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Friday, April 11
Petroskey says move was not politically motivated

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- The baseball Hall of Fame president insisted Friday he was not politically motivated when he canceled a "Bull Durham'' celebration because of anti-war criticism by co-stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and said he had only one regret.

"I wish that the reasoning had been better articulated so it could have been better understood,'' Dale Petroskey, a former official in the Reagan administration, said from his office at Cooperstown, N.Y.

"What we were trying to do was take politics out of this,'' he said. "We didn't want people to espouse their views in a very public place, one way or another. The Hall isn't the place for that.''

The Hall's stance resulted in another cancellation. Author Roger Kahn, whose "Boys of Summer'' is considered among the best baseball books ever, has called off his August appearance to speak at the Hall in protest.

Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, however, supported the Hall's decision.

"I think Petroskey articulated it perfectly,'' Sutton, now a Braves broadcaster, said during Atlanta's game at Florida on Friday night.

Petroskey sent a letter to Robbins and Sarandon this week, telling them the 15th anniversary festivities for "Bull Durham'' set for April 26-27 were off.

Recent comments by the actors "ultimately could put our troops in even more danger,'' said Petroskey, a former White House assistant press secretary under President Reagan.

Robbins and Sarandon, his longtime partner, have been active in peace rallies to protest the war in Iraq. Robbins said he "dismayed'' by the decision and responded Wednesday night with a letter to Petroskey, telling him: ``You belong with the cowards and ideologues in a hall of infamy and shame.''

Reaction was swift. The Hall received 5,000 e-mails on the topic Thursday, both pro and con.

"Certainly people have strong views about this. I'm surprised how much interest it's gotten,'' Petroskey said.

Petroskey said the cancellation was a management decision. He also said he was surprised at how his political background had been brought to the forefront of the debate.

"I spent two years in the Reagan White House nearly 20 years ago, and I never served former President Bush or the current President Bush,'' he said. "Nobody mentions the 11 years I worked at National Geographic. I find it interesting that people seize upon something from my career nearly 20 years ago and that it slants the issue.''

Petroskey did tell ESPNEWS on Friday that if he had to do it over again, he would've called Robbins and Sarandon.

Petroskey also released a statement, reiterating the Hall's stance and its ties to the military. Active and retired military personnel get free admission and a plaque was dedicated last Memorial Day to the 64 Hall of Famers who served the United States in the armed forces during wartime.

"As much as The Hall of Fame honors our armed forces, this institution should never be used as a platform for public pro-war sentiments -- nor public anti-war sentiments. Given the track record of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and the timing -- with our troops committed in Iraq -- a strong possibility existed that they could have used The Hall of Fame as a backdrop for their views.

"Mr. Robbins and Ms. Sarandon have every right to express their opinions. But The Baseball Hall of Fame is not the proper venue for highly charged political expressions, whatever they may be,'' Petroskey wrote.

Robbins said this week that he had planned to talk about baseball, not the war and politics.

"This was just a celebration, a chance to see some friends from the movie and make what's become almost an annual trip with our boys,'' Sarandon said.

"As far as I knew, we weren't speaking. I wasn't even planning to wear makeup. And to politicize baseball is to violate the spirit of what it's all about,'' she said.

The "Bull Durham'' affair, planned months ago, also was to feature actor Robert Wuhl and writer-director Ron Shelton. Robbins plays an up-and-coming minor league pitcher in the 1988 film and Sarandon plays a fan who helps him focus his erratic talent. Kevin Costner also stars.

Kahn was to speak at the shrine in behalf of his new book "October Men'' about the 1978 New York Yankees team that won the World Series.

In a letter Thursday to Petroskey, Kahn wrote:

"By canceling the Hall of Fame anniversary celebration of 'Bull Durham' for political reasons, you are, far from supporting our troops, defying the noblest of the American spirit. You are choking freedom of dissent. How ironic. In theory, at least, we have been fighting this war to give Iraqis freedom of dissent.

"But here you, through the great institution you head, have moved to rob Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Ron Shelton of that very freedom. In support of the American right to dissent, I have no choice but to cancel my August speaking appearance at the Hall.''

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