Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Scoop Jackson called me out

I know this is out of the scope of this blog, but I come to you as a Cubs fan and a Chicagoan.


And this will be fun. Otherwise I wouldn't attack such an easy target , for 'fisking' a Scoop Jackson article is pretty much the definition of a 'straw man' argument. But for those who aren't from here and would take this article for anything besides a laughingstock, I feel the need to vent. As a result the following will be unnecessarily vitriolic and....long. If you continue to scroll down for the NBA talk, I won't blame ya.


Scoop Jackson does have supreme access to the NBA and it's participants, and for that his stuff can be fun to read. But today's column about Dusty Baker, the Cubs, and Cubs fans is so misguided, so unnecessary, and so blatantly insulting that it cannot be ignored. Well maybe it could've been ignored, but ESPN.com links it on their front page, and for some reason I still go to ESPN.com. Old habits die hard, I guess.


Take it away, Scoop:

Here come the rumors.
You knew, at some point, they had to come. You could feel them lurking down Addison Street alleys, behind Cubby Bear bars. You were simply waiting for the "dust" to settle, waiting for the trade deadline to pass. Waiting for that one Chicago columnist to break the rumor.
You had no idea the rumor would break from the Left. From L.A.
"A person 'close to' Dusty Baker said..."
Then, following that in the L.A. Times story, the words "unhappy," "wants to go," "desperately" and "if."
Dusty Baker desperately wants to manage the Dodgers. He is unhappy in Chicago and wants to go to Los Angeles if Jim Tracy (the current Dodgers' manager) leaves at the end of this year. Here we go.

Hey, here we go indeed. What is Scoop Jackson, NBA writer and Chicago native, going to put forth in this column that'll be a reasoned argument for either keeping or heaving Dusty Baker as Cubs manager? To put my views out there before we really get into this, I should tell you that Dusty's managing tenure has gnawed at me to the point where every day I see Dusty in the Cubs dugout a little piece of me dies. So there's the 'bias' going into reading this. There are several reasons why (which will be detailed in the coming paragraphs), but however,  I do realize some of his good qualities as a manager. So I'm open to hear Scoop's side:

For months, damn near since the beginning of the third week of the season, the lynch mob has been out, looking for Dusty Baker to exit Chicago, stage left. GT*O. Give the Cubs and their losing ways back to the city, because this "expectation of winning and not having it happen" is taking a toll.
"We can't live like this," is the attitude being painted. Jim Fregosi is never around when you need him, is he?
When Dusty came to Chi, he came basically for one reason: To turn Sammy Sosa into Barry Bonds. For years, Dusty had managed Bonds masterfully in San Fran. And somehow, Baker was able to get out of Bonds -- and the Giants -- a trip to keep playing ball in October.
The Cubs wanted that. The Cubs needed that.

Well, sorta. The Cubs signed Dusty Baker to win the world series. Nobody in their right mind would compare Sosa to Bonds. Wait, did Scoop just say 'lynch mob'? I don't like where this is going:

The Tribune Co. (the team's owner) made the move. "In Dusty We Trust" signs lined Wrigleyville. The Cubs were one Steve Bartman out away from beating the Boston Red Sox to the punch.

Opening salvo of stupid from Scoop. One Steve Bartman out away from winning the World Series? There were myriad reasons why the Cubs lost that game (which by the way would've gotten them TO the World Series), one of which is Dusty himself. The man was taking a snooze in the dugout while Mark Prior was out there throwing batting practice to the Marlins in game 6. Neither Prior nor Dusty could help the Bartman foul ball or the Alex Gonzalez error (how Scoop fails to mention that incident is odd), but Dusty never even had anyone warming up. By the time he finally visited the mound the damage had been done. And that's just one inning, no need to go into the rest of it, or the fact that while they were close to the world series they won a pedestrian 88 victories in the regular season. I won't say that Dusty's solely responsible for losing that game or the NLCS (remember, there was a game 7 too), but I can say for certain that in no way were they 'one Bartman out' away from winning the World Series.

Now, the subtle campaign to get the dude out is about to start. In a city where the motto is "Vote Early and Vote Often," the media's master plan to get Dusty Baker outta here is like a KRS classic, and it began long before the L.A. Times broke that story on Sunday.

The media's master plan? can't wait till we get to that. And I don't know what a "KRS classic" is. You win this round Scoop.

Here's where the racist in me comes out.

Well, at least it's admitted.

On Sunday morning, during the "Sports Unplugged" radio show on Power 92 (92.3 FM) in Chicago, I basically "forgot about the game and spit the truth."

I think that means "talk out of your ass". I could be wrong: like "KRS classic", it could be just some term I'm not familiar with.

I did the Skinny Black.

See previous comment.

In a conversation about "media fairness" and Dusty Baker, I said this:
"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.

I'm perfectly capable of forming my own opinion, thanks. And Chicago has notoriously subpar columnists,  so I don't think they're shaping as much as you'd contend. This is the first major fallacy perpetrated here, that everybody's opinion is shaped by local columnists, so their percieved bias (and that's coming) determines the fanbase's fickle 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?"
None, was the answer I was given.
"And what about sports-talk radio?"
I looked at my two co-hosts, Leon Rogers and Steve Bardo, and asked the over-obvious question to Johnnie Cochran my point home.
"Outside of the two hours on Sunday morning that we have, and outside of Jonathan Hood on 'The Score' (WSCR-AM), how many black sports-talk shows do we have in the city? What? One?"
Leon began to hum the "We Shall Overcome" spiritual. Everyone in the studio busted out laughing.
The Ralph Wiley in me wouldn't leave.

Thankfully the real Ralph Wiley DID leave. ::pauses for boos:: I mean, I didn't read the man much, but if he inspires this line of thought I can do without....

"Trust me, the man has kept two raggedy-ass teams playing .500 ball for two seasons. Yet the columnists and radio hosts in the city want him out."

Yeah. And the soulless minions that they control. They're otherwise known as...sports fans. And guess what, many of them want Dusty out as well, whether or not they read or heard a similar opinion by the Chicago sports media conspiracy that I didn't even know existed. When's the last time you talked to a Cub fan who wasn't in the NBA or was some sort of B-List celeb? If you have, do you respect their opinion or assume it was shaped by the aforementioned blanket of anti-Dusty propaganda?

I pulled back from the mike. Looked at them, the Chicago version of the 2 Live Stews.

"It's our job ... to have Dusty's back."

As I write this column on Monday night from Los Angeles, 2,000 miles and almost 48 hours later, I still believe, right or wrong, that I have no other choice.


If asked, Dusty Baker would say I was wrong.

He would be the first to say that the media, in the negative stories and head-hunting articles printed about his management of the Cubs, have no racial motive at all.

He'd be the first to remind me that in Boston, the media did the same thing to Terry Francona -- even this year, only months after he made history.

Anything but color, he'd tell you. His being black has nothing to do with the rumors.

I think you're right, Dusty would never say that. and he'd be right.

But I don't speak for Dusty Baker.

Crud. I forgot, you are a bastion of light in this fog the anti-Dusty-federated-media outlets have cast over myself and Chicago.

He's been through this, knows the game, knows this comes with the territory. None of this -- the rumors, the unsupportive press -- fazes him.

Like he said in his calmest demeanor in his public statement after the rumor broke, "I seem to be in more rumors than somebody in Hollywood. I didn't sign here for four years to be thinking about going somewhere else. I'm here [in Chicago], and I want to win here, for the Cubs, the front office, the town."

As far as the now-published rumors that he wants to leave...

"I don't know where these [rumors] come from."

Calmest demeanor? It was a 'woe is me' demeanor that we here are used to. Ask him a controversial question, or anything that questions his decision-making, and Dusty starts to change the subject and mumble how tough times are. Everything fazes Dusty, it's part of the us-vs-them philosophy that he instills in his players, which on the one hand can make them want to play for him, but also turns them into excuse-making jerks. If you win, that's fine, but...

They come from them, Dust. They come from certain members of the 312 area-code media who quietly would like to see someone else at the helm of the organization that best reps America's national pastime. Someone who looks and acts more like them. Someone who won't make the comment: "We were brought over here to work in the heat. Isn't that history?" as you did two years ago, talking about us people.

Ok, gloves come off Scoop. You have just called 'certain' columnists in this city (that's the '312 area-code', if you don't care enough to get with Scoop's lingo) racist. There's no other way to look at that selection.


Now, the idea of what the media 'wants' Dusty to be like. Let me try and make this clear: Dusty may or may not be a complete imbecile, there is just plenty of evidence that suggests he is. And I'm not talking about his managerial strategies, or general baseball philosophies(the most compelling reason I want him fired), but when he opens up about non-baseball subjects. And the specific statement Scoop refers to (black players faring better in heat) was indefensible. As misguided as Scoop's premise is, I cannot believe he would use that line from Dusty as some sort of evidence to support him.


For a full review on that statement from July of 2003, OffWing Opinion has a great blog roundup of the discussion at the time. As you can see, the reactions ranged from the outraged (David Pinto called for suspension)  to the simply bemused, but nobody would ever point to what Dusty said as character-building like Scoop did.


I don't mean to pick on Dusty being uninformed, but this is not the case of just a baseball guy being off-the-cuff. Many athletes get a justifiable free pass  for that, but Dusty is different in the fact that he cannot wait to tell you how damn smart he is. This is someone who tells everyone he is a 'thinking dude', and regales you how he read 'The Art of War' and other philosophy books. But beyond the 'black players play better in the heat' theory (which in case you don't click on the OffWing roundup, is flat-out incorrect racial stereotyping), here is an abridged version of more Dusty gems:


-Players from warm climates (like northern California for example) play better in heat.
-Bigger players take longer to get going because they have 'more moving parts'
-In August is the time when tempers flare in the clubhouse because it's hot.
-The fourth year of a hitter is usually the toughest (Thanks to Mike's Baseball Rants for that one)
-He puts holy water on injured players
-Most recently, told fans they can't boo players even on the OPPOSING TEAM


I wish I could go back in time and start a blog to chronicle the idiotic things Dusty says, forbetween that list and the his baseball 'acumen', there would be plenty of ammo.


 So you're right Scoop, nobody would really want a manager who would make that comment, not because it challenges their  ideaology, but because it's simply embarrassing to have someone who would say that be the face of an organization.


I wish that was all from Scoop...

Not that the West Coast rumor was made up, and not that this "close friend" doesn't exist -- but the first tactic all media outlets use is to paint a bad picture to justify future actions.

Potentially moronic? yes, but Dusty is definitely PR-savvy (and he has some good manegerial qualities that I point out later). and I don't think it's absurd to suggest that it was Dusty who leaked these rumors and and is now playing the sympathy card to court public opinion for this inevitable split (whether its after this year or the next) from the Cubs. It can work both ways with these 'leaks'

I've been through this. I know this game. I know the territory this comes with.

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.

"Rick Telander, my friend, you are a racist." Some 'friend' you are Scoop. And this illustrates what I'm saying about this media conspiracy: I disagree with Jay Mariotti with pretty much everything, and the vigor of which I write this is often directed towards him. But I'm with him regarding Dusty. And so apparently are the rest of the Trib and SunTimes' columnists. And so are more than a few independently-thinking sports fans in Chicago (if you believe we exist Scoop). Maybe its not a conspiracy after all, it's possible we can all look at Dusty objectively and realize he's gotta go. If you ever listened to the aforementioned Jonathan Hood you'd here the same thing, and Chicago-born Mike Wilbon isn't a fan of Dusty. I have a dream that we do not judge sportsmedia members by the color of their skin, but by....oh forget it.

Or the fact that what you've done in the last two-plus years for this cursed organization is just short of the name Smokey Robinson called his crew. Name another manager who can come to a losing franchise, make the playoffs in his first year and then deal with the following: the sellout and meltdown of Sosa with everything from a corked bat to a trade; the loss of Moises Alou to the Giants, only to watch him hit .328 this season; the acquisition of, but not the use of (because of injury), Nomar Garciaparra; a rotation without the two best pitchers in the league (Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), on which the organization has bankrolled the franchise; the failure of the center fielder of the future, Corey Patterson, who has been sent down to the minors -- probably for good -- because of his inability to establish himself as a leadoff man (or even someone who can hit sixth).

Here's the math: Five All-Stars down at once, on one roster.

Yes, Dusty, you have the second-best player in baseball in D. Lee, and Aramis Ramirez is doing some damage; but you don't have one Cub pitcher who is in the top 10 in victories, ERA, saves or innings pitched (Carlos Zambrano is seventh in strikeouts).

Yet ... still ... in spite of ...

You are four games out of the wild-card race. Playing .500 baseball. In contention.

Yet ... still ... in spite of ...

They expect you to be better than the Cardinals and the Astros.

Yet ... still ... in spite of ...

The Cubs have manager issues ... according to "a citywide debate."

You use the term 'in contention' very loosely. While only 3.5 games back, the Cubs are tied for 5th in the wild card standings.  Dusty's list of purely baseball-related offenses are well-known and don't need to be re-hashed. But lets just keep it simple by saying a team with the highest payroll in the national league Is underachieving, and many times they win in spite of the lineup creation and in-game strategy that Dusty 'provides'. Even when he was leading San Fransisco to the World Series, his in-game managing was always suspect, but there was no doubt that he could handle egos and forge support for the ultimate 'players manager'. But it's not working here, no matter how many boogeymen he scares up to deflect criticism, and how many of 'his guys' make the starting lineup while promising callups are never allowed consistent playing time.


And who's to blame? If you ask Dusty: it's the day games, the heat, the cold, the broadcasters, its hot, the fans booing, the expectations, and of course: it's too hot.

And the color of your skin, Dust, has nothing to do with this, right?


If so, then I apologize.

But in the words of the great racial philosopher Charles Barkley: I may be wrong ... but I doubt it.
The truth is that Dusty Baker is going nowhere soon. The Cubs will not make a move on him until his contract is up. They recognize all that Dusty has done, and what he's had to go through to get it done.

That, or the $4m left on his contract for next season. Trust me, GM Jim Hendry has tried to give Dusty everything possible to remove his excuses, from dumping Sammy to removing the evil broadcast booth from Dusty's hair. And I don't think it's to paint Dusty in a corner neither, it's to honestly give Dusty what he believes is the best chance at success.

Plus, they don't want "Ty Willingham: the Sequel" to jump off.

But what rumor will be next? In L.A., I'm waiting for Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta to say that he's talked to Dusty Baker's "close" friend, who will have told him, when the season has ended, that Dusty can "no longer tolerate Chicago." And that he's ready to move back home.

In Chi, I'll be waiting on the headline: "Cub Brass Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail Meet with Baker To Discuss Future."

By then, the master plan will have worked; and once again, in the eyes of the local media, everything in Cubdom will be white ... I mean right.

As it should be.

The only question left to ask will be this: If it were Bobby Cox and not Dusty Baker, would I have ever had to write this column?

One last incredulous statement to send us off: Comparing Dusty Baker to Bobby Cox.


I'll let this great post over at Temporary Bleachers finish it off:

"If this were Bobby Cox and not Dusty Baker, you wouldn't be anywhere near this story because Cox isn't black and you wouldn't have any racist rhetoric to spew out disguised as journalism.

Terry Francona, Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia, Jim Tracy, and Jack McKeon are all getting lambasted these days by the press because their teams are not performing up to expectations but your argument comes from your feeling that Dusty is only getting the same treatment because he is black. If he had anything of substance to say in his arguments, Mr. Jackson seemed to have left them out entirely. He didn't give one nugget of information or opinion that would make me rethink my position that Dusty is a bad manager."

We will now return to our regularly scheduled NBA blog...if you want to talk hoops there are the always-fun comments. Thanks for letting me indulge my anger, I feel better now.