When I was a child, few parental comebacks were a straighter path to absolute meltdown than “Because I said so.” Then again, I also melted down over peas, the Tic Tac Dough dragon, and tags in my clothing, so that may or may stand as the most condemnatory indictment.

But now that the dragon is removed as an obstacle to my happiness, I’m left with rising up at being told what to do, particularly when these commands issue from Twitter. My general response to “You don’t get to X” is invariably “Okay, well, I’m just gonna X even harder, so probably not the best persuasion strategy, Chief.”

Therefore, when I come across an attempt to emphasize via command, you have my attention, although not in the likes-awarding, I-want-to-be-your-bestie way.

A few months ago I began writing for an organization specializing in conflict transformation, which isn’t about resolving conflicts at all. The focus of conflict transformation in this context is de-escalation, to first acknowledge that there are certain issues about which we’re never going to reach an agreement, and that’s okay, and even healthy in a democratic republic. It is calmly asking everyone to stop screaming and conduct these disagreements in a fashion so that we’re not building guillotines every five minutes.

One of these tactics is called “complicating the narrative.” It first applied to journalists, but as this concept has spread, it’s come to extend beyond news coverage. It means that people should include in their assessment of a topic the facts, studies, questions, and arguments that do not fit into their own, or even the prevailing, narrative. It is a matter of resisting the human penchant for straight-edged, stackable categorization. Not only does this mindset tend to refine critical thinking skills, it decreases polarization and dehumanizing language by emphasizing that the vast majority of social issues are complex, with many moving parts and moral questions. One size rarely fits all.

So “There’s nothing else to discuss” almost certainly indicates that there is more to discuss, and we should probably discuss it. Shutting down debate before it even gets started is an excellent way to lay the first beam of wood for Guillotines Version 2.0.

Particularly when we’re talking about the really important stuff, like home run records:

Baseball is indeed a sport built for discussion. It’s difficult to carry on a first-date conversation at a basketball game what with all the shoe squeaking and buzzers terrifying small children; baseball is a wonderfully different story. A change in pitchers is the perfect opportunity to discuss whether what the wedding colors will be. (I’m starting to realize why, perhaps, I didn’t have more second dates.)

A football game can literally change directions in an instant. Which is fine. We need competition like that. But it’s also nice to have a more lavishly democratic pastime in which there are still two more outs to go, so best be patient.

The slower pace of baseball encourages discussion and depth; this is why it is the sport of the family in America, from tee ball to the majors. More kids might cluster around a soccer ball than a dugout in youth sports, but take that action to the MLS level, and you can’t hear yourself Googling “how to quickly change phone number.”

When baseball rests, we do as well, but the talk continues. The Hot Stove League is so named because we huddle together in the harshest months. The players heal; the managers regroup. We discuss. We talk about last season, and next season, and indeed the 1998 home run record chase.

Which was complicated.

26 Responses

  1. michael

    Well said and well written. Thank you for the quality read.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks so much for taking the time to drop a note 🙂 It really does mean a lot.

  2. Harry Stoner

    A nice article, Mary Beth, and kudos to you for working to help improve the culture of our discourse.

    I believe it was Richard Sennett who described “Cooperation” as “Living ..or was it working…together in disagreement.”

    To whit: I don’t care what some Jeff Passan says.

    Bonds, Sosa, McGwire all were heavy PEDs users. Let the asterisks flow.

    To me, Maris’s record stood until the other night.

    • Jim Walker

      And I will remind that many of those pitchers facing Bonds, Sosa and McGwire were juicing hypo for hypo along with them. 😉

      • Harry Stoner

        All the more reason to ignore their “numbers”.

        The important difference is that we can assume that ALL of Bonds, Sosa and McGwire’s ABs during this period were aided by juice.

        Did they face a juiced pitcher for every one of the HRs?

        If you can determine which of the “many” pitchers facing those cheaters were also juiced it would lend depth to your reminder, though not render it a qualifier for their bogus achievements.

        And it wouldn’t change my mind about anything. 🙂

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I must admit that I am atoning for 15 years of being part of the problem. Sometimes it’s disheartening work, but now I’m fairly confident that the wrong side of any issue is the “we hate you for existing” side.

  3. Oldtimer

    No one has any idea what the Founding Fathers intended. They all died 200 years ago (or longer) and they didn’t write down their intentions very well.

    Aaron Judge holds the AL record for HR. Maris held it before him. Ruth held it before him.

    • Jim Walker

      My mother (94 years of age) reminds me from time to time that for the most part what we say about family history and those who have gone before is the de facto family history at this point because we are here and the others are over the rainbow or wherever.

      Someone she knew well recently passed. She read the obit and said it was nice but there were some historical waypoints not noted that she would like to be in hers. She started to enumerate; and, I must have sighed because she stopped and said it would be a good fall project for her to write her own obit.

      I said “deal” you write it and make sure we know where it is and assuming we are around when the time comes, we will publish it with no changes made but to add the date.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        That is a wonderful way for her to think about her life and express a summation of it the way she wants to. And her grandchildren and great-grands, if they care to be involved, will learn a great deal.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      See? That’s a matter of contention! Complicated!!

  4. Rednat

    Good stuff Mary Beth. I love how baseball and life(politics) intersect. when one side thinks the other side is wrong, discussion happens. Should the capital gains tax be 10% or 20%? That is “open for discussion”. When one side thinks the other side is evil or immoral , discussion ceases. IE.. Abortion issue or immigration.

    Baseball’s capital gains tax issues are things like the DH, banning the shift. Intense discussions for days and days. The steroid issue has become the moral issue in baseball, even surpassing gambling. So it doesn’t shock me to see “nothing else to discuss” when it comes to Barry Bonds et al.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Yes, exactly! Dehumanizing the other side is a good way to shut down discussion. A big thing I learned about conflict transformation is that it’s not necessary to eliminate conflict, but if we re-think how we conduct it, maybe we won’t be at each other’s throats so much.

  5. VaRedsFan

    Nicely written.
    Good luck on your quest to “complicating the narrative.”
    This type of thinking should be taught in schools.

    As for the record, I blame baseball (Selig), not the players. What they were doing was not illegal at the time.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      I just had an interview with a guy from an incredible organization doing just that in classrooms and board rooms. The skills they learn there are also truly useful in their personal lives: https://constructivedialogue.org/

  6. Mark Moore

    Indeed, one size rarely fits all. Everyone has at least one opinion. Some of us have many. I’ve stopped caring about Mr. Bonds and his “accomplishments” personally. I will say Aaron Judge’s season achievements are pretty amazing. Not sure if he can squeak out the elusive Triple Crown … that’s a very difficult hurdle to crest. If he does, we know he earned it.

    Bigger question on my mind is where he plays his next several years. Unlike my Yankee-loving-loyal friends, I doubt it will be with the Bronx Bombers. I think they had their shot and Judge wants to explore other options. Time will tell. That is the kind of stuff the Hot Stove was made for, yes?

    Thanks for keeping us grounded once again, MBE. We’ll need it even more in 2023 I’m thinking.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Thanks so much, Mark. Since our conversation tends to be “how bad is it going to be” and “how long will we have Joey,” it’s nice to think about people succeeding every now and then.

  7. Bred

    The Buffalo Springfield song For What It’s Worth was not written as an anti war song but as reaction to the Sunset Strip curfew riots. The meaning was calling for peace during a period of unrest because it was having a toll on the youth. Sadly, the times we live in today are taking a toll on us all no matter where your head is, right, left or in the middle.
    The is song could be about our political times or the sad state of the Reds. Whatever, when I hear it I belt it out and pretend I still got it.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Well said. We are simultaneously too much at ease and too much under pressure. Sometimes loud car solos are the only way to face it 🙂

  8. LDS

    I view Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Rameriz, and the rest of the PED users as cheaters. They shouldn’t even be on the HOF ballot. I’d vote for Rose over any of them. As far as I’m concerned, the HR record is Maris and Aaron. As for taking a job working conflict resolution in politics? I hope it’s literary license for your article. I can’t imagine anything more excruciating than that, not even the Reds in 2022.

    • Harry Stoner

      What Rose did was very very bad.
      I wouldn’t vote for any of those PED cheaters.
      But I wouldn’t vote for Rose either.
      In comparison, which was worse?
      The PED cheaters, though Rose’s stupidity shouldn’t be minimized.
      And he certainly was a PEDs user, too.

      Right up there are the 2019 Asterisks.
      Certainly worse than Rose.
      That entire team should have been banned.

      • Gonzo Reds

        Stoner writing about drug use. Now that’s funny! 🙂

        If I had a vote I’d vote in Bonds and Clemens as they were pretty much the norm PED-wise during that time period and were the players I was most in awe of during that era. Bonds HR record still counts as far as I’m concerned.

        As for Rose, I’d also vote him in with an asterisk, that it’s for his time and accomplishments as a player only. There are other PED users in the Hall like Big Papi. There are players in that can’t even field a position which is half of what players are meant to do. There are teams and players that won a World Series and didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. Some don’t like Rose, that’s fine, no one liked Ty Cobb either but he’s in.

      • Jim Walker

        @Gonzo> not to mention that if Bonds had suffered a career ending injury on or off the field in between his last year with the Pirates and first with the Giants, he probably would have gone (deservedly) into the Hall based on what he did as a Pirate where it has never been alleged (to my knowledge) he was juicing.

        Bonds with Pirates in 7 seasons: 176HR; 147OPS+; 50.3bWAR; positive in both o_WAR and d_WAR

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      At times it is kind of excruciating because now I see how polarized we really are and how tough it could be to inch back from it. But, as I said, it’s penance. I played a role in getting us here, so Imma do my best to get us back out.

      I’m glad you brought Pete into this, and I’m also never glad when Pete is brought into anything. This is a good example of complicating the issue: Is what he did worse? Should they all be banned?


      • LDS

        In all honesty, I think Rose is a generational thing. Many of us older guys recognize that many, many, many of the players from the bygone days were scumbags and many are in the HOF. Ruth was a drunk. Cobb, widely hated. Rose, not someone you want to live next door to or let watch your kids. McClain made Rose look like an amateur. The list goes on. The younger generations attempt to apply their current worldview to all that has come before, whether baseball or history, and deem anything that falls short as unacceptable. Hence, the mess the world is in.

  9. Jpser05

    Kudos to Mary Beth in correctly stating that we are a democratic republic! Civics is not dead yet……just mostly dead 🙂

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Oh thank you! I will tell my mama that the poli sci degree wasn’t a total waste 🙂 As for that, I had some wonderful high school teachers along the way. I can’t claim credit for this one!