview on Monday, said that they regarded Ms. Solomon’s book as “shocking.”

If there was nothing to suggest, why include it, if not merely for the shock value? (I posted about Rockwell and baseball a few years ago.)

It appears there is is no bad publicity; I’m sure readers of the article who might not have thought to do so will now pick of the book. Similar “shocking stories” compounded the buzz about Selena Robert’s biography of Alex Rodriguez and Joe Torre’s memoir and probably helped sales.

Both of these new hefty offerings (The Kid weighs in at 864 pages, the Rockwell book — American Mirror — 493) got me thinking how the genre has changed over the last generation or so.

It was a more “PG” era (if not always PC) when Williams was playing. As Bradlee notes in his chapter about the ballplayer’s relationship with the media, sportswriters spent a lot more time hanging out with the athletes in those days. They developed relationships and stories were kept to the action on the field. (What, you don’t think there were alcoholics and substance abusers in those days?) Now, the gloves are off, and it’s commonplace to raise issues such as whether Rockwell was gay or Williams was an abusive husband, with or without concrete evidence.

I make no judgment about which is the proper or better course of writing. Will people’s opinion of Williams or Rockwell change because of these books? And is that a good thing, a bad thing, or nothing? Talk amongst yourselves.


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