Sunday, August 07, 2005

Bush Nominates Larry Krueger as Ambassador to Dominican

If you didn't get the joke, you're probably not a Bay Area sports fan or you're John Bolton. Larry Krueger is a sports talk host on KNBR AM 680, the all sports station that carries SF Giants games. For the last 13 years, the Giants have generally fielded competitive teams with managers who speak Spanish. The Giants also were the first major league team to scout the Caribbean, turning up eventual Hall of Famers, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda in the late fifties. Current Giants manager Felipe Alou was a part of that group and played on the Giants 1962 pennant winner. He returned to the Giants in his late sixties and has played a role in making the Giants clubhouse a place that welcomes Latin players. The San Francisco Bay Area takes pride both in its diversity and tolerance. The Giants take some pride in being the first major league team to bring up Latin players in numbers and to have opened the majors to the advantages of the bilingual dugout.

With the loss of Barry Bonds, the Giants have had a disappointing year. Krueger, a journeyman sportstalk guy, went on a self-described rant after a recent Giants loss and complained that the team had too many "brain-dead" Caribbean hitters swinging at slop and that manager Alou's brain was turning to Cream of Wheat. This happened about two months after the San Francisco 49ers fired their community relations person for making a videotape for the players about how to handle the media that included stereotypes of Asians, gay and lesbian jokes, etc. KNBR responded by suspending Krueger for a week without pay. Alou and the Giants feel that Krueger's rant deserved to be treated even more seriously. Krueger has apologized.

First, I took a quick look at the Giants statistics. Two of the players with the lowest ratio of walks to strikeouts and at bats on the team aren't Latin at all. Lance Niekro (13 bb 30k 209 ab) is a rookie and the son and nephew of knuckleballers Joe and Phil. Mike Matheny (21 bb 57k 295 ab) is a catcher signed as free agent because he had a reputation as one of the smartest players in the game. This is not to say that any of the Giants Latin payers have Barry Bonds or Money Ball base on ball percentages, in fact the whole team isn't good at the patience thing. The team leader in walks is Moises Alou, Felipe's son (46 bb 32k 302 ab) . There are a couple Latin players w/ dismal ratios like Devi Cruz with 9 walks in 185 at bats, but there are corresponding non-Latins like JT Snow, also considered a smart player who have 22 walks in 243 at bats. As a team, the Giants do draw roughly 100 fewer walks than they give (305 vs 403) but clearly the difference this year comes down to the African American Barry Bonds who drew 232 walks last year in 373 at bats. The Latin players on the Giants aren't any worse at drawing walks than the non-Latin. He might have more accurately called all the team's hitters brain-dead.

Most people believe there was no "malice" in Krueger's remarks. The same was said about Al Campanis, the Dodgers executive who was fired for saying that African Americans lacked the necessaries to be managers. I don't especially have an opinion on whether or not Krueger deserves to be fired instead of suspended, though I will mention that "saying things the right way" is an integral part of his job description.

It's obviously not a good thing that stereotypes of Latin ball players persist. At this point, major league baseball is highly internationalized and heavily Latin. Latin stars and role players can be found at every position in the game. Some hit home runs, some get by with their gloves, some throw smoke, some get by on smarts, some don't (if anyone remembers Ruben Rivera's adventure around the bases as a Giant and adventures in the locker room as a Yankee).

For me, though, I'm more concerned about the quality of debate that unfolded. I've read a bunch of articles about this matter and none of them actually looked at the Giants statistics readily available on Yahoo. Instead, most are about whether this is political correctness run amok or if Krueger's remarks uncovered some unfortunate mindset in the sporting zeitgeist. Sports fans prefer to argue what they feel rather than examine the facts. Then, it struck me that the brain-dead Krueger thing is remarkably like political debate in the United States. Numbers like, the actual year Social Security starts to fail, the number of trained troops and police needed in Iraq, the size of the deficit, the availability of new oil reserves are all readily available and while there is some debate about the precise figures those who debate the topics often never refer to these numbers or their very clear implications

In the Krueger case, people jumped into a debate about whether he was racist, whether he should be fired, etc. Hardly anyone mentioned that Moises Alou is leading the team in walks and Mike Matheny who is considered a smart player has some of the worsetbb/k totals on the team. Everyone preferred to have opinions without facts, apparently because it makes for good sports talk and I suspect pretty terrible public policy. Now if you want to talk about something interesting, why is bilingual education in California politically dead yet bilingual clubhouses are considered a potential competitive advantage? Is it because you can measure when a team is winning, but despite the plethora of current tests it remains very difficult to talk about when a school and its methods are actually winning when it comes to helping non-English speaking children master English?


KNBR fires Krueger and others



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