Baker dusts off stereotypes, hypocrisy

Posted: Jul 11, 2003 12:00 AM

There is no end to good reasons why I don't write about baseball. While I followed the game as a kid, I stopped about a decade ago. So, truth be told, I didn't even know that Dusty Baker was the manager of the Chicago Cubs, and I had only a vague recollection that he had managed the San Francisco Giants into last year's World Series. But even I couldn't miss the mini-hysteria over Baker's comments that black and Hispanic players deal with the heat better.

"It's easier for most Latin guys and it's easier for most minority people because most of us come from heat," Baker told reporters on July 5. "You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. ... We were brought over here for the heat, right?

Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over because we could take the heat?" He continued, "(Black's) skin color is more conducive to heat than it is for lighter skin people, right?"

The good news for Baker is that he's black. And, as if to prove his point, the social heat isn't too hot for him precisely because he is black.

My limited research reveals plenty of sports writers and other commentators condemning Baker for the "stupidity" or "ignorance" of his comments. But nobody seems to think this will cost him his career. In fact, the universal consensus is quite the opposite. Everybody seems to agree that if Baker were white, this would cost him his job, his reputation, his career. But since black is so often shorthand for "incapable of being racist," Baker's getting off with a slap on the wrist.

Consider sports sociologist Harry Edwards. He came to Baker's defense in USAToday declaring, "Dusty and I go back a long way, and Dusty by no means is enamored with ethnic or racial stereotypes." But, he explained matter-of-factly, "If a white manager made those statements, there's no question he would find himself in a group that includes Al Campanis and Jimmy `The Greek' Snyder."

Snyder, recall, made two terrible mistakes. In 1988, the CBS football commentator said that black athletes who descended from slaves had certain genetic advantages over whites -not all that different from Baker's take on history when you think about it.

Snyder's second mistake, obviously, was not going back a long way with Harry Edwards. Back then, Edwards lead the mob denouncing Snyder. He told The New York Times that Snyder was "obviously incompetent and abysmally ignorant" and "a disgrace to the network."

Edwards explained to UPI that "Jimmy `The Greek' is not the problem; he is a reflection of the problem, one that is apparently quite well-spread among the hierarchy of sports in this country." It was a sign of the institutional racism infecting major league sports "that an individual in the media could become so comfortable with that kind of sentiment that he could make such a statement and then be surprised at the negative reaction. ... Anytime the truth of a situation is shouted from the rooftops it can only help to clarify the realities."

Fast forward to this week and the reality of the situation seems a bit different. Defending Baker from any further criticism, Edwards told USA Today, "If we didn't have a race issue in this country, (Baker's comments) would have little or no consequence. But we do have a race issue." How this exonerates Baker is a mystery to me, since we had "a race issue in this country" when Snyder made his comments, too.

Now, I'm harping on Edwards for a reason. He's made his career denouncing institutional racism. He organized the "black power" protests at the 1968 Olympics. When the ultraliberal faculty at Berkeley denied him tenure he cried racism and got the decision reversed. And, after Al Campanis, an L.A. Dodgers exec who suggested that blacks don't have the "necessities" to make good managers, was fired, Edwards was hired as a diversity consultant by Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

Personally, I don't think it's outrageous that Baker said blacks and Hispanics handle the heat better than whites. I'm not sure it's true, though I do find unpersuasive the attempts of many columnists to dismiss the idea as totally absurd. No, what was stupid was that Baker broke a rule that such comments have no place in professional sports anymore. Right or wrong, violating that rule has cost people their careers -thanks in large part to heavy-handed activists like Edwards.

Now Edwards' and Baker's defenders want a new rule. If you're black you get a pass. I have a better idea. Instead of telling blacks they can traffic in racial stereotypes, but whites who repeat them must be tarred and feathered, how about everybody just lightens up?