I was fired from BJOL, definitely not canceled.
I’ve got an article on ‘cancel culture’ in the works that I didn’t publish on BJOL out of cowardice and fear of Bill James’ disapproval, that I will not expose you to here and now, other than to say that most “cancellations” would have been termed “firings” in a more direct, earlier age. “Cancelled” means “fired,” plus some additional political implications. “Cancelled” is basically “justified whining about being fired.”
But I was fired.
I kind of sensed it when I tried logging on to the site on May 27th and got rebuffed—I thought “OK, Goldleaf, you’ve finally done it,” because I knew that I had written something specific that may well have annoyed Bill. I’d written several annoying things over the years, so I told myself not to make too much of it this time, but as it turned out, this time, my intuition was on the money. I’d been fired.
What I had done was to comment on an article Bill had published in late May, entitled “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” in which he had defended Tony LaRussa’s latest descent into lunacy, publicly castigating his young slugger, Yermin Mercedes, for hitting a home run off a 45 MPH cripple pitch lobbed over the plate by a position player in a blowout. Not done. Unwritten rules, doncha know? Very bad. Bill defended LaRussa on the grounds of traditional values, conventions, the way the game has always been played, etc.
In itself, that wouldn’t have been so bad, I felt, except that Bill has based his career on defying conventionality, and particularly on one issue for which I’ve felt conventions deserve a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that of publication standards. For decades, Bill has inveighed against the indignity of being copy-edited, and I’ve oy-veyed against his ignorant and arrogant position that he and he alone can be the final arbiter of standards of the English language regarding how his words appear in print: any editor who imposes, say, the correct spelling of “affect” or “effect” is, according to Bill, a phony authority relying solely on some imaginary BS convention that he is free to disregard with scorn.
I felt that this disparity needed to be addressed or at least noticed, so I wrote a comment on his “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” article pointing that out.
Bill took this comment hard. He promptly erased it, and so quickly that I can only reproduce it from memory, but it went something very much like “Who is more wrong and more hypocritical here, Bill or Tony LaRussa? Very close call.”
Erasing my comment gave me some insight into how Bill’s mind works, which I’ll get into in a later installment. Arguing with my comment, even denouncing it, would have made for some interesting reading, especially because my comment was cryptic enough to require some elaboration. For one thing, a more tolerant person than Bill might have been able to take it as a compliment of sorts: i.e., “Thanks! Since I don’t think LaRussa was either wrong or hypocritical, I’m glad to be placed on an equal level with him here.” That would have shut me up, good and proper.
But if he had wanted to engage me in a discussion, I’m sure he could have eventually dismissed my analogy of respect for editorial conventions and respect for baseball conventions as flawed, as all analogies are, in the final analysis, and that would have squelched me too.
Instead, he chose to erase my comment and my presence on his website (and again, he has every legal and ethical right to do so—please don’t mistake me for someone whining about that principle in the slightest). He informed me that I’d gotten fired by cc:ing me on a note to the men who run his website, John Dewan and Rylan Edwards, that he was “terminating our relationship with Steven Goldleaf” immediately, and I was no longer to be paid nor permitted to have a voice on his website. Again, his website, his privilege, zero complaint from me. (Well, one small complaint: my final month’s output, two columns, remain unpaid-for, and he’s apparently OK with this.)
I wrote him back, though, noting that his firing of me for applying the word “hypocritical” to him was itself hypocritical in the extreme, since he has often and insistently preached on his website the need for tolerance, for humility, and for forgiveness, citing the absence of those virtues as the root cause of most of our society’s fundamental problems. It might have been a more tolerant, more humble, more forgiving position, I wrote him, for him to have written to me directly, stating his anger (or disappointment, or frustration, whatever) with me, and allowing me to tell him why I used that word, or indeed, giving me the chance to apologize, in private or in public, for using it.
In a slightly separate matter, Bill has also waged a small war on those weenies who are easily offended, making the case that instead of opting to be insulted, we all should toughen up, absorb insults (especially from those we have previously gotten along with), and ignore the temptation to make an insult worse by tossing insults back, or otherwise expressing the concept “I am offended by [whatever the hell you just said or did].” He devoted an entire column to voicing this view, in fact, immediately following Donald Trump’s election in 2016, claiming that the ease with which people claimed to be offended was extremely destructive to conducting a civil society.
I disagreed with this view of Bill’s, and at the time I wrote a rather spirited rejoinder to it, lengthily detailing why I felt that “politeness” was a higher virtue than the “toughness” Bill was advocating. So there were several slightly different grounds (I’ve only noted two so far, but there were more) for finding Bill’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” column hypocritical.
“Hypocrite” was a provocative word for me to use, especially because there were so many other, nicer, softer, alternative words to express that same thought: “inconsistent” and “self-contradictory” come to mind, and I’d have been happy to apologize for using the harsher term, especially in that I felt it upon a few minutes’ reflection to be the less accurate term.
But, no. Obviously, it satisfied Bill to view “hypocritical” as a firing offense, and so he fired me for applying it to him. (Yet again, his website, his privilege.) I understood perfectly well that certain words got under his skin: I had been informed within the last twelve months by Rylan Edwards that a different term, “racist,” was one of them. I hadn’t applied the R-word to Bill, but Rylan (trying to be helpful, I’m sure) told me that applying it to one of Bill’s readers would set Bill off, if he caught me using it, so I should avoid applying it to anyone on his website, for any reason whatsoever, lest I be summarily dismissed for using it. It angered Bill, apparently, that much, and I promptly stopped using “racist” entirely on his website to avoid angering him unnecessarily. In fact, I stopped participating entirely in the “Reader Posts” section in early January, so disgusted was I with the authoritarian ranting that was going on there, with any attempts to label it as such being suppressed. If I’m going to dispute racist, fascist xenophobes, I figure, better to do on other sites that don’t hold both arms behind my back but otherwise allow everyone to swing away at his antagonists.
I want to go into more detail on the words that seem to offend Bill so sorely, including “hypocrite” and “racist,” but I also want to limit these pieces to 1000 words or so, figuring that some folks might be more than satisfied learning the bare-bones facts behind my firing from BJOL, so I’ll end here, and pick up on some related issues in the next Authory (and gmail) piece. If you get bored by this stuff, let me know and I’ll drop you from my mailing list, but if not, it should be posted within a few more days.