As football becomes less a sport than a bully pulpit for self-righteous millionaire social justice warriors, baseball has, for the first time in decades, surpassed it in popularity. But that’s no thanks to Bruce Maxwell, the Oakland Athletics catcher whose sole claim to fame is nothing he has ever done with a bat or a glove. He’s known for his status as the only major league baseball player to take a knee during the National Anthem.
Now Maxwell’s credibility, like the NFL’s, has taken a serious hit: he recently claimed that a Trump-supporting Alabama waiter had denied him service. It turns out that he lied about the whole thing. Then, to top it off, he was arrested Sunday for pointing a gun at a woman.
Baseball’s popularity is extraordinary; it has been a sinking ship for years. One noted sports analyst wrote:
Professional baseball is on the wane. Salaries must come down, or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares every team in the face.
That was Albert Spalding, writing in 1881.
While its imminent demise has been predicted virtually since organized baseball began, it has actually shown a remarkable resilience. But if Bruce Maxwell has any say in the matter, that will all soon come to an end. He may have hit on the way to administer the coup de grace to the grand old game.
Maxwell started taking a knee near the end of the regular season; no other major league players followed suit. Then, having discovered a surer path to fame than hitting .237 with three home runs, Maxwell returned to the headlines when he claimed last week that at Keegan’s Public House in Huntsville, Alabama, a waiter recognized him and said:
You’re the guy who took the knee? I voted for Trump, and I stand for everything he stands for.
The vicious Make-America-Great-Again waiter then, Maxwell claimed, denied him service.
The story was implausible from the start, reminiscent of the many MAGA-hat wearing louts brutalizing hijab-wearing Muslimas who turned out, upon investigation, to be entirely fictional (see, for example, here and here and here). And now the waiter in question, Matt Henry, has completely denied Maxwell’s story:
He is outright lying. This is really upsetting as he was given full service, I didn’t even know who Bruce Maxwell was. This all started because I carded his friend who wanted to order a beer.
Henry explained that his friend, denied a beer, grew angry:
He asked me, “Don’t you know who Bruce Maxwell is?”, and told me I was making everyone feel uncomfortable. Nobody was even paying attention to them. I didn’t know anything about him or the kneeling. All I know is a friend of mine 15 years ago lost his job for serving someone a drink who happened to be underage, so if anyone looks under 30, I’m going to card them.
For that, Matt Henry is now a white supremacist neo-Nazi, and Bruce Maxwell has more publicity than he is ever likely to get for actually playing baseball. But this ugly little incident in Hunstville only underscores the fact that neither baseball nor any other sport needs the likes of Bruce Maxwell. Football has already driven itself into a ditch by coddling these pampered protesters, who live lives of privilege and comfort and command salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most Americans. (Bruce Maxwell made the major league minimum salary, a just-above-the-poverty-line $535,000, in 2017.) If baseball now follows Maxwell’s lead and follows suit, it won’t enjoy its newfound popularity for long.
People follow sports as a respite from the cares of daily life. No one knew or cared if Babe Ruth or Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle was a Democrat or a Republican. The game was about the game, and nothing else. Football, by allowing politics to intrude on the game, has made a disastrous and possibly fatal mistake. Baseball may be making the same mistake: it isn’t doing anything to make Bruce Maxwell stand up, but it is a good sign that no players followed him. If baseball moguls are lucky, Maxwell will wash out of the league in 2018 and be forgotten, his example still unfollowed.
Maybe the total politicization of American society has reached its high-water mark, and will start to recede. But that seems unlikely. It seems much more likely, the way things are going, that in a few years it will be just as hard for a conservative to get a job playing football as it is for a conservative to get a job in Hollywood. But if the tide is indeed turning, we may owe it to Bruce Maxwell’s overreach at the Keegan Public House in Huntsville, Alabama, and the courage of waiter Matt Henry in calling him on his lies.