Circus peanuts

Chris Lamb at the home of the nation’s first professional baseball team – whatever they were called


Chris Lamb is Chair of the Journalism and Public Relations Department at Indiana University in Indianapolis. He’s an historian, lecturer, satirist and columnist, and is the author of 12 books about sports, politics and American society.

Read Chris’s full bio at the Conversations page.


Steve – What was your first ball game and what do you remember about it? What was the first game you took your son David to?

Chris – I went to my first game on October 2, 1964, when the Cincinnati Reds played the Philadelphia Phillies at Crosley Field. I was six. I don’t remember much about it, though I later learned it was quite an extraordinary day. I wrote a piece about the game for The Huffington Post.

I went with my father and two older brothers. I remember asking my father to buy me a Phillies’ hat – I hadn’t quite embraced the whole fan thing yet.

It was the second-to-last game of the season and the Phillies, Reds, and St. Louis Cardinals were all in the pennant race. The Phillies had lost something like 10 games in a row and were in the process of blowing what appeared to be an insurmountable lead in the National League standings. It remains one of the biggest end-of-season collapses in history.

I also remember – or at least I think I remember – Alex Johnson of the Phillies falling over in left field and somehow catching a fly ball with his bare hand and turning it into a triple play. It really happened. The Reds blew a lead and the Phils won 4-3. There was a scuffle in the Reds’ clubhouse after the game and the team’s shortstop went after the starting pitcher with an ice pick after the starting pitcher had thrown the shortstop into the lockers for not chasing a catchable fly ball. Just another day at the ballpark.

I took David to his first game 15 or 16 years ago, with my father and brothers and their kids. Bronson Arroyo was the winning pitcher for the Reds.

A year later, David and I drove to Atlanta with my father-in-law, where the Braves played David’s then-favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. David was wearing a Red Sox shirt and drunken Boston fans kept coming up and talking to him like he was their long-lost relative.

Here’s the really remarkable thing about that day, though: it was close to 100 degrees and David just wanted to watch the game. He asked for a drink maybe, but he was transfixed by the game. It was a 1-0 game, and this 7-year-old was keeping score and watching it like it was the best thing he had ever seen. I marvel at that to this day.

Steve – Just as your baseball relationship with David is important, yours with your own father has been just as precious. Bob always displayed great wisdom and judgment and so, naturally, was a lifelong Cubs fan. What did it mean to him to finally see a World Series win in 2016?

Chris – That’s a great question. I wasn’t with him – though two of my brothers and one of my sisters watched that remarkable Game Seven with him. I’m sure the Cubs’ win meant a lot to him, but it probably meant as much or more to him to have three of his kids in his house watching the game with him. He was a far more dispassionate baseball fan than I am. I don’t recall him ever getting upset watching a baseball game. Maybe rooting for the Cubs for almost 90 years does that to a person.

My dad went to his first game when he was seven or eight. He was talking about the game a few years ago and my oldest brother asked him if he could remember the Cubs’ lineup that day. He then identified a number of players and my brother looked up the team, and sure as hell he got everyone right. This was from a game that was played in 1931.

Steve – You and I recently watched the Reds host the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. You said you couldn’t remember the last time you’d been to back-to-back Reds’ wins. You’ve been a fan for half a century, so I’m pretty sure that’s an exaggeration, but all teams go through ups and downs. Your Reds lost exactly a hundred games last season; how do you see their prospects for this season and coming years?

Chris – I have to start by correcting something in the question. I think I said I can’t remember the last time I saw the Reds win a game! They had lost the last 11 or 12 games I had seen in person.

I always think the Reds are going to do better than the predictions tell me. And then the season starts and I realize the people who make predictions know a lot more than I do. I can’t see the Reds losing 100 games this season; 99 maybe, but not a hundred. They’ve got a lot of good minor leaguers. So maybe … they’ll be good again in a few years. Of course, they have a lot of good minor leaguers on their team right now but that doesn’t seem to do them a lot of good in the major leagues.

Chris and Marc Bona on the Roebling Bridge after a – rare – Reds victory


Steve – What was the first election you voted in? What do you think have been the most significant big picture changes to our politics since then?

Chris – I voted for Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter in the 1976 Presidential Election. It was the first and last time I voted for a Republican for president. My parents were both Republicans and I hadn’t quite realized the error of their ways.

The Republicans have stood for three things on the national level since the 1960s: racism, fear, and greed. Under Trumpism they stand for four things: racism, fear, greed, and anarchy. The most significant big-picture change to our politics since the 1970s or even 2012 has been technological. Disinformation has metastasized in our body politic.

I teach a course on Fake News and I don’t know how this cancer ends. It scares the hell out of me.

Steve – You grew up in Ohio, and after living in a number of cities around the Midwest and South, you’re now based in Indiana, the state that recently hosted an NRA convention where former Vice President Mike Pence was booed by his hometown crowd.

What do you think are the most important issues – national and local – that will shape the run-up to the 2024 election? And what are the country’s chances of returning to “normal” two-party politics afterwards, or is the toothpaste pretty much out of the tube – at least as far as one of the parties is concerned?

Chris – There’s a lot to unpack here. For the sake of brevity, I’ll ignore the urge to rail against Pence, who’s a pretty easy target and, as a satirist, I’ve written about often.

The most important issues are the economy, Joe Biden’s age, and the GOP’s mental competence, and not necessarily in that order. The GOP is no longer a political party; it’s a personality cult. We only have one political party in this country. But then Will Rogers famously said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat” so maybe there are no political parties in America.

The Republican party embraces book banning and white supremacism, and is OK with gun-related mass murder and denying abortions to 13-year-olds who are raped by their uncle. Democrats are going to need to sweep the board in 2024 to restore some sense of order. But when they need someone young and charismatic who can unite voters, they have Grandpa Joe.

Why do I have the urge to sing Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero.”?

(Bill Bramhall for the New York Daily News / Tribune Content)


Steve – You’ve spent your career working and teaching in the world of journalism. How would you sum up the current state of the industry and its likely future? One big issue we’ve chatted about has been the rapid growth of AI and the implications for trustworthiness. What can journalists do to best repair their relationship with readers amid such potential mis- and disinformation?

Chris – This is most depressing questionnaire I’ve ever filled out.

There is a lot of great journalism being done, thank God. Journalists, or at least the good journalists, clearly understand that misinformation and disinformation pose a real threat to the news media and to the country.

They’ve tried abandoning the quaint objective model of being stenographers to corrupt politicians like Donald Trump. When journalists began fact-checking Trump’s speeches and press conferences, no-one seemed to care. Now, they point out the facts in his speeches and press conferences. This hardly takes any time. Trump can speak for 40 minutes and never state a fact.

Social media companies are finally booting off those who spread disinformation (although the jury still seems to be out on Elon Musk’s Twitter). But so much of this crap is spread on reddits and sub-reddits and websites that operate in in the sewers of society.

AI also scares the hell out of me. I teach journalism where students have to write stories and include their sources. So I think I’m less vulnerable than those who teach other subjects. We were discussing AI in a recent meeting of department chairs. I had been grading a couple of term papers that I knew for sure were written by the students who handed them in. How did I know, I was asked. AI hasn’t yet advanced to the point where it can write “F” papers better than students. So I guess we have that going for us, for now.

Steve – Probably the most significant legal case for many years affecting the direction of journalism and media organizations – Dominion’s defamation suit against Fox News – recently wrapped up with Fox settling, but not being required to issue any kind of apology. What do you see as the likely ramifications for the First Amendment and our political discourse in general – especially with further court cases looming for Fox?

Chris – Fox doesn’t need to apologize; it’s a sorry media organization, whether it apologizes or not. Rupert Murdoch and Fox know they’re in a lot of trouble. More lawsuits, more settlements. I would normally worry about what implications this would have for the news media industry, except Fox News is not in the news media industry. Fox News is in fact a contradiction in terms. It’s neither a fox nor is it news. Fox News is like circus peanuts, which are neither a circus nor peanuts. Aren’t you glad you asked this question?


Steve – Your latest book, Stolen Dreams tells the story of a Black Little League team in South Carolina in 1955 – the same year the Brooklyn Dodgers with Jackie Robinson won the World Series. We’ve just celebrated another Jackie Robinson Day, with the numbers of Black players in the Major Leagues continuing to fall. You’ve written much about Jackie Robinson’s life and enduring influence. How important is it for baseball today to have Black heroes?

Chris – It’s terribly important that young Blacks have heroes. But it’s not important that they’re in baseball. Years ago, baseball represented one of the few areas where Blacks could compete against whites on an equal playing field. That’s not true any more. It’s important for all of us to have heroes. I loved the novel The Natural by Bernard Malamud. In it, Malamud says, “Without heroes, we are all plain people, and don’t know how far we can go.”


A plaque at GABP commemorates the Reds’ first Black player, Chuck Harmon


Steve – Finally, one last question about life and baseball – or rather, baseball fans. One of the things you’ve written a lot about and taught over the years has been humor writing, and understanding what makes people laugh. Is there still a distinct kind of baseball humor? Or is it dying out? Even in our lifetimes as fans, the kind of banter between fans and players – at spring training or minor league games – and the skill of old-time baseball writers in bringing such situations to life, has felt like an art form that’s being lost in a world dominated by podcasts and 24/7 video analysis.

What’s funnier, baseball humor or political humor?

Chris – To answer your last question first, baseball humor is funnier because we take baseball far more seriously than we do politics, and rightly so; there’s far more at stake.

There is a distinct kind of baseball humor and in my opinion “Ring” Lardner wrote it better than anyone else. I don’t think baseball humor is dying out. I think we tend to romanticize the past, and be too harsh on the present. As Billy Joel said, “the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

There are still funny people in baseball – like Joey Votto, who I might add was a lot funnier when he was hitting .300 than he is now when he is hitting .200. One time a fan yelled at Votto when he was on the on-deck circle, “Joey Votto, I remember you when you used to be good.” Votto responded: “Yeah, and I remember you when you used to be thin.”


Chris and I – when we used to be thin – in the ‘dugout’ exhibit at the Atlanta Braves Museum when it was located at Turner Field. This was right before we saw what’s still the longest game I’ve been to, on May 7, 2002.


You can follow Chris’s work at his personal site here and on Twitter here.


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