Tuesday, July 8, 2003

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Can Dusty Baker take the heat?

Dusty Baker -- the current manager of the Chicago Cubs -- was quoted making the following observation this past Saturday:

Personally, I like to play in the heat," he said. "It's easier for me. It's easier for most Latin guys and easier for most minority people.

"You don't find too many brothers in New Hampshire and Maine and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right? We were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over because we could take the heat?

"Your skin color is more conducive to the heat than it is to the light-skinned people, right? You don't see brothers running around burnt and stuff ... running around with white stuff on their ears and nose and stuff."

Now there's a minor furor over the issue, as this USA Today story recounts. Some key grafs:

Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, dismissing suggestions he made a racist assertion when speaking with reporters about day baseball, stands by his comments that black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in the sun and heat than white players....

Harry Edwards, a sports sociologist who served on the faculty at the University of California-Berkeley for 30 years, called the comments "unfortunate and not totally informed" but said they weren't malicious....

"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," Edwards said.

Baker, one of four African-Americans among seven minority managers in the major leagues, agrees. "But as a black manager, I can say things about blacks that a white manager can't say, and whites can say things about whites that blacks can't say."

Now, the problem I have with this is that Baker is not saying things only about blacks. He's making a comparative statement about different races -- blacks and Latinos are better at tolerating the heat than whites. There is no difference between the content of what Baker said and the content of what CBS Sports analyst Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder said fifteen years ago when he argued that blacks were better athletes because of the way they were bred as slaves. Snyder recanted; Baker is standing firm.

Should Baker apologize for making such uninformed and stereotypical remarks? Yes, he should.

UPDATE: Two e-mails worthy of note. The first from reader J.G.:

There's a great difference
between saying "eugenical breeding during slavery made blacks more athletic" and saying "people of African origin, because of the greater amount of melanin in their skin, can better cope with heat and the sun. In fact, Africans evolved with dark skin as a defense against the climate of their long-ago ancestors."

The second from reader J.B.:

Dusty Baker should first apologize for selecting for the All-Star Game a pitcher with an ERA exceeding 6. If he really thinks that saves constitute a meaningful statistic, given prevailing pitcher usage patterns and the rules governing saves, then someone should buy him a copy of Michael Lewis's Moneyball, along with all those old copies of Bill James's ground-breaking abstracts.

posted by Dan on 07.08.03 at 05:38 PM