Tuesday, August 2, 2005 Updated: August 4, 4:02 PM ET
Kicking up Dusty
By Scoop Jackson Page 2
LOS ANGELES -- Here come the rumors.
You knew, at some point, they had to come. You could feel them lurking down Addison Street alleys, behind Cubby Bear bars. You were simply waiting for the "dust" to settle, waiting for the trade deadline to pass. Waiting for that one Chicago columnist to break the rumor.
You had no idea the rumor would break from the Left.
"A person 'close to' Dusty Baker said..."
Something's rotten in Chicago if you think Dusty really wants to go to L.A.
Then, following that in the L.A. Times story, the words "unhappy," "wants to go," "desperately" and "if." Dusty Baker desperately wants to manage the Dodgers. He is unhappy in Chicago and wants to go to Los Angeles if Jim Tracy (the current Dodgers' manager) leaves at the end of this year.
Here we go.
For months, damn near since the beginning of the third week of the season, the lynch mob has been out, looking for Dusty Baker to exit Chicago, stage left. GT*O. Give the Cubs and their losing ways back to the city, because this "expectation of winning and not having it happen" is taking a toll.
"We can't live like this," is the attitude being painted. Jim Fregosi is never around when you need him, is he?
When Dusty came to Chi, he came basically for one reason: To turn Sammy Sosa into Barry Bonds. For years, Dusty had managed Bonds masterfully in San Fran. And somehow, Baker was able to get out of Bonds -- and the Giants -- a trip to keep playing ball in October.
The Cubs wanted that. The Cubs needed that.
The Tribune Co. (the team's owner) made the move. "In Dusty We Trust" signs lined Wrigleyville. The Cubs were one Steve Bartman out away from beating the Boston Red Sox to the punch.
Now, the subtle campaign to get the dude out is about to start. In a city where the motto is "Vote Early and Vote Often," the media's master plan to get Dusty Baker outta here is like a KRS classic, and it began long before the L.A. Times broke that story on Sunday.
Here's where the racist in me comes out.
On Sunday morning, during the "Sports Unplugged" radio show on Power 92 (92.3 FM) in Chicago, I basically "forgot about the game and spit the truth."
I did the Skinny Black.
In a conversation about "media fairness" and Dusty Baker, I said this:
"The media sets the agenda for how the public responds to nonobjective matters and to how the audience often forms an opinion on certain issues. In sports, in this town, those opinions are often -- if not always -- set by columnists. Sports columnists, not sports reporters. Reporters are nonobjective in this matter, although the editors do have 'angle control' over copy. Columnists, they are the ones who shape public opinion. Now ... how many black sports columnists do we have in this city? How many are at the Sun-Times? How many at the Trib?"
None, was the answer I was given.
"And what about sports-talk radio?"
I looked at my two co-hosts, Leon Rogers and Steve Bardo, and asked the over-obvious question to Johnnie Cochran my point home.
"Outside of the two hours on Sunday morning that we have, and outside of Jonathan Hood on 'The Score' (WSCR-AM), how many black sports-talk shows do we have in the city? What? One?"
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.
Dusty may read between the lines, but he's not going to tell you what he sees.
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).
Here's the math: Five All-Stars down at once, on one roster.
Yes, Dusty, you have the second-best player in baseball in D. Lee, and Aramis Ramirez is doing some damage; but you don't have one Cub pitcher who is in the top 10 in victories, ERA, saves or innings pitched (Carlos Zambrano is seventh in strikeouts).
Yet ... still ... in spite of ...
You are four games out of the wild-card race. Playing .500 baseball. In contention.
Yet ... still ... in spite of ...
They expect you to be better than the Cardinals and the Astros.
Yet ... still ... in spite of ...
The Cubs have manager issues ... according to "a citywide debate."
And the color of your skin, Dust, has nothing to do with this, right?
If so, then I apologize.
But in the words of the great racial philosopher Charles Barkley: I may be wrong ... but I doubt it.
The truth is that Dusty Baker is going nowhere soon. The Cubs will not make a move on him until his contract is up. They recognize all that Dusty has done, and what he's had to go through to get it done.
Plus, they don't want "Ty Willingham: the Sequel" to jump off.
But what rumor will be next? In L.A., I'm waiting for Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta to say that he's talked to Dusty Baker's "close" friend, who will have told him, when the season has ended, that Dusty can "no longer tolerate Chicago." And that he's ready to move back home.
In Chi, I'll be waiting on the headline: "Cub Brass Jim Hendry and Andy MacPhail Meet with Baker To Discuss Future."
By then, the master plan will have worked; and once again, in the eyes of the local media, everything in Cubdom will be white ... I mean right.
As it should be.
The only question left to ask will be this: If it were Bobby Cox and not Dusty Baker, would I have ever had to write this column?
Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.