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Great Moments in Hyperbole: Ken Burns

Jun 17, 2010, 1:14 PM EDT

I'm having a hard time getting on board with Burns comparing Joe Torre to . . . Abraham Lincoln

This link goes to a video interview of documentarianite Ken Burns, talking about leadership. Coaches and managers, specifically.

The video is fairly interesting in a big-think sort of way, but I’m having a hard time getting on board with his comparison of Joe Torre during his time with the Yankees and Abraham Lincoln. To be fair, he’s not comparing greatness or anything. Rather, he’s saying that each of them met difficult situations with a certain good humor and/or stoicism depending on what was required at the time.

Why does this break down for me? Because less than a minute before the says that, he notes how everyone in today’s culture — especially baseball — is concerned with money and structures their lives around it in important ways.

I’m not meaning to questions Torre’s bonafides or integrity here, but ask yourself: was Torre’s ability to be, as Burns puts it, “the epitome of sanity,” in New York merely a function of who he is, or did the fact that being the Yankees manager is a glamorous and lucrative gig have anything to do with the kind of garbage he put up with? Maybe it doesn’t matter a whole hell of a lot, but it seems like you had better be a bit more certain about such things before playing the Lincoln-card.

Anyway, that’s not even the most egregious thing Burns said in the clip. That came when he called Torre a “mediocre player.”  I don’t know that I’d vote for him, but on his playing merits alone, he was a borderline Hall of Famer in my view. And in the view of some other smart people who have thought hard about the matter.

  1. Jonny5 - Jun 17, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Put a top hat and a bad beard on Torre and he’s a dead ringer for Abe actually. Craig, I’m dissapointed you didn’t photoshop this one.

  2. JBerardi - Jun 17, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    I’m consistently amazed at how much Torre’s managerial career has obscured his greatness as a ballplayer. The guy won a freakin’ MVP award in ’71 (hitting .363/.421/.555; pretty solid season). Bill James had him as the 11th best catcher of all time in The New Historical Baseball Abstract. And yet most people I talk to are surprised to find out that he even played, nevermind that he racked up 2342 hits, 1185 RBI, etc…

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