In our “Legacy of a Jerk” podcast, we told a story about how Roberto Clemente‘s earthly reputation was burnished forever by his saintly death. It wasn’t that Clemente was a jerk — far from it — but the story emphasized how a certain kind of death can smooth out the rougher parts of a person’s reputation.
So I read with interest this fantastic ESPN article by Kevin Guilfoile about the bat that Clemente used to get his 3,000th hit. Guilfoile writes about the time he spent as an intern working for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente’s old team, and his interactions with the Pirates’ rising star Barry Bonds. If we ever make a sequel to “Legacy of a Jerk,” we should probably talk about Bonds and to what degree his damaged reputation — as a reputed long-time steroid user — is a product of his personality:
Barry wasn’t the kind of jerk who was nice to people only when he needed something from them. As far as I could tell, Barry was pretty much an ass to everybody all the time. Instead of berating me directly or just ignoring me, Barry would sometimes talk about me like I wasn’t there. Sometimes he would tell Bobby Bonilla, who had the locker next to him, that I was lying to them and these autographs weren’t for fans and that I was just selling these pictures to professional dealers, that I was another no-talent white man exploiting black men who possessed real ability.
Our “Legacy of a Jerk” podcast covered the notorious legacy of baseball great Ty Cobb, whom history has recorded as an ungracious and vicious human being. But the writer Charlie Leerhsen, who is working on a new biography of Cobb, says this reputation is undeserved — and, moreover, is largely the product of one man’s assessment, that man being an earlier Cobb biographer named Al Stump.
We recently heard from Stump’s son John, and his note is well worth a read:
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It was with interest that I read the exchange on Ty Cobb. I’ll disclose that I’m Al Stump’s son and that Charlie Leerhsen and I have communicated earlier in this year, once by phone call and a number of emails. One thought is that while I do agree about human projection on things that are negative, by Vohs’s point of view it also seems that we can never objectively say anything negative about Cobb, for ex. w/o it being this shadow projection. How can we get to the objective truth then?
A reader named Ert Dredge writes in with the following set of trenchant observations and questions:
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Hiya, Dubner ‘n Levitt.
I was just listening to podcast #84 “Legacy of a Jerk,” and it brought to mind a long-standing cocktail party question of mine: Is it reasonable to boycott what someone does for a living, if you think they’re good at it, because they’re privately a jerk?
Is it reasonable to never watch Braveheart again because of Mel Gibson‘s anti-Semitism or other issues?
…or never watch another Roman Polanski film?
…or to have not listened to Cat Stevens during the whole Salman Rushdie fatwa issue (misunderstanding?)
And, if so, does that mean that boycotting my local shoe repair guy’s business because he doesn’t clean up after his dog is reasonable.