Boswell or Baker?
In his Friday column Tom Boswell lamented that Dusty Baker had evoked racial stereotypes when Baker said at a news conference, “The number one thing that’s missing in the game is speed… you’ve got a better chance of getting speed with Latin and African Americans.” I will admit upfront that I do not have the hubris to question an African-American on his racial sensitivity. While I am coming clean, I never knew why Jelly Roll Morton was called “Jelly Roll,” either. I had my suspicions, but no real “inside” information.
Dusty Baker came of age when Lou Brock and Maury Wills were at the top of their game. He played when Whitey Ball was all the thing, when Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Willie Wilson, and Vince Coleman defined excellence in baseball. I am not going to do the math, but I will venture to guess that African American professional baseball players averaged more stolen bases than their white counter parts. Jackie Robinson created a new role in baseball for speed and daring on the base paths and I don’t believe anyone would second guess that statement. Nor should they Dusty Baker’s.
There have always been white athletes whose game was all about speed. George Case in Washington is a case in point and Billy Hamilton is closing in on Lou Brock for second place all time in stolen bases. But Dusty Baker’s first year in pro ball was 1967 and at the time baseball had as many high-profile African-American and Latin players as whites. Names like Clemente, Mays, and McCovey dominated the All-Star lineups.
In the 1968 National League All-Star lineup, the first four hitters were Willie Mays, Curt Flood, Willie McCovey and Hank Aaron. Waiting in the wings were Matty and Felipe Alou, Billy Williams, Tony Perez and Leo Cardenas. Juan Marichal and Bob Gibson commanded the mound. It was a very different day for baseball back then and I am not certain why Dusty Baker lamenting the current situation is newsworthy. Would more African-American players add speed to today’s game? If the historical record is any basis for judgment, then I am going with Dusty and Tom Boswell can kiss my Tommy Lasorda.
The press have always nipped at the heals of managers like noisy terriers. There was Hal McRae as Kansas City manager. “Why are you asking me that stupid-assed question?” said McRae before starting to throw f-bombs at reporters as well as most of the things on his desk before they took cover in the hallway. Now such interviews are conducted in public where the manager doesn’t have anything to throw at the writers. On a bad night would Boswell have asked McRae “so why did you bring Storen in for Zimmermann in the ninth inning?” I would have bought tickets for that one.
Then there was Tommy Lasorda answering the question why he had his pitchers intentionally throw at “a .130 hitter like Bevaqua who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.” For the record, I admit to editing that last one, but for fun on Youtube, there is nothing better than searching for the list of managers over-selling their decision making.
Boswell is right to second guess Baker’s tone deaf defense of Aroldis Chapman. Baker defended his former player more aggressively than was advisable. Noting that men are abused by women was the most cringe worthy moment in any manager’s press conference since Cincinnati–home to Marge Schott–brought in Bryan Price for his cool demeanor under fire. But if Washington wanted the modern wise man to manage their team, one whose ability to handle the microphone deftly was on display every night after the game, then Matt Williams was “the man.” One of the great ironies is that Boswell admitted as much in his column on Baker.
The last time a baseball writer succeeded in the clubhouse was Bill Veeck, Sr., which was almost a century ago, so my guess is Boswell is not going to manage the Washington Nationals. The job is Dusty Baker’s going forward and it might be best for Boswell to leave the whining to the New York press. On the day that the Nationals were all in on Jason Heyward, the story isn’t really about Dusty Baker. The story is next season and what Hot Stove is doing for the team.
Last I looked Jason Heyward is from McDonough, Georgia. I believe that qualifies him as an African-American. Boswell can hear Dusty Baker saying whatever he wants. What I hear is Dusty Baker saying, “sign him up.”