Scoop Jackson Plays the Race Card Again...and Loses

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst IOctober 16, 2006

IconToday's question: How exactly does one get a column on a major sports website with only one possible point of view, a fact acknowledged by his former associates?

In his October 11 column for's Page 2, Chicago-based sports columnist Scoop Jackson spent almost 1,500 words crying about the travesty involving Sports Illustrated's recent issue, where they named yet another list of the 25 Greatest Baseball Players of All-Time.  Mr. Jackson's beef?  Satchel Paige and Roberto Clemente did not make the cut.  Throughout his exaggerated piece - which tumbles into a sea of bathos with lines about "how the [cover] told the true story of baseball" - one sees all the trademark signs of someone trying to start a controversy where there's absolutely nothing to argue about.
Never mind the fact that every year some two-bit publication comes out with a very similar list, all for the sake of generating attention from overzealous argumentative types...and at the expense of sensible, well-researched sports journalism.  No, for Mr. Jackson, this is THE list above all others.  "Baseball's official Dream Team," he calls it in his maudlin-speak.

Not quite.

What Mr. Jackson seems to forget is that Major League Baseball came out with its "official" All-Century Team just a few years ago.  It was endorsed by the league office, who marketed it for a good year and a half.  This thing?  This is a couple of hack editors at SI shooting off their mouths over a couple of beers.  Sure, they might have called in Bill James and other "experts" to contribute, but who doesn't?

Besides exaggerating the importance of the list, Mr. Jackson decided to insert his own criteria for who should have made the cut.  His whole argument is based on the notion that there are some figures whose stature is "bigger than the game."  The three who meet that standard, for Jackson, are Babe Ruth, Satchel Paige, and Roberto Clemente - a white icon, a black icon, and a dark-skinned Hispanic icon. Of the three, only Ruth, the white guy, earned a spot on SI's squad.

Slick rhetorical strategy? Of course, but it's also patently ridiculous. In the author's italicized words: "How can these experts not take into full consideration what (Paige and Clemente) meant to the sport, in and outside of the sport, to America, when they were creating a team that embodies baseball's complete history of the greatest ever?" 

Here's the answer, Mr. Jackson: They weren't trying to embody baseball's history or cultural diversity.  They were trying to pick a team of all-time great Major League Baseball players.  There is a huge difference between selecting a team that encompasses social history and one built to play baseball.

And what is this "three players who rise above the game" nonsense? Satchel Paige was an outstanding pitcher, but he had all of 28 wins in the Major League.  He's more of a legend than an all-time great, and if we're going to include people for mythical performances external to the American and National Leagues, there had better be spaces for Josh Gibson and Sadaharu Oh.  It's pretty clear to anyone with a 5th-grade literacy level that the list is looking at Major League performance. But to go and call Satchel Paige a pillar of baseball who rises above the game more than Jackie Robinson?  That's not only stupid, it's offensive.  Robinson made the team, by the way, in a somewhat debatable selection over Joe Morgan.  Could you imagine if he hadn't?

As for Clemente, he was indeed a true pioneer of Latin American baseball, but even though he had a rifle for an arm and could hit the heck out of the ball, he barely makes the cut for the top ten outfielders of all-time.  Here are the ones who made the Sports Illustrated roster: Ruth, Aaron, Mays, Mantle, DiMaggio, Cobb, Musial (listed at 1B), and Ted Williams.  The only player on that list I would even consider removing for Roberto Clemente is Joe DiMaggio, and Clemente would have to leapfrog Barry Bonds and Frank Robinson for his spot.

Jackson claims that Paige's place on the team would be symbolic in representing all the players that were prevented from playing in the majors - again forgetting that this list is simply the result of a stupid magazine looking to fill a content void.  He furthermore accuses MLB of knowing that they have a problem acknowledging this history, and says they have done nothing about it.  Really, Mr. Jackson?  What about MLB making 42 a permanently retired number as a testament to Robinson's legacy?  Or going well out of its way to enshrine and honor Negro League players in the Hall of Fame?  There's a limit as to how much Major League Baseball can do to remedy such history when they're trying to run a league...especially when they know in the back of their heads that nothing they ever do will be good enough for the Scoops Jacksons of the world.

The real kicker is that Sports Illustrated actually included a section on its team's lack of diversity.  Still, this one silly article in one silly magazine - whose prime came and went long ago - is evidently Mr. Jackson's barometer for how baseball views itself.  And of course, he takes time to mention how Buck O'Neil passed away earlier in the week and how "fitting it all is" to his mawkish eyes.

This coming from a man who honestly believes Dusty Baker was driven out of Chicago because of his race, not the fact that he guided a $100 million dollar ship to successively worse finishes every year before finally landing near the cellar of a talent-deprived National League.

I'm not about to argue that racial problems in the United States are solved, but suffice it to say that pieces like Jackson's don't help anything; they only inflame passions and make their authors look like irrational morons.  Jason Whitlock was right: he is a one-trick tool.  He strives to be Ralph Wiley with one-third of the range, one-fourth of the charisma, and one-fifth of the intelligence.  To my eyes, this is not someone generally interested in the welfare of African-Americans, which makes me wonder why exactly ESPN keeps publishing him.  I'm all for controversial writing - as long as it is well-reasoned and shows a modicum of intelligence without resorting to absurd histrionics. What I just read is far more asinine than it is controversial.  Using a middle-school level of persuasive logic, Jackson made a silly, harmless, routine list in another publication (surprise!) out to be a racist screed.  And he gets paid to do this.

You want to know what the SI list shows?  It shows a northeastern bias and a bias towards the past, neither of which should shock any sensible baseball fan into writing a 1500-word column that proclaims racial ill-will.  Unfortunately, Mr. Jackson was too busy looking for his next column idea, and I don't think he has another viewpoint.