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Mark's Madness: Blacks and baseball

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Al Campanis once said black people don't have the mental "necessities" to be managers and executives in the big leagues. He also said they can't swim. Campanis was soon thereafter relieved of his duties as general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And not because he said blacks can't swim.

Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder once said black athletic superiority is the long-term result of selective breeding by slave owners who coupled the most physically fit blacks. Snyder was soon thereafter relieved of his duties as a network sports analyst.

Dusty Baker said Saturday that blacks can handle heat better than whites: "We were brought over here for the heat, right? Weren't we brought over here because we could take the heat?"

Despite displaying racial ignorance on a par with Campanis and Snyder, Baker is still the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Baker might have the mental "necessities" to manage in the big leagues. But when it comes to dropping PR hand grenades, he really isn't too bright.

Baker should be fired. Campanis and Snyder were fired, so Baker should be fired, too.

But it's not going to happen. Black-on-black ignorance is all the fashion in rap, where N-bombs are considered straight hip-hop from the streets, yo. Now, thanks to Baker, black-on-black ignorance has debuted in baseball.

Everyone who knows Baker says the Cubs' manager didn't make his statement maliciously. Well, I saw Campanis make his statement on ABC's "Nightline" in 1987, and he wasn't wearing a white hood. There was no cross burning in the background.

Campanis spoke in blithe, matter-of-fact fashion, with no contempt or hatred in his voice. He believed what he said. He was simply ignorant.

Baker believed what he said, as he has since confirmed. He, too, is simply ignorant, although a plethora of allegedly educated apologists have climbed out of the woodwork to say, "You know, Dusty could be right. Skin tone does offer some protection."

Jimmy The Greek, of course, could not be right. Why? Because he's white.

Sports sociologist Harry Edwards, a black man, told USA Today the plain truth, "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."

Added Baker, "As a black manager, I can say things about blacks that a white manager can't say." At least he got that right.

In a mercifully unrelated development, Sports Illustrated points out that African-Americans occupy only 10 percent of big-league roster spots. That's down from 19 percent in 1995 and down from 27 percent in 1975. The Pirates won the 1979 World Series with 10 black players on their 25-man roster.

SI says African Americans are experiencing "a cultural disconnect" with baseball, whatever that means.

Perhaps it means this: Black people have long set fashion and music trends in this country. Black people know what's cool before white people do, and often determine what's cool. So maybe black people have figured out how boring baseball is before white people have. But, let the record show, not before this white guy.

Or maybe black athletes play football and basketball instead of baseball so they can stay out of the hot summer sun. Sorry, Dusty.

New York Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd told SI that when he goes back to his old Chicago 'hood, his homeys don't even know what he does now. Not only is black participation in baseball declining, but Floyd gets his ego bruised when he visits home. I'll let you decide which problem is bigger.

Actually, I don't see fewer black players in Major League Baseball as a problem. Nor do I see fewer white players in the NFL and NBA as a problem.

Maybe we've finally reached the perfect level of integration in big-time sports. Maybe if you're good enough, you play, and race doesn't enter into it. If that could be carried over into coaching and management, sports would be racial nirvana.

The big question: Why don't many black athletes play hockey? My big answer: I don't care. Anson Carter plays hockey, and that's good enough for me.

Getting back to Baker, he might be a decent manager ... then again, maybe he's not. In San Francisco, Baker won with Barry Bonds, which is easy. Even the Pirates did it. Now Baker is showing signs of steering the supposedly loaded Cubs back under .500. The Cubs play more day games than anybody. Maybe that's taking its toll on the white players.

Anyway, Baker is a dope. Anyone who lets his 3 1/2-year-old son scurry around home plate while grown men are running by at lightning speed is clearly a dope.

Baker also said that you "don't see some brothers walking around with white stuff on their noses." Have we forgotten Darryl Strawberry already?

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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