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Ken Burns on Bonds, Clemens, Piazza: “Those motherf***ers should suffer for a while”

Jan 9, 2013, 6:24 AM EDT

Ken Burns

I had a good conversation with my friend Norm Wamer of 106.5 The Ticket in Toledo yesterday. We talked about how, as a fan, it’s OK to feel anger and resentment any any other number of complicated emotions about baseball players who cheat. Because as a fan you’re allowed to feel emotions. Indeed, as a fan you should feel emotions. There’s nothing wrong with sports moving you on all levels as long as you don’t go crazy with it.

But I told Norm that baseball historians — like historians in every field — have to have a bit of an emotional separation in order to do their job properly. You can’t tell an objective historical story if you’re so emotionally invested that you’re creating good guys and bad guys and punishing them in your historical assessment based on your anger or sadness.

I don’t know if I’m totally right about that, but if I am, I think it means that Ken Burns, for all of the history he’s done, is no historian. Because check out this interview he gave to The Hollywood Reporter:

The Hollywood Reporter: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza are all on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Would you vote for them?

Ken Burns: No.

THR: Ever?

Ken Burns: I want them to suffer for a while … We know some pitchers extended their playing careers, we know some people hit the ball farther, but nobody hit .406, nobody had a 56-game hitting streak, no pitcher won 30 games, no pitcher won 35 games, no pitcher won 25 games. Maybe that helps you make it less onerous, but at the same time, those motherf—ers should suffer for a while.

Sorry, I can’t get on board with anyone who thinks that a legitimate use of their Hall of Fame vote, real or hypothetical, is to make “motherf—ers suffer.” And I don’t care how cute or boyish they are.

108 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. zalayetta - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:46 AM

    They should never be accepted in the HOF.

    • ramrene - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:32 AM

      >“Those motherf***ers should suffer for a while”

      Ken Burns is THE MAN!

      Burnsy for Commish!!!

      • denny65 - Jan 9, 2013 at 1:24 PM

        Only if he gets a haircut, and, uh, no: not the bowl cut he usually gets from his wife or mother.

        I mean, seriously, come on Ken.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 1:29 PM

        Hey, it feathers.

  2. vox vetus - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:47 AM

    he is a historian, by any measure, and i agree w his sentiment, although i would probably vote for them 1st ballot. this story is hyperbolic in treatment of burns.

    • danrizzle - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:46 AM

      So you’re saying that isn’t a correct quote? What exactly was exaggerated?

      • vox vetus - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:05 AM

        no, i’m saying that ‘he’s not an historian’ is hyperbolic. whether you say he’s not an historian in the first place, as others replying to me have said, or you agree he is an historian, his personal opinion is unrelated to his profession. if he put his opinion in his work, that would affect his title or the ethical ‘purity’ of it.

    • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:07 AM

      I don’t know that he is a “historian by any measure”. What he is….is a teller of stories that are historical. All documentaries are historical in nature, most of them are filmed and the stories told by people that are not historians. If you allow the emotion of a story to dictate the content, you are a story teller, not a historian. To me, he’s a story teller.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:46 AM

        All semantics aside, he would be more of a compiler by definition than any kind of historian based off of the very definitions of the words. In other words, story telling, just like you said, but he processed an awful bunch of information and knows more about the history of baseball than most.

        To say that his opinion is wrong, well, that’s how opinions work, they’re always right or wrong depending on the viewing eyes, ( with exception to SPAM, where the opinion should be “it’s always wrong” )…. but with the amount of research he’s done, I would say Burns is more than entitled to his opinion, and frankly I appreciate his honesty on the topic. At least he’s not B.S. ‘ing you.

      • vox vetus - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:23 AM

        i see you point of view. i think burns gets a bum wrap cause he doesn’t look like a professor and covers disparate topics, which allows us to assume he’s not an expert on any one of them. but in relation to craig’s suggestion that he’s not an historian due to his language/opinion, i think that’s silly. it’s a personal opinion, not part of his professional work, and has no bearing on said work. and hell, cursing probably makes him more literati, rather than less.

      • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        I am not commenting on Burns’ stuff or his perspective per se (at least, here), just that I’m not sure historians would call him a historian because I’m not sure he does what historians do. I actually like most of his Baseball series (though I now need to get it on DVD since mine is VHS and my VHS/DVD combo player died).

    • mrfloydpink - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      Professional historian here, Ph.D. from a prominent West Coast university whose mascot rhymes with “ruins.” With that blatant appeal to authority taken care of, let me say two things:

      1. Craig is absolutely correct about the objectivity expected of a trained historian. In just a few hours, I will be talking to my history of California students about Father Junipero Serra (founder of the missions). Hero to some, villain to many-one of my main points will be that as historians, our job is to understand and not to judge.

      2. paperlions and heyblueyoustink are right that Ken Burns is not a historian per se (I actually know him, a little, and I think he would be ok with that judgment as well–he regards himself as a filmmaker/storyteller). Deciding who is, and who is not, a “historian” is quite tricky, and is actually a question I deal with in my research (I study historical reenactment, particularly Civil War reenactment). Is Steven Spielberg a historian? Is Bill O’Reilly? Is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? I would say that the essential element of the discipline that Ken Burns is missing is interpretation of primary sources. While his films do have an implied interpretation, they are simply a recapitulation of what others think. Historians call this “synthesis” and not “analysis.”

      • heyblueyoustink - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:21 AM

        ” Oh so you’re a history major? Ah, then you’re a know it all.”

        – Flashback from my college days 😉

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:27 AM

        Thanks for an actual professional reading, Mr. Pink. I agree, it is working with the primary texts that sets the definition.

      • vox vetus - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:30 AM

        1: only in regards to his professional work, not his private/public opinion. and how is this even related to his work as an ‘historian’, when the topic in question hasn’t even happened yet? the hall of fame vote has not been revealed. he may as well say ‘screw the angels, i hope they don’t win the world series!’ …it’s the future. not the past.
        2: historian is similar to artist. it has shades of subjectivity to it. but fine w calling him whatever he wants to be called.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:34 AM

        I disagree about your sense of trained historians, but anyway, I reject the notion that only professionals are legit historians or that public history is a lesser form.

        Dangit! I was gonna stay off this post. 😦

      • mrfloydpink - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:16 AM

        @heyblueyoustink: Lol. As you can imagine, once someone gets a Ph.D. they become an even bigger know-it-all, esp. with their colleagues. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a paper presentation and heard someone ask a question whose real point was not to get an answer, but to show how much the questioner knows.

        @ stex52: You’re welcome! Note (as I am about to explain) that I define primary sources broadly.

        @ vox vetus: I’m not really sure I understand the first part of your comment. I will say that it’s certainly possible and acceptable for a historian to have strong, publicly-expressed opinions about issues. But it’s pretty hard for them to do so when those opinions involve the subjects they study/write about. If a scholar gives an interview that says that Richard Nixon was an evil, evil man and the worst president ever, and then writes a book about Nixon, it’s hard to believe that their analysis is going to be fair and dispassionate. As to the second part of your comment, I say that very thing on the first day of all my classes–“A historian is a combination of artist, detective, and prosecuting attorney.” But that does not mean that everyone who engages with the past in a subjective (or even objective) fashion should be called a historian.

        @ historiophiliac: Is your comment directed at me? If so, you’ve misread my remark (or at least missed my implied meaning). As someone who studies reenactment–which is to say, non-professional historians–I certainly do not hold an elitist view of who is and who is not a historian, and I do not limit the category only to the professoriate. Public historians undoubtedly qualify–the kind of interpretation they do, and the data they produce is different from academic historians, but there is no question that they analyze primary sources (particularly material culture) in order to better understand the past.

      • professorperry - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:24 AM

        I am also a professional historian, PhD from a Big Ten university that almost rhymes with Yoda, and I’ve been waiting for a good post-modern theoretical argument on hardballtalk for ages. It’s really all the site has been missing.

        Objectivity has long been a goal of historians, but in the 1960s or so, a number of scholars began questioning whether it was possible. Humans are necessarily subjective, and while certain data points might be indisputable, our decisions to look for certain kinds of data, or ask certain kinds of questions, or put information together in specific ways, reflect our necessary subjectivity. Some people (postmodernists) took this to believe that there is fundamentally no truth and nothing but representation and subjectivity (Hayden White is the famous one). Others, though, argued that objectivity should be our goal, it’s just a goal we should be aware we cannot really reach. Still other scholars wonder why we should have an unattainable Sisyphean goal, and we should just own our subjective selves, try to be transparent about it, and write as well as we can.

        Synthesis, too, seems to me a fairly common part of historical practice. Whether Burns presents good or new synthesis is up for debate, but there’s no requirement saying that you can’t be a historian if you present synthesis. I do think that “new” synthesis is required for a work to be considered scholarly, but “new” might include a simple better articulation of someone else’s ideas (properly cited). We cast out artful synthesis and popular writing at our profession’s peril.

        So there’s nothing wrong, per se, with Burns having emotions about the players he covers. I wager there is no baseball historian who doesn’t have emotions about baseball, even if they, like the journalists in the press room at a ball game, try to pretend otherwise. I work on the 13th century and have strong reactions to a number of crusaders and hagiographers that interest me, but I try not to let the way I “like” or “dislike” an author shape my writing. I mean, Petrarch pisses me off in a way I usually reserve for Yankees, but I still have to acknowledge the guy matters, if not as much as he thought he did.

        And now, back to syllabi.

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:40 AM

        You want know-it-alls? Wander by the Poli Sci department.

      • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:59 AM

        I don’t know. I can’t recall ever encountering more know-it-alls than I’ve run across in engineering. Holy cow are those guys/girls arrogant….they even regularly think they get to tell EHS what is safe and what is not.

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:06 AM

        Lay off of engineers! Now you’re getting personal. :-)

        Seriously, you want to see some institutional arrogance, take a fine arts or literature course as a known engineering major. I have had friends told by professors that they would not get good grades in classes because engineers don’t understand that stuff.

      • vox vetus - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:43 AM

        mostly what ‘professorperry’ said. he covered the territory of unavoidable bias comprehensively. but in addition to that, you suggest partly that bias can be avoided, and you suggest directly that bias can only acknowledged by the scholar, himself. i disagree w both these statements. bias is unavoidable, but can be fought. and bias is not for the commentator but the peers of the commentator to judge. yes, you can think nixon was a dick and say ‘i think tricky dick was a total dick’ and still write a fair and ‘unbiased’ biography of him. you can even put your opinion in the final line of the book and write an unbiased biography of him… as long as you correctly portray the facts and motivations behind the dickery, keep your opinion minor to the history, and stay away from vitriol and angst, you’re fine. after all, w in context, opinion/synthesis is the left hand of history.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:51 PM

        Perry, I’ve been breaking out the Hayden White on here for ages. :) I do try to keep myself from history rants — or at least keep them to a minimum. Accordingly, I won’t argue w/ Mr. Pink. I’ll just say that there’s a difference between “historian” and “professional historian” (which really just means “priesthood”) — and the pros don’t get to decide if the others are legit or not.

      • indaburg - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:52 PM

        Um, professor, is this going to be on the test?

        Seriously, this thread right here is the reason I keep coming back to this blog. Nuanced analytical arguments, synthesis vs. analysis. This is great stuff–where else will I find all this and baseball? Thanks for the food for thought; I was hungry.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:56 PM

        P.S. My syllabus is done. he he

    • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:22 AM

      Are you saying Craig is using a character assessment to determine Burns’ quality as a historian? lol

      • nukeladouche - Jan 9, 2013 at 1:56 PM

        “You want know-it-alls? Wander by the Poli Sci department.”

        Hey stex – I was a double major: American History and Political Science. So what do you get when you have someone with two know-it-all degrees?

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:06 PM

        I’m gonna guess a “ladouche”?

      • spudchukar - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:46 PM

        A His-Scie Fit.

      • heyblueyoustink - Jan 9, 2013 at 4:26 PM

        “a ladouche” …. fantastic

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:09 PM

        I guess a know-it-all ladouche who likes baseball. Which is okay by me.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:14 PM

        He walked right into that, you know. Anyway, any kind of know-it-all — ladouche or otherwise — is okay if s/he is a baseball fan. Hockey ladouches are a whole other story.

  3. seattlenative57 - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:52 AM

    How about the baseball writers who knew players were cheating and wrote nothing? What’s their role in this tempest? All the hand wringing, soul searching and consternation on their part is BS. Should their credentials be stripped for staying silent? I am personally tired of all the squaking about who should or shouldn’t make it. Just vote already and let history be your conscience.

  4. sdelmonte - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    Surely a historian knows the importance of evidence. And I still see none about Piazza.

    But then I have never been a fan of Burns in the first place.

  5. chill1184 - Jan 9, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    I would love to hear the logic some of these hacks have for lumping Piazza with Clemens and Bonds

    • indaburg - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:58 AM

      Logic? Where we’re going, we don’t need logic.

      I would love to hire these guys. They don’t need blood or urine to detect elevated testosterone. They could just eyeball my patients and tell me their levels.

      • Old Gator - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:37 AM

        Logic? We don’t got no steenkin’ logic.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:12 AM

      I agree…when did Piazza go in front of Congress and be accused of lying? Dude has a couple pimples on his back and he did steroids? When nobody gets in today, I hope the Hall of Fame realizes that something is wrong and does something about it. Nobody getting in would actually be a good thing, because in the summer, when the induction ceremonies basically blow, maybe they will realize that this system is broke.

    • bankboy2012 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:35 AM

      It starts with the whole “he was a 62nd round draft pick” thing and ends with the Blogger Murray Chass saying he saw back acne on him. And that’s about it.

    • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:17 AM

      Burns lost all credibility with me when he lumped Piazza in with known PEDs users. Improved performance does NOT equal enhancement. Otherwise, better get busy accusing Mike Trout of PEDs.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:24 PM

        Seriously? “All credibility”?

      • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:25 PM

        ALL. He overstates, I overstate. Quid. Pro. Quo.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        PS you lost all credibility with me when I learned you were a Rush fan.

      • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:08 PM

        Don’t I get any points for liking Wonder Woman?

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:12 PM

        No! because you can’t distinguish from her and a beach girlie. NO credibility, man.

      • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:16 PM

        But beach Girlies need love, too! Its a public service! Surely I get points for public service?

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:30 PM


        /throws popcorn

      • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:32 PM

        mmmm, Popcorn…/has drink eats popcorn

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 3:41 PM

        Shouldn’t you be whining and gnashing your teeth about the HoF?

      • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 3:47 PM

        I’m multi-tasking. Its not JUST you ladies who can do that, y’know. In fact, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m registering high moral outrage @ the HoF & BBWAA with swear words, correcting manuscript, emailing, and running statistical tests all at the same time. I’m doing none of these things efficiently of course, because I’m seriously bummed that Kenny Lofton, one of my favourite ball players of all time, is not going to be on the HoF ballot anymore after this year.

        You should move your crush to Kenny if you plan to get over Torii. He was a WAY better ballplayer anyways.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 4:30 PM

        You can’t help what the heart likes. Anyway, I’ll find another baseball boyfriend at some point. But, you know I have a rock star boyfriend (Tom Morello) and a newscaster boyfriend (Brian Williams), etc, so I’ll be okay.

      • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 4:33 PM

        You have a Rock Star Boyfriend and it isn’t Geddy Lee? I t must be because you’e never seen Geddy. Here. Look at this guy. You’ll swoon.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        I hate you all over again.

    • rich7041 - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:21 PM

      Murray Chass said he once saw bacne on him in the Mets’ clubhouse. That is the “evidence.”

  6. offseasonblues - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    Craig – I don’t see any problem with making a player wait an year or 10 years before being voted in. We know not all HOF players are on the same level. Why does it have be a hard, cold, black and white, in or out decision? Why is it such an imoral disgrace for a writer to leave a player off his ballot one year, and vote them in three years later? Who wrote that rule? Would you prefer eliminating the 15 year window and give players one shot at induction?

    First ballot induction has been turned into an extra honor by media and fans, so why is it wrong to bestow or withhold that honor depending on any particular player’s qualifications? It’s a subjective system, not a court of law.

    As for Burns, I’m glad he has passion for the game he’s chronicled. If you want to remove “baseball historian” from his resume, go ahead. It won’t stop me from smiling at his comment or watching whatever he produces next.

    • Maxa - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:06 AM

      The significance of a first-ballot induction has always seemed weird to me. I take it that getting in immediately is prestigious because it means that your merits are indubitable (by contrast, someone like Bert Blyleven has had to wait for our understanding of the game and his career to develop). But this only work if everyone always votes sincerely–and that’s precisely what is not happening when writers maintain that a player is worthy, but decide to withhold their vote anyway. So these writers who piously insist on the significance of first ballot honors are really eating their own tails.

  7. ebrownwareagle - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    So when did Bonds Fail a drug test?

    • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:08 AM

      That’s just silly. There is an entire book (more than one, I believe) detailing his steroid use. He doesn’t even deny the extensive usage, he just (unbelievably) claims that he didn’t know what he was being given.

  8. 1historian - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:14 AM

    I for one am SHOCKED that that sweet boy used the f word.

  9. koufaxmitzvah - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:28 AM

    I do believe the correct spelling is Muthafucker.

  10. historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    “Emotional separation” “objective historical story” hahahahaha

    • indaburg - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:52 AM

      Cute, huh?

  11. hojo20 - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    Awww, Craig is upset that people have an agenda…..while Craig and his hatred of indian logos/mascots is his own agenda.

    • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:12 AM

      Of course he Craig has some agendas. Everyone does. All of them are not created equal. For example, some want to use their HOF vote as a way to punish players for using steroids (despite the fact that everyone paying attention knew by the early 90s that many many players were using them, despite the fact that reporters didn’t care, teams didn’t care, and many teams are documented to suggest steroids to their muscle-challenged prospects) while not punishing anyone else that profited from their use and without punishing anyone else that cheated in any other way. It is hypocrisy at it’s worst.

      In contrast, Craig wants to see racist stereotypes removed from the iconography of professional sports teams. Yeah, those are the same thing.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        Do we have to call him “he Craig”?

    • koufaxmitzvah - Jan 9, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      Thank you for showing how ignorance breeds more ignorance. This mascot controversy has been around for decades, but don’t let that stop you in declaring your sweet innocence and demoralized victimhood.

      I know I feel better.

  12. stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:17 AM

    I generally like Burns’ product. But “historian” is the wrong word for most of the work he does. He is more of a popularizer, making the history that already exists more accessible to the public in general. I think of him more as the American history version of Carl Sagan. His material is derivative, but well presented.

    Having said that, what’s wrong with a historian expressing strong personal bias, if it doesn’t bleed over into his historical work? You can’t study the stuff and not form opinions. I disagree with that particular opinion – especially on Piazza – but he owns it. I kind of like that he said that.

    BTW, I just read back and saw that Paper is making approximately the same point about Burns.

    • takavl - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      The comparison of Burns to Sagan is questionable (in terms of degree) — other than being known as “documentarians” (although Sagan only had big PBS success w/”Cosmos”) the two don’t have much in common: Burns is definitely a bona fide documentarian with a degree in film studies, whereas Sagan was a scientist and academic (and yes, a popularizer) who pioneered studies of the greenhouse effect, Venus’ atmosphere, Mars’ dust, and Europa’s ocean, not to mention being w/NASA from the get-go. Nothing derivative there, unless you want to count Sagan’s continuation of his mentor Mueller’s amino acids research.

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:18 AM

        Yes, Sagan also did academic research. But compared to other scientists – say, Hawking, to make an obvious example – his public work was more on the lines of popularizing. And he did not restrict himself to topics related to his own subject, but wrote a fair amount on scientific history and the history of Western culture. And, of course, the odd science fiction novel, which focussed much more on untested hypotheses about faith and belief.

      • ltzep75 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:37 AM


        Sagan was always first and foremost a scientist who found an alternate medium to inform others of his science and other interests. Burns has always been first and foremost a filmmaker (documentarian) who used filmmaking as his medium to explore various topics and inform others. The comparison does not quite work.

        Burns main study for his profession was (likely as I’m speculating) film and filmmaking. Sagan had a bs in physics, ma – physics, phd – physics and astronomy. As takavl stated above, he was an academic, and further, a college professor at cornell (after leaving harvard due to being denied tenure).

        I don’t want to harp, but I have [ahem] billions and billions of problems with your comparison.

        rant over.

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:43 AM

        Fair enough. I found Sagan a bit overbearing in his public pronouncements, and my annoyance at his public personality bleeds over into my assessment of him.

        But the sf work and the popular histories do exist, also. Whatever his education and affiliations, they really did occur.

      • yahmule - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:52 AM

        Carl Sagan was not only brilliant and a gifted communicator, but he was a genuinely kind and compassionate human being. We were all made poorer by his passing.

      • louhudson23 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:22 AM

        Sagan was also a chronic weed smoker(his wife now fights the good fight as the head of NORML).

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:36 AM

        This Sagan parallel took us into our own alleyway. I grabbed it as a quick popular parallel from the ’80’s/’90’s time frame. Sagan was a vastly talented synthesist, a well-published scientist, and an idea machine of amazing proportions. And yes, a powerful moral streak went through much of his public thinking. In spite of the seemingly deriding comparison, I admire his bradth of thought more than Hawkings’.

        Any annoyance I had with his public persona is a personal opinion. Isn’t that where this whole thread started?

      • ltzep75 - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:27 PM

        Whatever Stex. I don’t know or care where the thread started. Let’s just keep talking about Sagan…because Science!

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 12:48 PM

        Science/ History/ Comparative Theology / Good books to read / Relevant quotes from recent music or movies / oh, yes, and then there’s baseball. That’s why we’re here.

        I am ready to move on from PED’s for a while.

  13. ricospilaggio - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    Ken’s mom is going to wash his mouth out with soap. Personally, I don’t see how a Mike Piazza or Jeff Bagwell can get into the Hall of Fame before two obviously superior players like Bonds or Clemens. I suspect when they do get elected, their consciences will be heavy. Piazza’s a sensitive guy. I could see him fessing up after he gets the nod.

  14. simon94022 - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    Burns is a filmmaker, not a “historian.”

    And this continues the pattern that opposition to Bonds, Clemens and others is being driven by pompous windbags.

  15. simon94022 - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:51 AM

    Unless you are God, you have no idea who used PEDs and who didn’t. One hundred percent of the evidence from the pre-testing era is hearsay.

    Without reasonable certainty as to who did or did not do the right thing, all attempts at retributive justice fail – and actually create more injustice. Non-PED users will be barred from the Hall because people are suspicious of their body size or a great season they had at age 36. Actual PED users will be voted into the Hall because they covered their tracks well and beat writers thought of them as “good guys.”

    This is not justice. It is moral posturing by self-righteous blowhards.

    • cur68 - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:20 AM


    • stercuilus65 - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:39 PM

      “This is not justice. It is moral posturing by self-righteous blowhards.”

      Writes the morally posturing self-righteous blowhard.

  16. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    The actual exchange went like this:

    The Hollywood Reporter: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza are all on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Would you vote for them?

    Ken Burns: No.

    THR: Ever?

    Ken Burns: I want them to suffer for a while.

    THR: Even if they were good before they allegedly used steroids?

    Ken Burns: I think the argument is that without a doubt Clemens and Bonds should be in there, and at the highest levels. Barry Bonds may be the greatest baseball player of all time, and Roger Clemens — maybe you’d get some arguments from the [Sandy] Koufax/[Pedro] Martinez sector and the Walter Johnson segment and the Nolan Ryan crowd — but they are two of the very, very best. And before when we think they began taking, they’re Hall of Fame caliber.

    So while yes, it is correct he said he wants them to “suffer”, it seems to me he still believes they belong in the HOF, so this seems very minor stuff.

    • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:15 AM

      Agreed. Seems rather childish/immature though, doesn’t it? To want someone to suffer and the ONLY reason for it is some amorphous nostalgic a posteriori resentment he feels. Heck. I bet most of these guys don’t suffer at all because they aren’t elected right away. They might not even suffer if they are never elected.

      If everyone had their worst moments published and gossiped about in the media (often with no evidence or first hand account, just endless speculation and moralizing for things they think might have happened), you’d probably feel unfairly judged, even if you did what people though you did. Any suffering these guys experience is likely related to their reputations being drug over hot coals every year, with nothing to do with HOF election.

      • stex52 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:24 AM

        I can’t speak to Bonds. But I’m pretty sure you diagnose Clemens correctly. And Bagwell, who has even more of a case to me, is always stoic with the local press. But, again, I get the strong feeling it really rankles.

      • paperlions - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:31 AM

        It might. But you got to figure, they’ve been expecting to not get elected for years now, right? This shouldn’t be a surprise to them. If I am Bonds or Clemens or Piazza, I feel pretty good about where my vote % is at this stage.

      • yahmule - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:27 AM

        Whether they’re expecting to be barred admittance this year or not, I believe a couple guys as ego driven as Bonds and Clemens will still be stung the rejection. Bonds has a well documented reputation for not caring what anybody thinks about him, but he also seems to be making some gestures that could be construed as image rehabilitation in recent years. Clemens is clearly concerned with his image and legacy as his actions post-returement have amply demonstrated.

  17. makeham98 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:19 AM

    Whether he is an historian or not, his comments are those of a moralist. Times change. . .

  18. southofheaven81 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Ken Burns apparently really needs his heroes to be heroic. Nobody tell him that his favorite dolls…sorry, action figures…were made by underpaid children in Taiwan.

  19. kirkvanhouten - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Knowing Ken Burns, I’m assuming this interview went on for 14 hours and was mostly filled with trivial anecdotes as opposed to new, illuminating information?

    • historiophiliac - Jan 9, 2013 at 2:26 PM

      Agreed. Is there anyone else that can take an apocalyptic natural event like the Dust Bowl and make it zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  20. kirkvanhouten - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    Question for the commentors:

    Which is the greater offense:

    -A steroid user getting away with it and making the hall of fame or

    -A non-steroid user getting wrongly lumped in with users and being denied the Hall because of something he never did.

    • hisgirlgotburrelled - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:01 AM

      i hit thumbs down to vote for the 2nd choice

    • pauleee - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:56 AM


  21. El Bravo - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    Ken Burns just became the first tough guy on my list of Tough Guys 2013 for that gem of a quote. Cheers, tough guy.

    • yahmule - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      I dare you to say that to his face. Say it to his face, man!

  22. simon94022 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:08 AM


    If either one of those things happens (and it is virtually certain that both will), the Verducci/Murray Chass/Golf Digest/Ken Burns plan to withhold votes from supposed PED users is exposed as an unjust exercise in phoney moralizing.

  23. seeinred87 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    You can tell a story objectively AND have an opinion on it at the same time. In fact, I’d imagine it’s purdy darn tough to not have an opinion on a story you tell.

    Even though Burns doesn’t seem to care for Bonds much, in the 10th Inning of his documentary he spent a lot of time on Bonds and portrayed him as a rather sympathetic character in my opinion.

  24. bobby61278 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    Craig, but you can get onboard with slinging childish insults at Burns? Get some integrity, and quite being so self-righteous. And BTW, Burns is right.

  25. snowbirdgothic - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:05 AM

    To paraphrase his scene in Gettysburg, “There are times when the opinion of a documentary filmmaker does not count.”

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