Leon began to hum the "We Shall Overcome" spiritual. Everyone in the studio busted out laughing.
The Ralph Wiley in me wouldn't leave.
"Trust me, the man has kept two raggedy-ass teams playing .500 ball for two seasons. Yet the columnists and radio hosts in the city want him out."
I pulled back from the mike. Looked at them, the Chicago version of the 2 Live Stews.
"It's our job ... to have Dusty's back."
As I write this column on Monday night from Los Angeles, 2,000 miles and almost 48 hours later, I still believe, right or wrong, that I have no other choice.
If asked, Dusty Baker would say I was wrong.
He would be the first to say that the media, in the negative stories and head-hunting articles printed about his management of the Cubs, have no racial motive at all.
He'd be the first to remind me that in Boston, the media did the same thing to Terry Francona -- even this year, only months after he made history.
Anything but color, he'd tell you. His being black has nothing to do with the rumors.
But I don't speak for Dusty Baker.
He's been through this, knows the game, knows this comes with the territory. None of this -- the rumors, the unsupportive press -- fazes him.
Like he said in his calmest demeanor in his public statement after the rumor broke, "I seem to be in more rumors than somebody in Hollywood. I didn't sign here for four years to be thinking about going somewhere else. I'm here [in Chicago], and I want to win here, for the Cubs, the front office, the town."
As far as the now-published rumors that he wants to leave...
"I don't know where these [rumors] come from."
They come from them, Dust. They come from certain members of the 312 area-code media who quietly would like to see someone else at the helm of the organization that best reps America's national pastime. Someone who looks and acts more like them. Someone who won't make the comment: "We were brought over here to work in the heat. Isn't that history?" as you did two years ago, talking about us people.
Not that the West Coast rumor was made up, and not that this "close friend" doesn't exist -- but the first tactic all media outlets use is to paint a bad picture to justify future actions.
I've been through this. I know this game. I know the territory this comes with.
Jay Mariotti wrote in the Sun-Times last week (before the L.A. Times piece dropped), "Just take your toothpicks, wristbands and perpetual pout and head to a nice, safe broadcast booth somewhere. Now." And he followed it up with, "[Baker is] causing citywide debates on whether or not he's emotionally equipped for the job... "
I read between those lines.
I noticed how none of the other above-the-fold columnists came to Dusty's defense. Not Rick Morrissey, not Mike Downey or Carol Slezak or Greg Couch, not even my good friend Rick Telander. Not that they're supposed to, but ... they ain't we.
They don't feel your struggle, Dusty.
Or the fact that what you've done in the last two-plus years for this cursed organization is just short of the name Smokey Robinson called his crew. Name another manager who can come to a losing franchise, make the playoffs in his first year and then deal with the following: the sellout and meltdown of Sosa with everything from a corked bat to a trade; the loss of Moises Alou to the Giants, only to watch him hit .328 this season; the acquisition of, but not the use of (because of injury), Nomar Garciaparra; a rotation without the two best pitchers in the league (Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), on which the organization has bankrolled the franchise; the failure of the center fielder of the future, Corey Patterson, who has been sent down to the minors -- probably for good -- because of his inability to establish himself as a leadoff man (or even someone who can hit sixth).