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KEN BURNS INTERVIEW Part
2003-02-19 08:15
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

KEN BURNS INTERVIEW

Part II.

Bronx Banter: Jackie Robinson was a fitting choice as the hero of the "Baseball" series. Without taking anything away from his greatness, what about Larry Doby? He was the first black player in the American League. I don't mean to single you out on this, but how come Doby has been so over looked, even neglected, by history?


KB: That's one of those situations where when you are not the first, you get forgotten. It's the John Adams syndrome. So maybe it's going to take somebody of David McCollough's caliber to rescue the Larry Doby's of the world. The guys who end up in second.

BB: Nice guys finish last, right?


KB: That doesn't make him any less courageous or any less heroic, it's just that we focused our attention on the heroism and courage of Jackie Robinson, and that's what we endow with all the symbolic importance that Jackie Robinson has for us.

BB: So it was more of an aesthetic choice rather than just saying, ¡®Oh, Doby's story just isn't all that interesting.'


KB: It's just a question of first, it's not even a question of aesthetics. It's just Jackie was first, and Jackie also happened to display this incredible courage and heroics and really wore it. And Doby, of course, had to go through much of the same thing, it's just because our attention was on Jackie, we didn't have the time to do Doby as well.

BB: What about Minnie Minoso? He was the first black Latino to play in the majors, and he was a popular player who put together a Hall of Fame career, certainly comparable to Doby's. Bill James, Rob Neyer and Allen Barra all have him high on their list of players most worthy of the Hall of Fame. Considering how dominant Latin players are in the modern game, why hasn't their been more of an outcry about Minoso NOT being in the Hall?


KB: I don't know. Maybe you'll start one. Or perhaps there already is one and you'll be joining in the cause. It just has to do with the wave of people's attentions and concerns. I think the great effort of the last 20 years in the Hall of Fame has been to redress the incredible wrongs done to the Negro Leagues. Now that they have added a number of Negro League players, taking on a little bit of an act of faith their statistical accomplishments, thanks to the work of Buck O'Neill and others. Maybe now is the time to talk about the Latin thing. I mean baseball does mirror the waves of immigration, and now we are talking about Asian superstars, so maybe there will be a time when they are even coming to the Hall of Fame.

BB: Are you still in touch with Buck O'Neill?


KB: Yes, in fact I just wrote him a letter today. He's 92 and never looked better. He is as handsome as ever, and is, you know, one of the greatest human beings that ever walked the earth.

BB: I don't know if there is any player who is more compelling to me than Curt Flood. He was great in the interviews he did for "Baseball." What were your impressions of the man?


KB: I loved him. He and I hit it off in a really intense way. You know, you meet some people, and do a lot of interviews, and you come across a Buck O'Neill and you know you are going to know him for the rest of your life. The same thing happened with Curt, and I'm just so sorry that his life was so short. We did speak many, many times after the series was out, and sort of conspired to do things¡ŠI saw him a couple of times afterwards. I found him an incredibly sensitive person. And I don't mean that in a clichZd way. I mean there are some people whose vibrations a little bit finer. I think that was true with Curt Flood. And I think it made it more susceptible to the pain that the world is inevitably going to doll out. Perhaps, it even shortened his life, I don't know. But one sensed an emotional fragility in him that was interesting and attractive, particularly for a ballplayer of such extraordinary importance in the game.

BB: Was he bitter in the last years of his life?


KB: No, I think it was a more complicated emotion than that. You can look at Buck O'Neill and say, ¡®There's someone free of all bitterness,' right? And you can look at others who might have a chip on their shoulders, not to name any names. And I think Curt was somewhere inbetween. I don't think that's what animated him. I think that he knew that he came at a particular time. He performed a function. I'm sure he wished that he had been on the other side of the great largess that was bestowed on the players, after his, and Messersmith, and NcNally's contributions. But Flood was really a pioneer, and he is a sacrificial lamb, and I think somewhere along the line he had come to peace with it, although I think it was also eating him as well. And I don't mean that in a negative way. You know Flood paid the price for the time he came along. But he will always be an important person. He was the first one over the top of the fort.

BB: Do you have any idea what Flood did in the last years of his life?


KB: Well, I think he did what a lot of baseball players do. He was an "ex-ballplayer." And that means a variety of things. You should talk to his widow. Judy is an amazing human being, and they raised a family together. I remember meeting a couple of the kids, and they really had their head on straight. And I think that's what he really focused his attention on. I think he had some business interests, and he was doing charitable work, and of was of course, still connected to baseball.

BB: Thanks for taking some time out to talk.


KB: It was my pleasure.

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