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Twilight Zone: Manager Edition
by Alex Ciepley
This past week, ESPN.com featured a totally bizarre column from contributer Scoop Jackson, who virtually accused the Chicago media en masse of racism regarding their increasingly critical view of Dusty Baker.
Early in the article, Jackson outlines the basis of his premise, which is that there aren't any black sports columnists in Chicago's major media (something I can't verify, since I have no idea what most of the writers look like--and, frankly, have never really thought or cared about their race):
The media sets the agenda for how the public responds to nonobjective matters and to how the audience often forms an opinion on certain issues. In sports, in this town, those opinions are often -- if not always -- set by columnists. Sports columnists, not sports reporters. Reporters are nonobjective in this matter, although the editors do have 'angle control' over copy. Columnists, they are the ones who shape public opinion. Now ... how many black sports columnists do we have in this city? How many are at the Sun-Times? How many at the Trib?
Later, Jackson dissects a Jay Mariotti column, implying that Mariotti's true motive for his biting words were race-related.
Jay Mariotti wrote in the Sun-Times last week (before the L.A. Times piece dropped), "Just take your toothpicks, wristbands and perpetual pout and head to a nice, safe broadcast booth somewhere. Now." And he followed it up with, "[Baker is] causing citywide debates on whether or not he's emotionally equipped for the job... "
I read between those lines.
I noticed how none of the other above-the-fold columnists came to Dusty's defense. Not Rick Morrissey, not Mike Downey or Carol Slezak or Greg Couch, not even my good friend Rick Telander. Not that they're supposed to, but ... they ain't we.
They don't feel your struggle, Dusty.
Now, I'm not really one to defend Jay Mariotti, but Jackson's inferences to me border on lunacy. I'm guessing that Jackson might protest most to the idea that Mariotti thinks Baker isn't "emotionally equipped" for the job, but I don't see how this can be interpreted as a racial slur.
One of the biggest debates when Dusty took the Cubs' job was whether or not he would be comfortable with the often-harsh Chicago media. The question was whether or not he was too thin-skinned, not too dark-skinned.
I've never been a fan of Baker as a manager, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with his race. It's because I don't think he makes particularly deft in-game decisions, I think he abuses his pitching staffs, and I think his reluctance to break in position players and his insistence on having tried-and-true suckwads on his bench all lead to weaker Cubs teams.
I was pretty psyched to see Baseball America's Jim Callis, in a recent chat for ESPN, blast Jackson's article:
Shawn(Illinois): I was wondering what your response is to Scoop Jackson's article about the Chicago media and Dusty Baker?
SportsNation Jim Callis: I live in Illinois, and I thought it was garbage. Dusty Baker was what the Cubs needed in 2003, but since then he has not made his players accountable for anything, and it shows. To say that there's sentiment against Baker because he's black is ridiculous. That sentiment exists because people up here, fans and columnists, don't think Baker is doing a good job, not because most of the columnists and talk-show hosts are white. Also, if a white manager had made a comment similar to what Baker said about blacks being more suited to play under the hot sun, do you think that white manager would still have his job? Scoop Jackson's article was garbage.
Bravo, Jim, for taking someone who contributes to the same publication you do to task over an insulting article.
Yes, the Cubs have had more than their share of injuries cripple the team the past two years, but isn't this also true of, say, the Atlanta Braves? Bobby Cox has spent year after year managing a revamped roster on the fly, and this year his trust in unproven players will help lead the Braves to their 567th straight division title.
Speaking of Cox, I find it amusing that Jackson decided to close his article by comparing him with Baker:
If [the Cubs' manager] were Bobby Cox and not Dusty Baker, would I have ever had to write this column?
The answer, Scoop, is of course not. Because Cox more than likely would have found a way to turn both last year's and this year's Cubs teams into winners. And that has nothing to do with the color of his skin.