Monday, June 18, 2012

On Bruce Chen's humor, Humberto Quintero's "Chinese eyes", political correctness and Lee Judge... racism, I'm afraid, is simply racism

Courtesy MLB TV

The problem with writing a column that seems to touch so many people is that you want to come back tomorrow and do it again. And, you can’t. This has been true since the first column I wrote in the early 1970s, and it’s true today.

As Red Smith said, all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.

To touch people, you have tap into something real. And something crystal clear as death doesn’t happen – thankfully – every day.

Alas, it's time to shift gears and move on. I’ve had this unsavory issue on my mind a while, so I might as well get it on ‘paper.’ Bruce Chen pinch hitting for the Royals yesterday stirred it up. His line in the Kansas City Star about “looking for a pitch to drive” was baseball funny.

What wasn’t funny were the antics of Royals catcher Humberto Quintero June 9 after a game Chen pitched. Tony’s Kansas City reported this, as did John Landsberg on Bottom line. And the Kansas City Star mentioned it briefly.

Chen, who has a fine sense of humor, was being interviewed after the game and Quintero, who apparently has an odd sense of humor, was standing behind him making “Chinese eyes.” Ugh. And in a Monarch's uniform, no less.

Come on, you’re saying, don’t make a big deal out of this.

Well, dammit, it is a big deal. Racism is racism. Doesn’t matter what color the person is, or what color the target.

I’m sure Mr. Quintero was just having fun. Boys will be boys, you know. Lee Judge issued the most milquetoast response ever along those lines. Well, you know, the locker room is not a very politically correct place, he wrote in response to a post on his discussion thread.

"Humberto is from Venezuela and I don’t know if cultural differences played into the incident, but I can tell you a major league clubhouse is not the most politically correct place on Earth."

The cartoonist Lee Judge would never give the boys in Washington the same tepid pass that baseball writer Lee Judge offered so casually here.

(Mr. Judge might also take something good from this warning of Red Smith's about "Godding up" ballplayers.)

Particularly offensive is the phrase “politically correct.” This phrase has become code for a certain kind of thinking. Politically correct means we have to be polite because our mothers are listening. Politically correct is something liberals force us to be, as they police our language and – by extension – our thought. Politically correct is Big Brother; Sister Mary Nell; Mrs. Morton, our second grade teacher; Oprah; Emily Post; the Nanny State.

So, any time we want to excuse racism, we say, ‘Well, I know this isn’t politically correct, but…”

What Mr. Quintero did was not politically incorrect. It was racially insensitive, which is the nicest way I can possibly put it. And it went away far too easily.

There’s a great Buddy Guy song: “Damn right I have the blues.” OK, you’re damn right I’m off the hook on this.

Several years ago, when he was maybe 12 years old, I took my son to a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. My son is Korean. He was playing organized ball at the time. He had the makeup, I think, to be a fine catcher.

As we walked across the parking lot a group of African-American boys roughly the same age came up beside us. Without provocation they launched into “Chinese eyes”, karate chops, gibberish, and all kinds of foolishness. It took me completely by surprise and my son pretended not to notice but he most certainly did. I watched the Great Stoneface appear and I don’t think either one of us enjoyed the game much. I imagine a few speeders and a couple of drunks have also seen the Great Stoneface when they rolled down their windows in his various jurisdictions. It was not the first time I had seen the Great Stoneface and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was a hard thing to see it on the way into a ballpark.

Probably he doesn’t even remember this incident, but I do, and Mr. Quintero’s “Chinese eyes” brought it back to me with uncomfortable clarity. Maybe that’s why I hated to see it so easily dismissed by everyone involved.


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