Jackson decides that “certain members of the 312 area-code media … 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 [Baker] did two years ago, talking about us people.”
This is exactly the train of thought I’m afraid Baker brings with him to the ballpark each day — that overtones of racism seep into the sociology of the Cubs. He never has come out and said so, but the chronology of the Hawkins story suggests he resents at least some segments of the media and fans. When Hawkins was traded after a brutal time as a closer, Baker was quick that day to point out the hateful letters sent to the pitcher, some with “n-word” references. Jerks like that, as I wrote, should be hung from the center-field flagpole, but it should be noted Hawkins didn’t fail because a few racists sent sicko mail. He failed because he couldn’t protect ninth-inning leads. I thought the issue was dead until Baker revived it last week, breaking ground as the first manager in memory to sit in his own ballpark and take up the cause of a visiting player who’d been booed.
Anyone who automatically thinks a Baker critic is a racist, or a Hawkins critic is a racist, should understand something about Chicago: This is a city of equal-opportunity sports criticism. If Dusty thinks he’s being treated unfairly for reasons beyond wins and losses, he should call Jim Riggleman, who often was booed for trying to protect the arm of a young pitcher named Kerry Wood by removing him early from games. Or Tom Trebelhorn, who almost caused a riot when he foolishly called a “town meeting” by the Wrigleyville firehouse during a particularly rough stretch. If you manage the Cubs, you are booed sometimes, regardless of race, religion or size of belly. If you manage a Chicago sports team, you are booed. It’s in the job description.