By Tim Keown
Page 2 columnist
Dusty Baker, the epitome of the modern-day manager. Understands the 21st century superstar. Played the game. Walks the walk. Speaks the language. You hear it all the time, and it's true: The man gets it.
But you've got to understand this about Baker: Deep down inside, he's part Satchel Paige, part Casey Stengel. There's a heavy reliance on folk wisdom, and everything he says is intended to motivate somebody, regardless of color.
A lot of people got their shorts in a bunch this week when Baker made his anthropologically questionable statements about heat and skin color, but I have a confession: I laughed. I've heard it before, many times. I covered Baker's first three years with the Giants as a beat writer for the San Francisco Giants. The team played in Candlestick Park (cold) and every time the team would embark on its mid-summer trip to the steamy East or Midwest, Dusty would talk about how he expected Willie McGee or Darren Lewis or Kevin Bass (Kevin Bass!) to get hot in the heat.
And we'd laugh, and nod, and figure it was just another Dustyism, like his recurring references to the wisdom of Ralph Garr and Scatman Crothers (Scatman Crothers!), Dusty being Dusty.
I'm not much on relaying Inside Journalism, but I happened to be in the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Tuesday, and as I shook Baker's hand I said, "If I had known that stuff was national news, I would have broken the story 12 years ago."
Dusty laughed and said, "Tell everybody. Tell everybody I've been saying the same stuff forever. Ever since I was a player, 25 years ago."
So there it is: He's been saying it forever, and we used to report it then, too. Not every time, because when you talk to someone every day for 250 days you learn to edit, forget and laugh. After all, how often do you want to read about Scatman Crothers?
But here's the serious part: The same week that many minorities and non-minorities got excited and irritated and enraged by Baker's comments, Kobe Bryant was accused of sexual assault. Amazingly and disgustingly, many of the nation's respected prints reported that Bryant's "street cred" figured to improve because of the current allegation.
("Street Cred." Talk about euphemisms.)
Kobe's only failing, as everyone knows, has been his All-American reputation.
Squeaky clean = marketing difficulties in the 21st century.
Where's the outrage at this? Where is Jesse Jackson or Harry Edwards on this issue? Assault a woman, gain respect? For God's sake, what kind of world is this? Dusty Baker is excoriated for what he says, but alleged-sexual-assault-as-career-enhancement is accepted and advanced in the mainstream media?
If you're in the market to be offended, the thought process that creates the idea that a certain segment of the population -- and let's be honest, it's Inner City America we're talking about here -- will find a greater affinity for Kobe Bryant because he's been accused of assaulting a woman should be cause for marches and protests everywhere.
But it's not, of course, because when it comes to race, we're still more comfortable baying at the moon than addressing anything substantive. So rage at Dusty and pretend that the issue of Kobe's street cred is a serious sociological issue.
As Scatman Crothers might have said but probably didn't, "God help all of us, no matter how hot it is."
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