King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The reaction to Dusty Baker's racially ignorant comments has been just about right.

By Salon Staff
Published July 8, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

If Dusty Baker were a white man, I think he would be fighting to keep his job today, if he still had one.

The Cubs manager, who is black, made some off-the-cuff remarks before Saturday's game in Chicago against the Cardinals. He said black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in hot weather than whites are.

"We were brought over here for the heat, right?" Baker asked, referring to the slave trade. "Isn't that history? Weren't we brought over here because we can take the heat?" Baker also said that dark skin "is more conducive to heat than it is for lighter-skin people, right? You don't see brothers running around burnt. Yeah, that's fact. I'm not making this stuff up. Right?"

Wrong, of course.

The Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey pointed out that a study at New York Medical College found all races to be equally affected by heat, while a study by the U.S. Surgeon General's Borden Institute cites Army reports suggesting "that as a group, blacks are less heat-tolerant than whites."

At the risk of sounding like one of those tragically aggrieved white guys who think minorities get all the breaks, I have to say that if a white manager had said those things, he'd be a good candidate for the unemployment line. Baker, who seems to have been half-joking, has got tongues wagging and heads shaking a bit, but there's no great call for his stripes.

Imagine a white manager saying he likes to rely on his black players on hot days because they're better suited to the heat. "They were brought over here for the heat, right? Isn't that history?" The next time you saw that manager, he would be tearfully apologizing at a hastily organized news conference, trying to stave off his firing.

Al Campanis lost his job as the Dodgers' general manager in 1987 for saying that blacks "lack the necessities" to be big-league managers. The following year Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder made an argument similar to Baker's in trying to explain why blacks fared so well in American sports. He lost his TV career over it. Fuzzy Zoeller made some offensively ignorant remarks about Tiger Woods' eating habits a few years ago that made him a pariah.

I suppose Baker's getting a milder reaction because of the ancient unwritten rule that you can talk about your own. Blacks can say things about blacks that no one else can, just as Jews can say things about Jews, gays about gays, and so on.

But aside from that, the reaction to Baker seems about right. I think we often go too far in punishing people for doing something most of us do from time to time, especially when we're joking around or (as both Jimmy the Greek and Zoeller seemed to be) a little lubricated: We say something stupid.

Is it really so awful that, say, the manager of a baseball team unthinkingly subscribes to some pseudo-scientific myths that are just plain wrong and spouts them half-assedly as though he knew what he was talking about? The logical reaction to that ought to be what Baker's getting: Hey dumbass, check your facts.

I realize it would have been a different thing for a white manager to say those things about blacks than it was for Baker to say them. A white manager saying them might bring to light the well-hidden fact that he harbors racist attitudes. But maybe Baker does too. Or maybe, and far more likely, the comments reveal a guy who just doesn't know what he's talking about or when to shut up.

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